Saturday, January 8, 2011

Ron Santo (#70)


Many months ago, I had a discussion with Wrigley Wax, where I said that I (like many others, I suspect) overlooked the impact of Cubs' outfielder Billy Williams. To a lesser extent, the same is true of Ron Santo. Why? Probably a number of reasons, including playing in Ernie Banks' shadow, the Cubs having bad teams in the 1960s, the presence of so many headline-grabbing power hitters back in the day (Mays, Mantle, Aaron, Clemente, McCovey, Killebrew, Yastrzemski, etc, etc).

A few months ago, the MLB Network ran a Prime 9 episode on the greatest player at each position in the 1960s. Before watching it, I assumed that several players would be slam-dunks (Sandy Koufax, Brooks Robinson, etc..). I was shocked to learn that neither of those 2 were selected. RON SANTO was selected by MLB Network as the greatest 3rd baseman of the 1960s! On closer review, it's not that surprising. Santo was a notch below Robinson defensively, but although always edged out of the home run crown by Mays, Aaron, or McCovey, Santo was an RBI machine for most of his career.

Ron Santo was signed by the Cubs in 1959, and spent the year playing double-A ball. After 71 games with the Cubs' triple-A Houston team in 1960, Santo made his major-league debut on June 26th. He took over the 3rd base job from Don Zimmer, starting 94 of the final 96 games there in 1960.

Santo was a workhorse for the Cubs. He played 160 or more games in 7 of the 8 seasons from 1962 to 1969. His most productive seasons were from 1963 to 1970, when he tallied 98 or more RBI 7 times, cracked 30+ home runs 4 times, and led the league in walks 4 times. During that time, he made 6 all-star appearances and collected 5 gold gloves.

Although his numbers began to slip from "Santo standards" beginning in 1971, he still made the all-star team 3 more times as a Cub. Santo moved across town to the White Sox for his final season in 1974. With the Sox, he played 47 games as the DH, 39 games at 2nd base, and 28 games at 3rd base.

Following his playing career, Santo was a broadcaster for the Cubs for the past 20 years. He passed away in early December 2010.