10/12/2003 3:19 PM ET
Santo never far from his Cubs
MIAMI -- As the Cubs stand on the brink of clinching their first National League Championship title in 58 years, there's one piece of the team missing with the absence of radio broadcaster Ron Santo.
Santo, arguably the biggest Cubs fan in the world, is at home in Phoenix, awaiting surgery to remove tumors from his bladder. His physical presence might be missing, but he touches base with the team and his crew in the WGN radio booth on a daily basis.
His partner of the the last eight years, Pat Hughes, said it is bittersweet for everyone to see the team doing so well, but knowing Santo is watching from afar.
"It's like a classic dichotomy," Hughes said before Sunday's Game 5 of the NLCS against the Florida Marlins. "On one hand, there's an overwhelming joy all of us are feeling because the team has played so well, and the last two weeks have been such an incredible high for all of us. Yet on the other hand, there's this sadness that Ron Santo is not here and he should be, because he is the No. 1 Cubs fan."
After playing third base for the Cubs from 1960-73, Santo moved his position from the hot corner to the press box and has broadcast Cubs games for the last 14 years. He has sat through the good, the bad and the downright ugly. In a cruel twist, the doctors discovered the tumors as the Cubs were wrapping up the regular season by winning a Central Division title. He has missed the five-game NLDS in Atlanta as well as the entire NLCS with the Marlins.
But Santo is never far from the thoughts of the fans, his partner or the team.
Starting pitcher Kerry Wood has called Santo after his starts to check in, and Cubs manager Dusty Baker has done the same. Pitcher Matt Clement opened his postgame press conference Saturday night by sending a shout out to Santo, saying he wished Santo was there to celebrate the win.
"Ronnie is very close to many of the players, and he spends a lot of time around them," Hughes said. "The players respect him, and they know he was a terrific ballplayer and he certainly knows the game inside and out. He knows what it's like to be a Chicago Cub, which is kind of a unique existence for a big-league ballplayer. And they know how much he pulls for the team and how much he's pulling for each individual."
Santo chips in on the WGN pregame show each day and rings up the booth for some live airtime at the beginning of the games.
"We talk to him every day," Hughes said. "His spirits are great, he wishes he could be here. We all wish he was here, too."
Those wishes could come true if the Cubs advance to the World Series, beginning next weekend. Hughes said Santo's doctors might give him the go-ahead to travel to the games. As if the Cubs needed any more incentive, winning the championship with Santo on hand would be right up there near the top.
Filling Santo's shoes in the booth is Steve Stone. While Stone's style is vastly different from Santo's, Hughes said it's been a fairly easy transition for him during the Cubs' playoff appearance.
"Steve's very, very good -- one of the best ever at what he does, and it's been a fairly easy transition for me," Hughes said. "I think everyone who's been listening all these years wishes Ronnie could be here. But then again, Steve Stone is a great announcer so it's not as if the quality of the broadcast is falling off. But Ronnie is such a unique personality, and he pulls so much."
Santo has endured two leg amputation surgeries over the last two years because of complications from diabetes. But he never let it get him down and said returning to the game was the thing that kept his spirits up.
Not only is it Santo's positive attitude, but his willingness to extend a few warm wishes or welcoming pat on the back that Baker appreciates.
"It may seem like Dusty's been here for a long time, but he's still in his first year and in your first year anywhere, you appreciate anybody who makes you feel welcome right away," Hughes said of Santo's relationship with the skipper. "Ronnie did that to me when I moved here eight years ago and he did it to Dusty and he's done it with hundreds of ballplayers over the years.
"He has that manner about him that welcomes you and embraces you and people don't forget that."
While Santo's voice will reach the masses if the Cubs clinch the NLCS on Sunday, his thoughts will surely reach the players during any celebrations on the field or in the clubhouse.
"I know it's difficult for him to actually watch and not be here because he is so much a part of the Cubs," Hughes said. "He's been pulling for them for years and years and years -- over 40 years now -- and I just wish he could be here when they've reached the pinnacle of their labors."
Hughes knows the depths of Santo's feeling for this club are appreciated by fans and players alike. His unabashed love of the team has endeared him to millions, but it's not an act. He truly roots for the Cubs in every at-bat of every game whether they are down 10 or up one.
"You'll notice when they retired his number, the first thing he did was thank the Cubs for winning," Hughes said. "I think his quote was 'You guys have made my life complete.' That shows you where his heart is."
Amy Sternig is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.
By Amy Sternig / MLB.com