Chicago Cubs Still Have Lovable Broadcaster in Ron Santo

Matt MooneyCorrespondent IMay 4, 2009

CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 28:  Former Chicago Cub third baseman Ron Santo and his wife Vicki walk onto the field before a retirement ceremony for Santo's uniform number 10 before a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 28, 2003 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois.  The Pirates defeated the Cubs 3-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

To say that color commentator Ron Santo provides the color for the Chicago Cubs radio broadcasts is to say that those same Cubs have suffered a championship drought—in both cases, a gross understatement.

Santo is in the midst of his 20th year in the Cubs broadcast booth.  It would be appropriate to say that he is still going strong and hasn’t lost his touch if it were clear what his touch was. 

A chemical breakdown of his style likely would consist of one part Harry Caray (for his chronic mispronunciation of names, especially Cubs reliever Jeff Samardzija), one part John Madden (for his mastery of the obvious), and two parts Mel Brooks (for his ability to transform the mundane into sheer hilarity).

The Cubs have long been dubbed the “Lovable Losers”; it’s a bit harsh to say that Santo is the embodiment of that moniker, but it’s also not too far from the truth.  He has an honest gullibility, the sort that doesn’t carry even the slightest hint of pretension but still leaves listeners chuckling, “Did he just say that?!”

One of my good friends, Steve James, is a lifelong Cubs fan and still listens to the teams’ radio broadcasts on the way home from work.  He recounts his favorite Ron Santo broadcast story:

“Ron decided that he wanted one of the radio interns to do research on peanuts since Ron and [play-by-play broadcaster] Pat Hughes always eat peanuts in the broadcast booth.

The intern came on the air and…after [he] finished his [report], Ron asked how they were grown. The intern [told] him that peanuts grow on a plant.  Next, Ron stated, ‘I understand that the peanuts grow on a plant, but how do they get put in the shells. Do they go to a peanut shell factory and put them in the shells?’

For the next two to three minutes, the intern and Pat tried to explain to Ron that the peanuts grow inside of the shell and the whole peanut (shell and all) grows on a plant.”

Santo’s unpredictability is matched only by his thinly veiled enthusiasm for his beloved Cubs.  Any Cubs walk-off home run is almost as exciting for its actual occurrence as it is to hear what string of onomatopoeia (“Woo!”, “Wham!”, “Oh Yeah!”) will overlap Hughes’ call. 

Like an absent-minded tourist, he has a tendency to forget where his thought was going and tail off as the game unfolds below.  Listeners are left to ponder what curious thought was going to escape before it was so casually forgotten.

Yet for all his entertainment appeal, Santo is relatively unknown as a broadcaster outside the realm of Cubs fans.  He suffers primarily from the same curse as Andy Roddick, the curse of being a contemporary with legends. 

Santo’s 13-year tenure as the Cubs third baseman overlapped entirely with Hall of Fame teammate, “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks.  After Santo’s playing career ended, he took up broadcasting with the Cubs on the radio in 1990. 

But cable TV steadily was supplanting radio as the vehicle for bringing Major League Baseball into American households.  Not only that, but WGN’s TV broadcasts already had their own legend in the immortal Caray.

But fame does not seem to be anywhere on the radar of Santo’s pursuits.  Even if a Hall of Fame is not in his future, he still tries to give back to the Chicago community. 

Santo’s battle with type one diabetes led him to endorse the Ron Santo Walk to Cure Diabetes through the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.  The annual event is now in its 31st year.

In a way, the Cubs and Ron Santo are as close a fit as organization and player. The bottom line production leaves something to be desired, but there’s never any shortage of entertainment and, at the very least, everyone is pulling for them.