"My time with the Cubs, from the first day until the trade, Ron was always there,'' Fuld said earlier this year of the man who will be inducted posthumously into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. "Every time I did anything — and I mean anything — he was right there, after the game if the team was on the road, the next day if we were home, telling me, 'Way to go, kid, way to go.' That really made me feel great.''
"He always had the biggest smile when something happened,'' said Fuld, who was traded to the Rays in the Matt Garza deal. "He was like that with everybody, but I felt a different kind of connection. He knew what I had gone through as a diabetic. I can't even imagine what he went through.''
Fuld was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1992, when he was 10. Santo had received an identical diagnosis in 1959, after he had turned down bigger offers to sign a $20,000 deal to play for the Cubs because they had sold him on his chance to get to the big leagues quickly and to help turn around the organization.
In his era, there was no proven regimen for an athlete to cope with the consequences of the disease. Santo lived in fear of a diabetic coma, which could have been fatal. He was always on guard for symptoms that his blood-sugar level was too low — a cold sweat, weakness, blurry vision.
Santo remembered one game late in 1968 when he felt like he was going to pass out in the on-deck circle but was afraid to let manager Leo Durocher know he was in trouble.
He said he was seeing everything in triplicate, including pitcher Bill Singer. He had hoped Billy Williams would make an out to end the game but Williams walked, forcing him either to admit his weakness or go to the plate and hope for the best. It was an easy choice, and he would say 35 years later, a charmed one.
"My problem was this: I saw three Bill Singers, one on top of the other,'' Santo recounted in a 2003 feature story for Guidepost. "His first pitch came at me looking like it was attached to a Slinky. What did I do? I had no choice: I swung. The ball soared higher, higher, out of the park (for a game-winning grand slam).''
While athletes today deal with their diabetes in the open, Santo kept his a secret — in the beginning completely secret, and later an open secret within the Cubs organization.
In Santo's first pro season, 1959, he regulated his diabetes only through his diet. He would snack on Snickers bars in the dugout and tried to keep orange juice handy. But after that season, he has said, his pancreas "pretty much stopped functioning,'' which forced him to begin giving himself insulin injections.
Santo did not tell the Cubs what he was dealing with, even after he had been promoted to the big leagues in June 1960. He worried that the disease would be held against him and compromise his chance to have a long career.
"Every player had a roommate for out-of-town games, so I had to slip into the bathroom early each morning and secretly take my insulin injection,'' Santo said. "I feared that if the Cubs found out and I slumped badly, they would attribute it to the diabetes and send me back to the minors — or worse, release me."
Santo eventually admitted his situation to backup catcher Cuno Barragan, who was his roommate. He felt he had to tell someone and trusted Barragan.
"He became another set of eyes for me,'' Santo said. "Sometimes coming off the field between innings, he'd say, 'Roomie, you look a little pale. Better grab a Snickers.' At least I no longer had to hide my insulin and syringes from him.''
After being named to the National League All-Star team in 1963, Santo was secure enough to reveal his condition to general manager John Holland and his teammates, but he told them to keep it to themselves. They mostly did until 1971, when Santo publicly announced he was a diabetic and began what would be a lifelong role as a fundraiser and advocate for diabetic causes, the biggest being the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
"I really can't imagine what those years at Wrigley Field were like for Ron,'' Fuld said. "Playing at Wrigley Field, all the day games, and having to deal with diabetes without all the gains in science that I've benefited from. That would have been tough. He was one of the toughest men I've ever known but also one of the nicest. He meant a lot to me.''