It’s an off-day today. So I figured I’d pound out a few thoughts.
First, I’ve always had a thing for baseball announcers. Their stories fascinated me as a kid. Growing up in small-town Nebraska, I didn’t get much access to broadcasts, but when I did I was a good audience.
I loved Joe Garagiola during the Saturday Game of the Week. Bob Uecker popped up on the broadcasts and the commercials during those days. He’s a genius. And it turns out Vin Scully was pretty good during the post-season.
Fortunately, Pat Hughes — the long-time voice of the Chicago Cubs — shares a similar affection for these guys. Pat has produced a series of CDs devoted to the careers of several great announcers. He even did one on my partner, Milo Hamilton.
I strongly recommend spending a few minutes to check out “Baseball Voices: Commemorative Audio Tributes to Baseball’s Greatest Announcers.” Pat has written, narrated and produced 10 fabulous CDs with historic radio calls, background stories and lots of extra audio rarely heard for legends like Harry Caray, Marty Brennaman, Red Barber and others.
Along those lines, the Astros returned from Chicago late last night after completing a three-game series with the Cubs. Per usual, the radio booth at Wrigley Field was a disaster. It’s tiny and uncomfortable. Often times it’s suffocatingly hot.
It’s also one of the greatest places on earth.
For years I sat no more than a foot away from Cubs radio analyst Ron Santo — separated only by the pane of glass between our booths. We talked a lot. Ronnie loved to chat. And, man, did we laugh. Everyone who talked to Ron laughed.
I tell my boys that Ron never had a bad day. I’m not exaggerating. I’ve never heard of him appearing tired or frustrated or down.
We’re talking about a guy who endured eight surgeries on his right leg before doctors had to amputate his foot. Several weeks later, they brought him back in to amputate the rest of his leg from the knee down.
The following year, doctors took his left leg from the knee down as well. Heart attacks, quadruple-bypass surgery and a life-long battle with juvenile diabetes never seemed to bother Ron Santo.
The one thing that occasionally drove Santo nuts was — no surprise here — the Cubs. When they played well, Ronnie beamed. When they struggled, it broke his heart. His suffering was heartfelt, genuine and painful. It was also endearing.
Ron Santo passed away at the tail end of 2010. First week of December. Less than a month ago he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame; a recognition he openly hoped to receive.
I always felt Ron’s playing career was Hall worthy, but admit that I might be swayed by my affection for the man and his unique broadcast style.
Last week, I pulled into my garage and let our mini-van’s engine idle for a few extra moments as my wife and kids climbed out. I wasn’t quite ready to get out, myself; I needed a little more time.
It just so happened that we were listening to “Baseball Voices: Ron Santo.” It’s the only audio tribute Pat Hughes has done for a non play-by-play man. And it’s a beauty.
“Mom, is Dad laughing or crying?” my 9-year old son asked.
“Yes,” she said.
My wife understands me pretty well. I was definitely laughing. I was also crying. I couldn’t help it; Ronnie had that effect on me. I miss the big fella.
MORE SANTO (thanks James)
Santo’s wife, Vicki, delivered a terrific speech at Ron’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony. She captured the spirit and personality of the man as beautifully as could be imagined.
If you want a little taste of the kind of funny stuff you’ll find on “Baseball Voices: Ron Santo,” check out this video of Pat Hughes talking about Santo before his HOF induction in July. Good fun when you have a few minutes to watch:
Pat Hughes and Ron Santo — great broadcasters but better men.