The crappy thing about trying to be a part-time blogger is when something happens and you don't have time to write about it, since you have an actual job to do that they pay you for. As a result I've gone back and forth about what I want to write about Santo dozens of times today. I could talk about the complete injustice of Ron not being in the Hall of Fame, but that's like talking to a wall at this point. The sabermetically inclined have made their case, the old-timey "3,000 or 500" people have made theirs, and neither side is budging. I am not old enough to have memories of Ron actually playing, although I did enjoy watching him in "This Old Cub" (which I highly recommend everyone watches this weekend.)
Then I thought about doing a top 5 Ron Santo moments. So I was wracking my terrible memory to try to come up with which important Cubs games I listened to on the radio. Although I much prefer watching, I came up with a few: The 98 wild card tiebreaker vs. the Giants (on the bus on the way back from a dual meet at Waukegan.) Much of the 4 wins in a 5 game series with the Cardinals in August of 03 (including Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou's walkoff back-to-back jacks).
But much of Ron's memorable moments were the same. The most memorable one, of course, is the Brant Brown call in 98. (Poor Brant Brown, I'm sure, has been googled more times today than ever in his life.) I was watching this game on TV, so I don't remember exactly when I heard this call, but it's a great snapshot of Santo's broadcasting style.
For non-Cubs fans, the Cubs were in the middle of a close pennant race. They were at 88-70 with 4 to play, the Giants were at 86-72, and the Mets were at 88-70. (The poor Mets would then lose out and not even make the tiebreaker. Neifi Perez had a clutch hit to beat them on the last day of the season.) A win puts a stranglehold on the season. The Cubs were up 7-5 going into the bottom of the 9th. Rod Beck, who was awesome that year, was on the mound. Brant Brown came in to replace Glenallen Hill in left field for defensive purposes. Beck gets a groundout, then allows a single and a double, followed by an intentional walk to Jeremy Burnitz (haha, what a silly sentence to write) to load the bases. Beck had spent the entire year setting up jams for himself, then pitching out of them, so I still felt reasonably confident. He got Grissom to pop out to 3rd base, then Geoff Jenkins came up and hit a routine pop fly to left field.
Listen to the call again. It's Ron in a nutshell, and what we love about him. It's the exact way I would have reacted if I was in Ron's seat, and it's pretty much what I (and I'm sure a majority of Cubs fans) were saying when it happened. And pretty much all the great calls I can remember from Ron were variations of this call. From the lesser "Aw geez" for slightly bad things, to "Jesus Christ!" when the wheels were really falling off, to the whoops and cheers for good plays that preceded Pat Hughes telling you what actually happened. I trained my ear on big pitches to listen to Ron's reaction more than Pat's call. "PleaseletRoncheerPleaseletRoncheerPleaseletRoncheer..." is a mantra I can recall saying to myself on more car rides or listen-to-a-late-Cubs-game-as-I'm-falling-asleeps than I can remember.
I just heard a Sportscenter Anchor say "younger Cub fans are more familiar with him as the unabashedly biased broadcaster who openly rooted for the Cubs from the booth." He said it with a negative connotation, and I hear this from the established media all the time. "Homer" like it's a bad thing. "No cheering from the press box" bullshit.
I want my broadcaster cheering from the press box. I want him to be going through what I'm going through, to be just as invested as I am. I want him to care about the team he's caring more than stupid established traditions and ideas of unbiased journalism. Ron wasn't calling games for both audiences, he was calling them for Cubs fans.
Ron is probably going to be replaced by Dave Otto or somebody boring like that, and I'm sure that whoever it is will go the expected route of being buttoned-down and respectable. And what I'm going to miss most about Ron, more than his ability to say something kooky and not even realize it, more than the way he would entertain me with a rambling, Abe Simpson like story during a 10-1 blowout, will be the fact that I won't have someone in the booth genuinely reflecting what I'm feeling, and not being afraid to show it. Rest in peace, Ron. Cubs games on the radio truly aren't going to be the same any more, and to me, that's one of the saddest things I can think of.