CHICAGO -- They came out in droves on a frigid December day in downtown Chicago. They came on foot, in cabs, on trains and even a few on bicycles. They carried Cubs blankets to keep warm and were decked out in Cubs attire of every sort.Some had flowers. Some had cameras to capture a night they'd always remember. Some were smiling, remembering the happy times, but there were plenty of tears, too. They lined up by early afternoon, a splash of blue on an otherwise gray day, with a chilling wind coming off Lake Michigan, turning the area around Chicago and State into Wrigleyville South. It was day ill-suited for baseball, a winterish day, but they all came anyway, to pay their respects to Ron Santo, one of the city's most beloved boys of summer. Fans lined up for a public memorial service held Thursday evening at the Holy Name Cathedral in downtown Chicago. They lined up by the hundreds and, ultimately, the thousands -- no one knew for sure how many had come through, but everyone was sure that the line had extended to the end of the block ever since the early afternoon. "[The turnout] says what an impact he's had on a lot of us," said Manny Slocumb of Geneva, Ill., his voice cracking. "He was a great man, as well as a super ballplayer."
Santo died on Dec. 2 in Scottsdale, Ariz., from complications of bladder cancer and the diabetes that had plagued him since he was 18 years old. The latter was a well-kept secret, because Santo knew if the news got out, they might not let him play. The disease eventually cost him both of his legs, but it never cost him his smile, or his passion for the Cubs."I absolutely loved the guy," said former teammate Randy Hundley. "He's at peace now. I don't think any of us can imagine what he had to go through every day. He really put up a fight." The fans at the front of the line said they arrived in the early hours of the morning, braving the conditions to get a last glimpse of their hero. John Anast is from the Chicago neighborhood known as Bridgeport -- White Sox territory -- and bills himself as "The only Cubs fan in Bridgeport." "No. 10 was our guy," said Anast, who said he arrived at 6 Thursday morning. "He spoke for real folks, the every man. He may not be in the Hall, but he's in the best Hall of Fame right here." Anast then pounded his chest and said, "He wore his plaque right here." Scott Mulder drove up from Peoria, Ill., and joined Anast in line at 7 a.m. The two didn't know each other before Thursday, but were fast friends by the afternoon, united by the man who brought so many Cubs fans together. He said of Santo, "He spoke for us all." Mulder said he came because "I went to see Ryne [Sandberg] inducted in Cooperstown but I never got to see Ron get in. So I'm here." Santo joined the Cubs organization in 1959 at the age of 18 and went on to spend the better part of five decades as a part of the team with whom he became synonymous. He spent 14 seasons with the Cubs as player, before spending his final campaign in 1974 with the cross-town White Sox. He joined the club's radio broadcasts in 1990 and became known for the unfiltered partisanship, as cheered and screamed through the foibles of his favorite team. "You thought he'd always be there," said Alan Baranowski, who lives in suburban Chicago. "He beat everything else, you just didn't expect it. It caught me by surprise. "He was genuine. He was what you saw. He lived life to the fullest and what he expressed in the radio booth -- he wasn't really a color analyst so much as a fan in the booth. He lived and died with every swing of the bat and every dropped ball, every throw -- he was all of Cubdom in one big lovable ball of fun." For every expression of sadness, there were stories of celebration. A pub around the corner from the cathedral was serving up $2 Old Styles -- the beer of choice at Wrigley Field. The bartender said that when the news of Santo's death reached Chicago, the place was filled with fans wearing No. 10 jerseys. "What I think about Ron, it's about a guy I worshiped and idolized," said former Cubs pitcher Scott Sanderson. "His legacy in the city has little do with what he did on the field and everything to do with the man he was after his playing days. I can only hope that I have that kind of impact with my life. "The Cubs are a big family, and it was almost as if Ron was the head of that family." Inside, Santo's casket was draped in a gray tapestry, with a blue "10" emblazoned on it. A gold glove lay on one end. An easel just to the right of casket contained a framed Santo jersey, and a black and white photo was to the left, with a shot of Santo from his playing days -- tipping his cap, to those who so adored him. Cubs owner Tom Ricketts was on hand all day, shaking hands with dignitaries such as announcer Bob Brenly, White Sox legend Minnie Minoso, Hundley, Sanderson and former Cubs phenom Kerry Wood. He stayed into the evening, when the public was let in, greeting and shaking hands with as many fans as he could. "Ronnie Woo-Woo" was there, decked out in full Cubs regalia, his chants more muted than usual. A young lady calling herself "Val Capone" was on hand. She was Ron's rolling derby pal. Whenever they would see each other at the ballpark, Ron would ask about her last derby. When she was injured, she had to use a cane, not unlike the one Santo used in his later years.
"Not bad for a starter model," he would say."He was just a great human being, definitely one of a kind," said Wood. "I think we put him in the hospital a couple of times with some of our losses. He took it hard. Everything he said was from the heart." When the public was let in, for hours every aisle and nearly every pew was full. There were Cubs ballcaps, Cubs Santa hats, gloves, scarves, leather jackets, regular jackets, No. 10 jerseys. "I wish I could have been his teammate," former Cubs pitcher and occasional broadcaster Dave Otto said. "He was the ultimate teammate. Just a wonderful, wonderful person." Hundley added, "It's a tough day. Last week, I tried to call him because I was going down to Arizona. I thought we could play some golf, then I got the call. It was just unbelievable. He became an amazing guy. "I hope he can get in the Hall of Fame. This guy deserves it. It'll be anti-climatic, because I know he really wanted to be there." Santo's absence from the Hall of Fame was something that stirred the emotion of Chip Marshall, a Cubs fan from Glenview, Ill., just north of the city. He said that he wept when he heard the news of Santo's passing and nearly had to leave his job as a shift worker early. "I wouldn't have missed this," Marshall said. "I loved Ron Santo. He was just a tremendous human being. I think the younger generation knows him as a broadcaster. I'm 54, I saw him play. He was a tremendous ballplayer. It's a sham that he's not in the Hall of Fame. "He was an eight-time All-Star and won five Gold Gloves. What do you have to do? Not only that, but he played with diabetes. He was my first baseball hero." There were elderly people who wobbled as they walked teary-eyed out of the cathedral. There were children who could only know Santo from the radio, or from stories their parents told. There were people of every age, and every race really, and plenty of representatives from both sides of the gender aisle. There were Cubs fans aplenty, but White Sox fans, too. Minoso, who is perhaps the ultimate South Side baseball icon, said, "We lost a good man, baseball lost a good man. This city will always remember Ron Santo." Elena Oriama, a middle-aged woman from Itasca, Ill., said "I've been a Cub fan since I was 8 years old, and Ron has been my favorite always. A legend is gone, that's how I feel. It'll be difficult. No one can take his place. When he went to the Sox, I was a turncoat. I even went to Comiskey Park half the time to watch him play." Santo's hearse was outside, parked along State Street. It had had a pair of No. 10 Cubs flags on the hood, and someone and stenciled "10" in the snow on the windshield. The funeral will be held on Friday, and will include eulogies from Ricketts, baseball commissioner Bud Selig and Santo's broadcast partner, Pat Hughes. After the services, the procession will snake its way up north, taking Santo around the sacred ballpark, the place he always said he kept going to as "therapy." Fans are invited to watch the Santo procession, which is expected to reach the ballpark around noon Central time. The marquee on the outside of Wrigley Field has born Santo's full name since his passing: Ronald Edward Santo. Inside the park, the ivy is in hibernation, leaving the old brick walls bare. Next spring, the marquee will light up again and the ivy will again turn green. Another baseball season will begin, with the sense of renewal that has marked baseball as a national institution. It always goes on. The Cubs will go on, and someday may even win the World Series they never won in Santo's lifetime. Santo won't be around. He won't be sitting in the dugout before every game, waiting to talk to the skipper. His seat in the broadcast booth will be occupied by someone else. Cubs radio broadcasts will be devoid of his passionate eruptions, such as his trademark, "Ah, geez." No, Ron Santo won't be there, but it was plain to see on a frozen December afternoon that he will never be forgotten. As the afternoon slipped into evening, a light snow started to fall, but the line continued to flow. "There's nobody that can replace Ron Santo," said Baranowski, his voice trailing off. Next spring, someone else may sit in Santo's chair, but no one can replace the legend. That is why they came. Note: In lieu of flowers, the Santo family asks that donations be made in Ron's memory to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation -- Illinois chapter at the below address, by visiting www.jdrfillinois.org and clicking on "Donate Now" or by calling 312-670-0313.
Bradford Doolittle is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.