I just missed the Ron Santo era. Bill Madlock was the first Cubs third baseman that I remember. He was, in fact, my first favorite player. My only memory of Santo as a player, ironically, was in that last season as a member of the Chicago White Sox and frankly, it wasn't a very productive one. As a child, I only lived in the moment, and Santo wasn't a very good player that year. It wasn't always so, my father would say.
If I have fond memories of Ron Santo, it was the stories my father would tell me. He'd talk about his great defense and his knack for the clutch hit. My father was a blue-collar worker who appreciated a guy like Santo, a guy who left it all on the field. He was never a numbers guy, though Santo had those too. That was my department, even back then.
I took a second look at my Ron Santo card, the one where he was in a White Sox uniform, seemingly forcing a smile. He had Cubs blue running through his veins, perhaps he felt as odd wearing a White Sox uniform as Cubs fans did seeing him in it. He wound up quitting after what he called a frustrating season, even though he had another year remaining on what was then a lucrative $100,000 contract.
It wasn't the front of the card I was interested in this time, though. It was the back. I studied those numbers until I knew every season's stats by heart. Then I would talk to my father about it. My father was, unlike me, a quiet man. He worked 13 hours a day, coming home tired, smelling of sweat and metal. It was the same smell as the one on the palm of my hand as I walked to the store to get a pack of baseball cards, quarter gripped tightly so as not to lose it. That smell still reminds me of my youth, about that moment when my father would come home and I could talk to him about baseball.
He would tell me the stories about what kind of ballplayer Ron Santo was, while I would try and balance that with the statistics I had just memorized. In a way, it sort of set the tone for the way I appreciate baseball today. I may have not ever seen Santo play live in a Cubs uniform, but in a way, his great career helped fuel my love for the game.
Filed under: Cubs Nostalgia