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Ron Santo would have been thrilled with Hall induction, family says

Chicago Cubs infielder Ron Santo in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Chicago Cubs infielder Ron Santo in Scottsdale, Ariz. Credit: AP, 1971

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Ron Santo once promised that if the Cubs ever won the World Series, he would go out on the grass at Wrigley Field, leap up and click his two prosthetic heels.

That was what his children said Saturday of the late third baseman, who died in December 2010, a year and three days before his long awaited election to the Hall of Fame by the Golden Era Committee. The man loved the game, the Cubs and life, despite having played his 15-year career with Type 1 diabetes, which ultimately cost him both of his legs.

Ron Jr., Jeff and Linda Santo-Brown all said, during a news conference Saturday, that the whole family dreamed of seeing Santo walk on those artificial limbs -- he had two sets, decorated in Cubs colors, one matching the home uniform, the other the road uniform -- and accepting the honor personally. They wish he could be up there with former Reds shortstop Barry Larkin Sunday. They were so embittered that his induction didn't happen during his lifetime that they used to say they would not come if he were enshrined posthumously.

"I didn't know how I was going to feel," Jeff said. "But there was joy there."

They have seen joy all over town the past few days, watching fans walking around town wearing jerseys of Santo's beloved Cubs. His children chose to embrace it because they knew Santo would have wanted them to do so. "He would say 'Thank you' over and over again," Linda said, adding that the man who became a passionate Cubs broadcaster would have been hoarse from talking to so many well-wishers. "He taught us about appreciating life."

A five-time Gold Glove winner and 11-time 20-homer hitter, Santo became the symbol of Cubs teams that fell just short, especially to the Mets in 1969. His heel-clicking celebrations after a Cubs victory irked opponents, but they helped make the Cubs into a major, trendy attraction in Chicago.

"We were not only teammates, we were friends," said Hall of Famer Billy Williams, who long pushed Santo's candidacy. "We spent so much time together in Double A baseball, Triple A baseball. He always hit fourth, I hit third.

"When he said in Chicago, when his number was retired, 'This is my Hall of Fame,' he didn't mean it. In his heart, he didn't mean it," Williams said. "I know he wanted to be here where his teammates are."

Hall of Famer Lou Brock, who played with and against Santo, said he supported the third baseman's Hall cause. "Santo was a person with Type 1 diabetes who daily went to his locker, pulled out his insulin, gave himself a shot, went out and played with the best of them. To me, that was courage," Brock said.

Ferguson Jenkins, another former teammate who made it to the Hall, said, "It's 10 years too late and I think Ronnie deserved better."

Williams said, "I know he was disappointed the last couple years. It's too bad. Everybody wished he was here to receive this honor, but I think the family, they're going to enjoy it. Listen, [once] when we were in Chicago, remember it was cloudy? All of a sudden he came up and the sun came out. That's what's going to happen when he receives the award. He's looking down on us."

And, his friends and family said, somewhere he will be clicking his heels.

Larkin glad he nixed Mets. Larkin could have been playing shortstop for the Mets in the 2000 World Series, but he declined a trade from the Reds.

"In retrospect, I'm certainly happy I didn't go to the Mets. It would have been a different situation if I had spent the last of my years with another organization," he said. "Part of the story is me being a lifer, a Cincinnati Red."

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