Monday, December 6, 2010

Ronald Edward Santo
Feb. 25, 1940 — Dec. 2, 2010
CHICAGO — Ron Santo, one of the greatest players in Chicago Cubs history and a longtime WGN radio announcer whose devotion to the perennial losers was made obvious night after night by his excited shouts or dejected laments, has died. He was 70. (ESPN)

JUNE 11, 1972, SPORTS


Survival Swing

      It was a late September game in Chicago's Wrigley Field and the Dodgers pitcher, Bill Singer, had a one-hitter going until, suddenly, a walk, a double by Billy Williams, and an intentional walk loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth and jeopardized his 1-0 shutout.
   In the on-deck circle, Ron Santo couldn't care less. Ron Santo was losing a bigger game than Cubs-Dodgers at the moment. He briefly weighed taking himself out of the game. But how would that look? "Gutless!" the fans would scream at him. "Hey, Santo, whatsa matter, ya afraid of a knockdown?" he could hear in his mind. So he settled in the batter's box.
   At the time, Ron Santo was afraid of more than a baseball. The bat trembled in his hand — but not from the pressure outside, from the pressure INSIDE. He knew the symptoms all too well. The tremors, the cold sweat, the nausea, the constant thirst and dryness in the throat, the stomach pain, the gasping for air, the double vision. Ron Santo saw two Bill Singers. He would have to make up his mind which of two baseballs to hit.
   Ron Santo swung. And hit a home run. He staggered out of the batter's box — and then RAN as fast as he could around the bases.
   Now, in baseball, guys who hit game-winning homers are supposed to go into their Babe Ruth trot. And Ron Santo had hit enough, Lord knows, more than any right-handed hitting third-baseman who ever lived. But Ron Santo didn't have much time. He had to beat a coma into the dugout.
   Not too many people knew it, not the crowd, not the Dodgers, the umpires, nor most of his teammates, but Ron Santo was a diabetic. He had been since childhood, but he concealed it because, in the rough-and-tumble world of baseball, if you have an ailment you can't cure in a whirlpool bath, you are considered a pussycat. "Shake it off!" would be a ballplayer's advice for a heart attack.
   Ron Santo had miscalculated the amount of insulin, the sugar-fighting substance his body lacks naturally, that he would need that day. But the needle was in the locker room, and there was no time for the traditional home plate handshakes.
   Lots of nature's most fiendish frailties lie beneath the rippling muscles, bulging torsos, and pink cheeks of major athletes. Ron Santo had been a diabetic since he entered baseball, but he concealed it beneath an annual 20 or 30 home runs and 100 runs batted in. You don't test the blood sugar of a guy whose chart reads ".313 — 114 RBI."
   That Sept. 25 in 1968 convinced Ron Santo that he was, after all, a diabetic first, and would be long after he ceased being a third baseman and that the sign he wore secretly — “I am a diabetic. My behavior during reactions may resemble that of an intoxicated person" — should be as open and well-known as his batting average.
   There are some four million diabetics, discovered and undiscovered, in this country. Most children give way to despair upon detection. The thought of plunging a daily needle into them is no more horrendous than the thought of living as a semi-invalid.
   Ron Santo found out about his diabetes the same time he found out about his baseball. The urine reports came in the day he signed his contract.
   The doctor thought it would be a mistake, not for Ron Santo to play baseball but to play possum. He recommended Santo tell at least the front office.
   When he risked a coma to take a chance against Bill Singer's fastball he saw two of, Santo decided to tell the world. He told how he had schooled himself two hours a day for months so that he could live 500,000 hours for the rest of his life. He told how he deliberately induced both coma and insulin shock under controlled conditions so he could learn how to control himself and it. "I had to learn the dosages for a hot day when the sugar would burn off quickly in sweat and activities. I had to learn the symptoms for too much insulin, as well."
   In baseball, they have a statistic for almost everything — most home runs by an Italian left fielder off a Yugoslavian right-hander, most pinch hits by a switch-hitter out of Altoona in the months with r's in them, most chaws of tobacco spit at sportswriters' feet by Irish managers needing a shave. But the unquestioned record for most home runs hit by a diabetic third baseman (306) belongs and may, forever, to Ronald Edward Santo.
   On the other hand, he may have jeopardized that record by showing that a kid so afflicted can become one of the top 25 home run hitters of all time and an annual All-Star third baseman, and it may encourage some other kid who would otherwise retire to a clerk's job to get a glove and bat and try to beat him out. No one would be cheering for him more than Ron Santo. As they say in baseball, he's "been there."

Reprinted with permission by the Los Angeles Times

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