JULY 20, 2012 1:32PM

Ron Santo's Boys

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See the picture? That's us. Santo’s Boys.

In a story that's not really even about baseball.


This is a story about telling somebody something before it's too late. Could be a wife, husband, parent

friend. Could be anyone. It could even be a hero.


The story opens under the shimmering moonlit darkness of the rolling green forests in Cooperstown New York. We were, in our minds, still wearing the uniforms shown in the picture as we scaled the fence to sneak on to the old baseball field and pretend that we were legends too.


Santo’s boys.


As a prelude to the ceremony we would hold tomorrow, each of us got our turn standing ready at the foot of the diamond. The park was called Doubleday Field.


Looking ready. Looking cool. Like the picture but in motion.  For each of us, a blazing pitch smacked, popped off into the stars. Perhaps still soaring now. From all those years ago.


Kicking up the dirt along those base paths of lives left to live. Sliding in safe as if safe was forever. Preparing for the ceremony that we would hold tomorrow.


The guy who looked like Bill Murray was the honcho of this crew. Pretty easy to guess who the Moran brothers were. Then there was Jim and Tom standing on the left, and me as a Boston guy, leaning on my bat as if I did that every day on my trip to those ‘green fields of the mind.’


Santo’s boys.


Exhausted from the leaping and running, later that night as we trundled out of that park, getting ready to scale up the fence again, we looked about 15 feet through the darkness to our left and realized that there was a wide open gate, ready for anyone to walk right through. Climbing fences when all we had to do was walk through the gate.


Course we didn’t think much about that, instead we were off to search for the coldest beers and girls with laughter that sounded like summer. Girls who might have some clue as to what it meant to be one of Santo’s boys. Someone who understood why this mattered.


Because if one were to make a movie of our ceremony on the following morning, that clue as to why this mattered would be very hard to see.


On that green and golden late summer morning of the ceremony, looking from afar, you'd see this clump of guys standing on the side steps, away from passing foot traffic, at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Look closer you’d see us taking turns holding a baseball card. As you watched, you’d see the guy with the card step lower, look up at the rest of us, say a few words, then climb back up and hand the card to someone else who did the same thing.


When we were done, we trooped into the National Hall, took the baseball card, and scotch taped it up on the wall next to the plaque of a player named Ernie Banks.


10 minutes later, a security guard ripped down our taped up honor.


Looked at from a distance, the movie would go black when the card was ripped off the wall. The story would end.


But there are times when none of us choose when our stories end. 


Because what happened years later, was that we got to tell Ron Santo the story.  


We got to tell him, and even better, we got to show him what he meant to us by this story of how we inducted him into the Hall of fame on our own. Lot of people talked about how he should be there. We put him there.


To show another person what they mean to you. To take the words. Words like, inspiration and courage and respect and love. To take words like those. And then to fill them with the dust kicked up under summer moons. To fill in the green of the forest, the smell of promises, the music of laughter and always the hope. We got to DO something to show someone we cared.

And then we got to TELL him about it.

We got to give MEANING to the words. We got to do that.


This weekend, after nineteen tries over umpteen years, Ron Santo will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The announcement was made one year and two days after Santo’s death at age 70.


There will be a lot of sadness at the fact that this did not happen when Santo was alive. But if you look hard and use just a little bit of imagination and hope, you just might see a tiny nick or piece of tape on the wall next to Ernie Bank’s plaque. That’s from the first time Ron Santo was put in the Hall of Fame.


And if you keep listening, you’ll hear the real story here. The story for everyone. The one that has nothing to do with baseball at all.


That story about the time you got to tell someone what they mean to you.


And if you were as  lucky as we were, you even got to show it.


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Too bad Santo didn't get in while he was still alive. His speech would have special.

I was in Cooperstown a few weeks ago, and I stopped to watch a couple innings of a high school game that was being played at Doubleday Field. There was something pure about it. (Well, except for the "ping" of the aluminum bats.)
Sigh. Good story. If there was a "Good Guys of Baseball Hall of Fame," Santo would be a first-ballot choice. Ok, here's the part where I could be thrown in the Chicago River: Santo shouldn't be in Cooperstown. I know the stats and how Santo compared to his contemporaries. Santo was good. Some seasons he was very good. But never "great," wherever that arbitrary line is drawn. And before someone goes off on a "Well, so-and-so is in the Hall, and Santo was better than that," you're likely right. There are plenty of players elected to the Hall who racked up stats thanks to longevity (Don Sutton), supported by jingoistic East Coast voters (Jim Rice) or they were really nice guys (Kirby Puckett) who had a year or two of dominance (maybe) and otherwise were pretty good. That doesn't mean they should be in the same room with Ruth, Williams, Koufax, Bench and their ilk.
What is a Chicago Guy doing in a Red Sox get up? Hmmmmm.
I had the opportunity to meet Ernie Banks when I was a boy. He came to Jersey City with some sort of traveling all-star team. I don't remember the particulars of the game but I got an autograph which has since been lost. Nice post. R
you look like a young johnny pesky
Cranky--That field is a magical place.

Stim---Thanks for stopping by.

Gerald--Trying to look cool for the big event.

Chuck--I looked up a picture---you're right!
This is a lot of fun to read. I especially like the part where you describe the participants and you have to go back and pick them out. (Hey, there IS a guy that looks like Bill Murray...) Not being a Chicago person, I never developed any great affinity for Ron Santo but I do have a similar story ("The Curse of Harvey Kuenne") written about baseball in Detroit. Have you sent this post to the Baseball Hall of Fame library?
Jeff---And I am betting, knowing your excellent work, that the "curse" part of your story is the important part of your story. Which is my point here.

I am fascinated by the fact that the really good sports stories aren't really about the sport. "Shoeless Joe" is a piece of genius. And anybody who thinks its just about baseball didn't get it.

Yet for some reason, writing this kind of story comes very hard to me, so I keep trying to get it right. I haven't sent this anywhere, cause I'm not totally satisfied with it. I did write one on loosing heros, that was similar to this, and sent that out---but no takers. It's posted here.
That one I was satisfied with. Sort of.

I wrote this as a reminder to myself to show the people I care about that I care about them before its too late.

MANY thanks for reading and commenting!
You remind me how I care about your writing. The Hiatt was a great choice. Bravo!
Thanks Stacey. That means a lot to me. Cause I keep trying to get this story right.
Roger: This post exactly echoes my comments to you the other day. You did it!
And you're right -- first it's in the doing. Then it's in the telling. What a grand thing to have done for Santo, and for yourself. Like closing a circuit. Coming full circle. And what a grand thing to be reminded of when we're just sitting around, watching our kids or wives or husbands or friends.
I understand about not being satisfied with a story. I wouldn't sweat this one too much. Let it sit for a bit. Come back later. You might be surprised at what you find.
JH---Thanks! Exactly like closing a circuit. And agreed on putting it aside.
Roger, this is wonderful! It is still a shame that Ron was not alive to be inducted, but that was a part of the story that was "this old Cub." Ron's jersey was retired in 2003, and he was inducted into the Cubs Hall of Fame before joining the other hall of fame. There will always be more tragedy than victory that is associated with the Cubs, but losing will always be more common in the game of life than winning; Ron Santo was a winner when he died because of how he played the games of baseball and life itself.