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The Case Against Ron Santo

Ron:  What did Ramirez do last time?  Pat:  Ron, he hit a homerun that killed Ronnie Woo-Woo. Ron:  Oh yeah that's right.  How could I forget?  And who is this new pitcher for Philadelphia?  Pat: Ron, that's still Jamie Moyer, today's starter.No, this is not an argument against Ron Santo’s inclusion into the Hall of Fame. Only a true idiot—or an insecure weirdo like Mike Schmidt—would make such an argument. Santo has long been deserving, and his exclusion is worthy of an absurdist drama.

It is, however, this very debate that has wound its way through the years to the situation with which we’re faced currently—an 800 pound gorilla in the broadcast booth whose antics have gone from endearing to totally unlistenable.

How did we get here? Speaking for myself, I didn’t always find Santo the most obnoxious, annoying clown to have ever breathed into a microphone. Like most everyone at one point or another, for years I found Santo amusing and harmless. The malaprops were part of the charm, and he reminded you of your goofy uncle who kept losing his glasses. Further, having grown up with an aging, senillic Harry Caray, many of us were accustomed to getting our broadcasts delivered to us through the accounts and descriptions of a man in a fog.

But it’s gotten worse. What was once a charming element to the broadcasts has digressed to an obstructive presence that reeks of overly dramatic whining and self-pitying, completely interfering with what has long been a favorite pastime of mine—listening to baseball on the radio.

Santo joined the booth in 1990, broadcasting games with that epitome of smarmy cockfaciness (cockfaciness? Just stick with me), tHom Brenneman. Back then, Santo was merely filling the role originally invented by Dick Butkus in 1985 and fulfilled by many of Butkus’ replacements on Bears broadcasts as well as Tom Boerwinkle on Bulls’ broadcasts—the former player-turned homer cheerleader in the booth.

Whenever I would catch a game on the radio in the early 90’s, I assumed Santo was drunk (like with Harry, Steve Stone’s denials be damned). Turns out Santo’s diabetes has generally precluded him from being a big drinker. So sadly, his idiocy didn’t have the crutch of alcoholism attached to it. Nevertheless, there was a certain charm to it.

As time has gone by, however, Santo has worn out his welcome. This is due to a combination of factors—Santo’s increasing age or, to put it more starkly, his impending death, his ongoing torment at being denied enshrinement in Cooperstown, and the Cubs finally contending on an annual basis, where he now wears every failure like a 200 pound cross.

But that last point is what has not only made me lose patience with Santo, but has managed to make me hate him, to the point where I find myself disregarding all of his past contributions to the team . Seriously, who the hell does this guy think he is every time he whines his way through an inning wherein the Cubs strand the bases loaded, sounding like a sheep whose had his testicle strangled? I feel bad enough as it is; I’d at least appreciate the guy in the booth keeping it together.

And where does he get off anointing himself as the face of the franchise anyway, taking every loss like he’s personally wounded? Wasn’t this guy the face of the Durocher-Era Cubs? Wasn’t he there in 1969, clicking his heels in celebration after meaningless early season victories (and make no mistake about it—it’s actions like that which have contributed—right or wrong– to the blackballing that Santo would later face)?

Speaking of 1969, now might be a good time to bring up one of the signature games that epitomized the Cubs’ downfall that season. Click here, and be sure to scroll down to extra innings, and ask yourself this–how unprofessional and bitchy would a present-day Ron Santo have been upon seeing a young Ron Santo get doubled off of first base in a tie game in extra innings while the winning run at second had rendered his run moot?

Of course, self-awareness has never been Santo’s strong suit. After the repeated failures of those Cubs teams, Santo was dealt to the White Sox for Steve Stone, and that seemed to be the end of the story. For the next 15 years, the guy who would later reinvent himself as some sort of “face of the franchise” had nothing to do with the Cubs. Then came Dallas Green and the 1984 Cubs, who did something that those losers from 1969 failed to do—close the deal by kicking the hell out of the Mets and winning the division. I was twelve years old in 1984 and hardly had any idea who Ron Santo was. Leon Durham, Keith Moreland, Ryne Sandberg, Rick Sutcliffe and company didn’t need mopes like Santo hanging around the team, befouling the atmosphere with the stench of failure. But suddenly, thanks to 1984, the Cubs became fashionable, and lo and behold this guy who wanted nothing to do with the franchise after he sulked away after being traded came back into the fold, hoping to capitalize on this newfound Cub popularity to bolster his chances at making the Hall.

Now I’m not going to begrudge Santo for using the broadcast booth to help his cause for enshrinement. Like I said, by every logical metric, Ron Santo should be in the Hall of Fame anyway. And going into broadcasting to improve one’s profile has been a time-honored tradition beginning with Ralph Kiner and played to perfection by Joe Morgan. Part of the reason, though, that Santo has failed to get enough support through this platform can be chalked up to the fact that he so obviously and shamelessly wants it. I’m not saying it’s right for asshole writers from the East to use this as an excuse to keep him out—it is in fact downright cruel—but maybe if the guy didn’t so readily pander for it he might have gotten more support. I mean letting his wannabe filmmaker son exploit him for the cheesiest pile of sentimental crap this side of 19th century Victorian literature is precisely the type of stuff that could just as easily turn people off.

What has happened in the last 3 years or so is a horse of a different color. Whereas he used to be a foolish, sentimental clown who couldn’t get out of his own way to Cooperstown, he now has become an annoying, whiny pain in the ass that perpetuates the worst stereotype of Cub fans as fatalistic boobs who are at the mercy of the fates. Every time an opposing team hits a pop fly that falls for a hit, Santo opines “Those things always happen to us.” (of course, you’ll never see him express gratitutde every time it happens for the Cubs). When a reliever comes in and puts a few baserunners on, Santo bleatingly wonders, “What is going ON?” And that’s not even counting the myriad times he just yells “Gah!” “Jeez!” “Ahh!” completely trampling over the dutiful description of the action by his partner—the outstanding Pat Hughes who, unfortunately, has been relegated to the role of babysitter for a grown man.

Does anybody still seriously enjoy this? As bad as the Cubs are right now, the experience of being a fan of this team is made even worse whenever I am unfortunate enough to find myself relying strictly on the radio call. Pat Hughes deserves better. The fans deserve better. Hell, Ron Santo himself deserves better, not that he’d ever become aware of it.

Please, Ron. While I agree that your omission from the Hall of Fame is egregious, I don’t understand how it justifies you in crapping all over these broadcasts. Just. Go away.