6:40 PM CDT, July 6, 2012
Debates may rage regarding the Hall of Fame merits of former Cubs third baseman Ron Santo.
Yet the more poignant story is the lifelong friendships nurtured by his teammates.
Santo will be enshrined posthumously July 22 in Cooperstown, N.Y., along with former Reds shortstop Barry Larkin. Vicki Santo will accept the honor on behalf of her husband, who died Dec. 3, 2010.
A nine-time All-Star, Santo played 15 seasons, the last with the White Sox. He received 15 of 16 votes from the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee on Dec. 5, 2011.
Billy Williams, Randy Hundley, Fergie Jenkins, Glenn Beckert, Don Kessinger and Ernie Banks are among the former teammates expected to share in the ceremony.
"We really plan to celebrate," Hundley said. "A lot of people say that they wish this had happened sooner when he was still living, but shucks, I am proud that he was able to get in even now.
"I don't know if he could have handled this (emotionally) if he had been living. His numbers have always been there (.277 batting average, 342 home runs, five Gold Gloves), and he should have been in some time ago. "
Jenkins is most elated for Santo's family.
"When you lose a loved one, it's kind of like a kick in the teeth," Jenkins said. "Vicki may be over it … but it is going to take a while."
Santo will join fellow 1969 Cubs Banks, Jenkins and Williams in the Hall of Fame.
"To have four guys on one team go in ... it is important because we are good teammates," Jenkins said. "We played together for eight or more years. I had the opportunity to have Ronnie as my third baseman most of my career. He was one heck of a ballplayer and a great human being."
Williams and Santo played more than 2,000 big league games together and were teammates in the minor leagues. Each has a statue of his likeness outside Wrigley Field.
"As a friend first, and as a teammate, I am really happy with the induction," Williams said. "Everybody wanted him to be elected while he was living, but it didn't happen and right now his family and the fans of Chicago will enjoy what's taking place in Cooperstown.
"A lot of people remember (Santo) as a player. But a lot of people — the younger crowd — remember him as an announcer on WGN and how funny he was and how he rooted for the Cubs. He lived and died with what the Cubs did."
Hundley said he misses needling his friend. But he also recalls the more humbling moments when Santo had to have his legs amputated below the knee because of diabetes.
"In his last years, we really had a wonderful relationship," Hundley said. "Even after having his (right) leg amputated, we still played golf. One day we were playing and he hit a shot on a par-5. So I was watching his shot, and after the ball stopped rolling, I looked back at him. His artificial leg had broken. I said, 'Holy cow! Just stay right where you are and let me get the cart.'
"He was kind of laughing about it and how the leg came off. Ronnie said, 'Well, you play and I will just watch.' I said, 'No, we'll go in and get this thing taken care of.'
"To see him deal with his legs the way he did was pretty incredible. He was such an inspiration to people who had diabetes. And I am glad he doesn't have to suffer with it anymore."
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