Gary W. Moore: Remembering #10
I remember the first moment I met him. He was larger than life. As a kid, I had watched him play the game with raw enthusiasm and determination, but those days had passed, and he now was serving as the Chicago Cubs color commentator on WGN radio. Similar to many sports personalities, he also owned a restaurant in the northwest suburbs. Unlike many retired athletes, who seem to fade away, Ron’s celebrity status had grown throughout the years.
Many who had known Ron from his playing days said a bit of the fire in his personality had cooled and he now was a more likable guy. I loved the intensity he displayed at the plate and at the “hot corner” (third base), but as a young fan, I was never subjected to his wrath on the field or in the locker room. To me, he was No. 10, Ron Santo, a Chicago superstar turned legend and radio personality Chicago had embraced and enshrined in their hearts.
Another distinction about Ron that he would rather have not endured was that he was baseball’s first known and acknowledged diabetic and carried a deep interest in kids suffering from the affliction.
I got the call
One day in 1993, my phone rang, and I instantly recognized the voice behind the call. He said, “Mr. Moore, I don’t know if you know who I am, but my name is Ron Santo.” I nervously started rattling off highlights I remembered of Ron’s career in my feeble attempt to let him know I was a fan. He laughed and said, “OK, OK, you know who I am.” I felt like a kid and was sure he thought I was an idiot. He asked me to meet him at his restaurant to discuss a product my company was producing. The Freedom Jet was a needle-free injection system for the injection of insulin. I had started the business on a shoestring and its success was a long shot at best, but at my young enthusiastic age, I was a risk-taker, and I was thrilled to have caught the attention of my childhood hero.
I was raised in an era when baseball was life
I grew up watching Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo. I lived and died with the 1969 Cubs. Santo was the spark. A fiery spirited ballplayer with an unabashed passion for the game and who often let his passion turn to anger that alienated fellow teammates and, particularly, sportswriters. I suspect his sometimes rocky relationship with the press contributed to keeping him out of the baseball hall of fame until after his death.
Nothing seems to make me more nostalgic than the Cubs. Watching them once again in the playoffs has brought several Santo stories to mind that I’d like to share.
Ron and diabetes
Ron hid his diabetes from the Cubs and the Major Leagues. In 1971, he made the announcement and most people were shocked. How did he hide it? How did he manage it?
Ron told me the story of how one day, second baseman Glenn Beckert walked in on him as he was giving himself an injection. Beckert looked, then walked away, saying nothing. On that day, Ron went 4-for-4 with a game-winning home run. After the game, Beckert said to Santo. I don’t care what you are doing. It’s our secret, but whatever it is, I want some of it.”
A Northsider rejected on the South Side
Ron came to my Bradley office several times per year for meetings. One day, he called and said, “I hear Kankakee has a great country club with a beautiful golf course. Can we go there for lunch tomorrow after the meeting?” I was a member and, of course, said,“Yes.” WGN morning radio host Bob Collins also was on our board and at the meeting. I called the club and told them I was bringing Ron Santo and Bob Collins for lunch and wanted a somewhat secluded table. The request was met with enthusiasm and the staff at the club was excited and looking forward to their visit.
When we broke for lunch the following day, I headed to the Kankakee Country Club with my two famous guests in tow. We walked into the club and didn’t get any further than a few steps when I was stopped. A longtime club manager met me at the door. I introduced her to Ron and Bob. She obviously was awestruck, but asked to see me privately.
‘He can’t come in’
As the door to her office closed behind me, she folded her arm and said, “He can’t come in.” Stunned, I asked, “Who?” “Mr. Santo. He can’t come into the club.”
I thought she was kidding and would say next that she was a White Sox fan, but the stern look never left her face. “Mr. Santo is wearing blue jeans and it’s a violation of club rules.”
I tried reasoning with her. I reminded her that this is No. 10 Ron Santo. I also told her Bob Collins has the No. 1 morning radio program in the nation. She opened the door, looked outside and then shut the door and said, “Mr. Collins is dressed appropriately, but Mr. Santo is not coming in.”
As I embarrassingly explained the situation to Ron, I offered to run out and buy him a new pair of trousers, but Bob Collins’ laugh echoed through the halls of the Kankakee Country Club and gave him fodder to tease Ron about “No old Cubs allowed.” He reminded Ron that this was in fact the South Side. We left to find a place that was welcoming to an old third baseman in blue jeans.
I have a few more Santo stories I’ll share at another time, but I certainly miss Ron. He was a class act. He was genuine. And no … he never did see the Kankakee Country Club.
So, the Cubs …
Maybe it’s only once every 108 years. I’m fine with that. I lived to see a Chicago Cubs World Series Championship last year and the thrill will stick with me for the rest of my life.