I still have the baseball I brought to the park that day sitting in a display box on my desk. I don't really know the names of all the players who signed it - their handwriting is illegible and the only one I know for sure is Canadian pitcher Ryan Demptster, my current favorite player if I had to pick one. But his name is scrawled on the side of the ball. The place of honor between the seams facing the top of the box so I can always see it is Ron Santo's autograph.
I can remember the day easily. People were scattered all around the park, holding out baseballs, posters, and pens while calling out the names of players walking by to please autograph whatever they were holding. My brother and I noticed that there was also a line descending from the window of the broadcasting booth where people were waiting for Len, Bob, and Ron. Even though at one point Ron had to leave to do a post-game interview, he promised he'd be back so we continued to wait. What a guy! He was so nice, signed my baseball along with my brother's, and smiled for a picture. I could barely contain my enthusiasm when I got up to the window, pointed to my dad who was watching from a few rows away, and said "You're our dad's favorite player!" and so Ron gave him a smile and a wave.
It's a shame that he never got to go to the World Series during his playing career, nor did he ever see the Cubs get there in his lifetime. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of all was that he was never voted into the Hall of Fame while he was still living to celebrate all his many accomplishments. It's amazing how good of a player he was, and to think he did all that he did while also having diabetes is incredible. But with true class, Ron never complained. In fact, when the Cubs retired his number, he said that it meant more to him than the Hall of Fame.
In recent years, younger generations of Cubs fans have grown to love him not as a player, but as one of the most colorful sports commentators if you listened to WGN radio. (I personally loved it when he'd get on random tangents about his cats.) He did so much for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and not even the loss of both of his legs could slow him down.
Chicago and baseball have lost a legend. (Don't forget, he played one season with the White Sox at the end of his career.) Ron Santo was a class act, a heck of a ball player, and he had a personality in a class of its own. So thanks for the many years of memories, Ron. May your family find comfort during this difficult time and may you rest in peace. When the Cubbies finally do win the ultimate prize, I'm sure you'll be cheering the loudest wherever you are.