I always have two really strong childhood memories of Ron Santo, the Cubs third sacker who passed away at age 70 Friday morning.
First is by virtue of his surname, and the 1959 hit, Sleepwalk, performed by Santo and Johnny. And that Santo was Santo Farina's first name.
Second, in 1962, Ron Santo, the ball player, was a rookie third sacker for the Chicago Cubs. And, his rookie baseball card was pretty good, so my brother Peter, with whom I played the baseball simulation game we called "click" on the linoleum floor of our bedroom, plucked Santo's card and made him a member of his team.
And, Ronnie was a star in the game, and his "bat"-tered card--for the cards were used as ball and bat--wound up with a lot of tape on the label side (the side of the card one swung) for that is how we remedied nicks and tears in the cards (I guess we never considered that juicing).
He was also the star third sacker of the Cubs at that time, when there was simply the National League and the American League, and each team had stars, and the Cubbies had Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins, Billy Williams, along with Santo.
Santo was a power hitter, with career totals of .277-342-1331, but he also won five Gold Gloves, led the league in double plays six times, and between 1961 and 1968, he led the National League in total chances each season.
Santo finished his career on the south side of Chicago, with the White Sox, and then went on to the broadcast booth for the Cubbies in 1990, partnering with Harry Carey.
He also suffered from diabetes during his career, although as an ubercurious fan, I never knew. However, as Santo aged, the disease cost him a leg, but that really did not slow him down much.
Santo is always one of the first names I hear of as Hall of Fame worthy, along with Gil Hodges who with .273-361-1274 totals, had a career eerily similar to Santo's. And, apparently, both men's numbers are more than respectable, and both are just on the cusp--with other names like Jim Kaat, Tommy John, Bill Buckner, Darrell Evans, and Jack Morris to name a few--of induction, with stats that apparently fall just a bit short of Cooperstown.
But, there is another Santo angle that graced me over the last few years, and that is via my partner, Diane, who grew up north side. And, though Di is not really a crazy baseball person--though she likes to attend games here and there--she did spend several summers during her childhood as a member of the bleachers at Wrigley, watching the tail end of the third sacker's career.
When she first told me the year's she frequented Wrigley, I rattled off player names and Santo's was the one that gave her pause.
In fact I had mint versions of Santos '62 and '63 Topps cards, so I gave them to her in plastic protectors, although I suppose she never got the idea to use them as a bookmark. But, somewhere amongst her things, those cards live.
I am not sure if the Veterans Committee will vote Santo into the Hall, though I sort of suspect not.
To me it does not matter, for he is so ingrained. In fact I still have that '62 card that we played with 48 years ago, and I swear, I will never trade it. Or use it as a bookmark.