One of Ron Santo's biggest dreams was realized Sunday as, at long last, the Chicago Cubs legend was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Sadly, though, the honor came too late for Santo himself to take part in the celebration. In a cruel twist of irony, the former All-Star third baseman didn't get the call to the Hall until last December - a year after his death.
There's no doubt No. 10 had the numbers. He was a nine-time All Star, won five Gold Gloves and holds the National League record among third basemen for consecutive games played, most games played in a season and most seasons leading the league in fielding chances. Santo was also a lifetime .277 hitter, boasting 342 home runs and 1,331 RBIs in 15 big league seasons.
So what kept him out for so long? Even experts seem to be baffled as to how to explain such an egregious oversight year after year - first passed over by Baseball Writers' Association of America voters for 15 years, then by the old Veterans' Committee for the following three votes.
There has been speculation that some may not have liked Santo's trademark heel click - celebrating Cubs victories - or that people were reluctant to induct a fourth player from the 1969 Cubs into Cooperstown (Santo teammates Billy Williams, Ernie Banks and Fergie Jenkins were already enshrined).
I admit it has even crossed my mind that some voters might have seen the whole "will Santo finally get in" debate as a way to drive interest in Hall of Fame voting, but that seems too mean-spirited even to contemplate - especially to someone who wanted it as badly as Santo did.
And he never made secret his desire to be admitted into Cooperstown. Yet each time he was passed over, he handled his disappointment with class, not bitterness. Watch "This Old Cub" - an acclaimed 2004 documentary about Ronnie directed by his son Jeff - and you'll see his evident heartbreak in 2003 when he got the call, in front of a room full of reporters and photographers, saying that he once again had been refused membership to the club he so longed to join.
He blinked back the tears, and during an interview immediately afterward, he credited the fans for giving him the strength to get through yet another disappointment. And when the Cubs retired his number in 2003, he emotionally declared, "This is my Hall of Fame."
I have no doubt that he meant that, as there was no bigger Cubs fan in the world than Ron Santo. During the induction ceremony Sunday, Santo's widow, Vicki, recounted a conversation she overheard between her husband and a doctor right before his second leg was amputated.
"As the nurse was wheeling him into the operating room, I heard him telling the doctor that the timing was perfect for this operation because he could be back for opening day," Vicki Santo said. "Only Ron. That's what was on his mind, getting ready to broadcast Cubs baseball on opening day."
Page 2 of 2 - However, despite his unflagging loyalty to the Cubs and its legions of fans - and the enduring love Cubbie Nation showed for him in return - seeing his place in history cemented in Cooperstown would undoubtedly have been one of the highlights of his life.
And celebrating the highs is what her late husband was all about, Vicki Santo noted.
"Words cannot express my sorrow that Ron Santo didn't live to see this day. That he's not here to give this speech. ... But this is not a sad day. Not at all. This is a very happy day," she said Sunday. "He had incredible lows and highs. But Ron's life was never about the lows. He always found a way to make it about the highs. Looking back, he believed he was given the gift of talent as well as the challenge of diabetes so that through his hardship, he could shed light on a cause, that he could help others though his story."
"But without the difficulties, what would have been the value of the gift? What meaning would have been the journey? It never held him back. Not even double [leg] amputations. Because Ron Santo believed it's not what happens to you in life that people may judge, but how you handle what happens to you in your life."
Santo wasn't alive to see one of his greatest wishes come to fruition, but his actions on and off the field have assured that his legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of baseball fans for generations to come.
City editor Amy Gehrt may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.