On July 22, 2012, Chicago Cubs’ Ron Santo was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Because many of you could care less about baseball and Santo’s prolific career as the best third-baseman of his era was a long, long time ago, (1960-1974), some of you must be tempted to press the “delete” button on this blog. But please bear with me. It’s a tale worth hearing for 4 great reasons.
Great reason #1. Santo was my boyhood idol. He played third base and so did I. He was short and stocky and so was I. He was a perennial all-star for my beloved Chicago Cubs during my teenage years.
Great reason #2. What set Santo apart from other sports superstars is that he played almost all of his career as an insulin-dependent (Type I) diabetic. The methods of regulating diabetes in the 1960s and 1970s were not as advanced as they are today, so Santo gauged his blood sugar levels based on his moods. If he felt his blood sugar was low, he would snack on a candy bar during games. The prime of his career – 1960-1971- was played without letting anyone one in Chicago Cubs management know that he suffered from diabetes. He withheld this information for fear that if the Cubs found out, they would not let him play. Despite this disability, Santo produced hall of fame statistics during his playing career, which this insidious disease cut way too short at the tender age of 34. Amazingly, despite this obstacle, Santo almost never missed a game throughout his 15 year career. Santo went on to become a dearly loved color announcer for Chicago Cubs radio broadcasts from 1990 until his death in 2010. He loved the Cubs, Cubs fans loved him and he was an unapologetic “homer.”
His health issues were almost as legendary as his playing career. Laser eye surgeries. Cardiac bypass surgery. A series of right foot operations that eventually led to the amputation of his right leg below the knee in December, 2001. A year later, his left leg also was amputated. A few years later, he suffered from bladder cancer, which eventually would take his life. Despite all of these medical conditions, Santo rarely missed a Cubs broadcast, both at home and on the road.
Great reason #3. In an almost a surreal development, after following Santo’s career as my boyhood idol and later discovering that he played most of his entire career as a Type-1 diabetic, my own two children, Doug and Lauren, were diagnosed with Type I diabetes as teenagers in the 1990s. They are now in their early 30s, doing fine. I am incredibly proud of how positive they are about living with this disease and how carefully they have conformed to a health regimen (multiple insulin injections and blood sugar testing via finger pricks every day of their life that will never end) that is daunting to say the least.
Great reason #4. I saved the best for last. Santo’s greatest legacy is as a spokesman and mega-fundraiser for diabetes. Since 1979, when he founded the annual JDRF Ron Santo Walk to Cure Diabetes in Chicago, $65 million has been raised to find a cure, and as Santo always said, “we will find a cure.” Our family became active within the Santo/JDRF organization in the late1990s and has raised over $100,000, which makes us one of the 30 largest non-corporate fundraisers for the Chicago Walk.
Needless to say, I was in tears watching the televised enshrinement of Santo on July 22. But as his wife Vickie said in her gracious acceptance speech, this is a time to celebrate Santo’s life. Ron Santo may be gone, but in the Rosenberg family, he will NEVER be forgotten.
If you have been moved by this story and you would like to help our family beat this insidious disease, please contribute generously to the JDRF Ron Santo Walk To Cure Diabetes. You can donate online directly by clicking on to the Doug and Lauren Rosenberg Family Team .
For those who would like a little amusement, read two letters a naïve teenage Marc Rosenberg wrote to the Chicago Daily News. Equally amusing is the editors’ printed responses. The first letter is a statistical analysis that tried to make a case for Santo being the most valuable player in all of baseball. The second is a poem that gives Casey At The Bat a run for the money.