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December 3, 2010

Ron Santo (1940-2010)

"The Cubs lost their biggest fan," team radio broadcaster Pat Hughes said Friday morning.

Often called the best player not in the Hall of Fame, Ron Santo succumbed to bladder cancer late Thursday night after falling into a coma Wednesday.

He was 70.

It's hard to think of Santo now without remembering his most recent struggles.  The former Cubs third baseman battled Type 1 diabetes since being diagnosed at 18 and in 2001, he had his right leg amputated below the knee due the disease...a year later, left leg suffered the same fate. 

Last season, Santo's work with in the Cubs broadcast booth was limited due to his battle with bladder cancer.  But despite it all, he continued to work as an analyst on the team's flagship station.  He was expecting to return for the upcoming season.

"What else am I going to do?" Santo said in an interview this past season. "Doing the Cubs games is like therapy for me."

Santo is one of six former Cubs to have their number retired by the team when they celebrated him with the honor in 2003. 

Throughout his 15-year career (all but one with the Cubs), the third baseman managed a .277 batting average, 2254 hits and 342 home runs.  He brought home a Gold Gloves in five consecutive years (1964-1968) times and was an All-Star nine times.

When Santo first became eligible for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980, he was named on less than 4% of all ballots...meaning he would be removed from subsequent ballots.  In 1985, he was one of several players re-added to the ballot following widespread complaints about overlooked candidates. 

After receiving 13% of the vote in 1985, his vote totals increased in 10 of the next 13 years.  He received 43% of the vote in his final year on the 1998 ballot...finishing behind only Don Sutton and Tony Perez.

Now on the veteran's ballot. Santo's next opportunity for admission to the Hall of Fame will come a year from now.

But as good as Santo was on the field, his light was brightest helping others...and that will be the legacy that the longtime Chicagoain will be remembered.  For a wonderful write up on the life and times of the Cubs legend, please check out Toni Ginnetti's piece for the Chicago Sun Times HERE.

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