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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Finally voted to Hall of Fame, Santo a lesson on never giving up

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Santo needed 12 votes.  He got that and then some. (US Presswire)  
Santo needed 12 votes. He got that and then some. (US Presswire)  

DALLAS -- On a cold and raw day here just two days after the anniversary of Ron Santo's death, This Old Cub became This New Hall of Famer.

One year after his death. Can you believe that?

Schedule the ticker tape, Chicago. Ask the heavens (and the voters) why oh why this couldn't have happened when Santo was still joyfully walking this earth and happily clicking his heels.

"How ironic," Vicki Santo, Ron's widow, said. "One year to the day of his death, and he was the only one to get in.

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"I think it's totally meant to be, and it's a celebration for everybody."

On a conference call shortly after the announcement, Vicki Santo was wonderfully composed, happy and not one bit bitter. Impressively graceful and incredibly gracious, maybe that's the lesson when the rest of us go all knee-jerk and curse the unfairness of the timing.

You'll meet Vicki Santo soon enough. She will deliver Ron's Hall of Fame induction speech this July in Cooperstown on a day when Cubs fans and the baseball world will honor a great player and a greater man.

And she's already got some plans for the speech.

"It will be to never give up," Vicki Santo said. "It was always his dream. Even to have this come to him after his passing shows what happens when you never give up, and that's what Ron was all about."

Maybe the greatest legacy of a man -- any man, baseball or otherwise -- is when he continues to teach from his grave. And maybe that's the blessing, the silver lining, of what was an incredibly long and torturous journey.

Santo was elected by the Golden Era Committee, which reviews candidates from 1947-1972, and received 15 of 16 votes.

All those years he couldn't get in, and suddenly he breezes in with room to spare. A total of 12 votes were needed. After Santo, next up was Jim Kaat at 10 votes, Gil Hodges and Minnie Minoso with nine each and Tony Oliva at eight.

When the voting results arrived in the room where the 16-member committee met Monday morning, one member in particular was extra gleeful.

"Billy had a big smile on his face, clapped and said, 'Yeah!' " Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson said, referring to fellow HOFer and former Cub Billy Williams. "That was great."

Shortly after Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of the Board of Directors in Cooperstown, phoned Vicki Santo to deliver the news, Williams jumped on the line to share the joy.

"I was not only thrilled, I was so grateful," Vicki Santo said. "When Billy Williams got on the call and said, 'We finally got it done,' it made me cry.

"It's been such a big family with the Cubs organization, and [Santo's Hall candidacy] has been so important to the city of Chicago.

"It's a thrilling, thrilling honor for us."

Santo's Hall candidacy has been a hotly debated and emotional subject for decades, particularly in Chicago. He was a nine-time All-Star, a five-time Gold Glove winner and hit 342 career home runs.

"I think almost everyone on our committee did not see how he had gone 15 years without being voted in by the writers," Robinson said. "He's got stats that stack up with any third baseman, and he was terrific defensively."

Few players have had such widespread passion backing them up.

"He certainly is among the elite in terms of players with a deep relationship with fans," Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson said. "You think of Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn and Ron Santo. The connection he had with fans was incredible."

That built to a crescendo during the years he spent in the radio booth, exuberantly hollering with every Cubs home run and groaning like a man in pain with every miscue. Nobody loved the Cubs more, nobody loved the game more, and nothing, not even the diabetes that struck him as a player and, eventually, took his legs, could keep him away.

The debate over whether he should or should not be a Hall of Famer may continue to simmer.

That he was a Hall of Famer as a person -- beautifully and lovingly documented by his son, Jeff, in This Old Cub -- is inarguable.

"He accepted his disease," Vicki Santo said. "He played with it without complaining, I think with the intention of helping other people live with the disease.

"As other problems came up with his circulation and losing the legs, nobody wants to go through that, but the fans that rallied around him showed him so much love he used that to push forward and not feel sorry for himself."

Which is why, I think, you can take it both on faith and on Vicki's word that Ron Santo would not be whining today about timing.

"I think he would click his heels," Williams said, chuckling. "Over the years I played with Ronnie, I know that he would rejoice. ... He was real high and real low. That's the kind of person he was. He'll really rejoice on the good things he did. But when he didn't do so well, he'd get down on himself.

"After hearing the news that he's in the baseball Hall of Fame, he'd say, 'I waited a long time, and now I waited, and I'm going to enjoy it.'

"He probably had a glass of red wine."

Vicki said she could see her late husband Thursday "sitting on the sofa, as we did many times, pumping his fist, saying, 'Yes! Yes!' "

"This will continue the legacy of his heart, that he played with, that he broadcast with and with all the good he did for juvenile diabetes research," she said. "This is just going to carry his legacy forward."

Yes, it is a shame this couldn't have happened while Ron was living. But bitterness? No way. Monday was not a day for that.

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