Monday, October 31, 2011

#270 - Ron Santo

The second double post in a row is of a guy a bit more familiar than the last post subject. Sometimes these Traded cards come in bunches and this one pretty much represents the last hurrah of Ron Santo's playing career. In '73 he hit .386 early in the season as the Cubbies made their last serious division run for a few years but both he and the team faded right after the All-Star break and only Don Kessinger would return from the infield starters for the '74 season. This card has a pretty good supporting cast on it in what looks like the Cubs' spring training facility. That looks like Bobby Bonds in the Giants uniform and that guy without a cap is Leo Durocher, then the Cubs' manager (between this csrd and the Houston manager one we have two near misses for Leo the Lip in this set). That means this photo is from '72 at its most recent since Leo left the team during that season.

Ron Santo grew up in Seattle where he was a super athlete and played third base in high school until his senior year when he switched to catcher and made a national team. He was signed by the Cubs in '59 and in spring ball that year so impressed the Cubs' hitting instructor, Rogers Hornsby, that he went to Double A that year and had no problem hitting .327 with 11 homers and 87 RBIs while playing third. In '60 he moved to Triple A where his offensive numbers down-ticked a bit but his defense improved considerably. By the end of the season he was up in Chicago where he would take over third base from Don Zimmer and hit and field well enough to come in fourth in NL ROY voting and make the Topps rookie team. Ron then settled in for a long run as one of the NL's best third basemen. After a great sophomore season in '61 his average took a hit in '62 but his RBI total stayed pretty fat. Then in '63 began a long run of accolades. That year he made the first of what would be nine All-Star selections in the next 11 seasons. In '64, perhaps his best offensive season, he won the first of his five successive Gold Gloves. That season he led the NL in triples and walks and for the next eight seasons he would average over 90 walks a season, giving him some pretty hefty OBA totals, peaking in '66 at .412. By that year the Cubbies' solid infield turned them from losers into contenders, no year moreso than in '69 when they held a pretty significant lead over the Mets most of the season. Ron was involved in that run in two big ways that had nothing to do with his playing: he would jump up and click his heels at the end of every Cubs win which the fans loved (and then hated); and he famously had a black cat cross in front of him while playing third in a game that began the team's fall from grace that year. In the Seventies he continued to post pretty good power numbers and in '72 put up his second highest average. After his hot start and fade-out in '73 he moved across town in this trade, clearing the way for the next Cubs super third bagger, Bill Madlock, who came over in the Fergie Jenkins trade. While big things were expected with the ChiSox - a sort of power platooning at first, third, and DH with Dick Allen, Bill Melton, and Ron was the plan - Ron's average took a big hit as he played as much second base as third and way too much DH for his liking. He retired after the season leaving behind a lifetime .277 average with 342 homers and 1,331 RBIs and a .362 OBA. He is yet another guy whose stats put him right on the cusp of HOF levels and there has been some pretty strong advocacy for his inclusion.

Santo was pretty successful off the field and while playing he began his own insurance agency - and employed his buddy and teammate Glenn Beckert there - which he later sold. After playing he moved to the broadcast booth and was a Cubs color guy for as long as he could be. In 2010 after a couple amputations his diabetes finally caught up to him and he passed away at age 70 but not before endearing himself to a whole new generation of fans as an announcer and a spokesperson and fund-raiser for his disease. He has another very detailed bio on the SABR site that I have linked to here.

The Traded card is another pretty generic one for which there is no shot at guessing a locale. The artist got pretty lazy this time and didn't even put on a logo.

Nicely, Topps gives Ron props for his fielding, which despite the Gold Gloves, was often overlooked for his offense numbers. Ron grew up near Sicks Stadium in Seattle and worked there as a kid. Sicks would rather infamously be the home of the Seattle Pilots in their initial season.

This trade was sort of a push for both sides. I'd give the edge to the Cubs since Swisher - Nick's dad - would be a quasi-starter and All-Star for them in the mid-'70s. Stone won a bunch that one year but he did that for the Orioles.That last line would unfortunately not be true as Allen's MIA the last month of the season, Melton's drop-off in power, and rundown pitching would keep the Sox from making a big play for the division.

Over in the music world, on October 30, 1973 the Osmonds began a UK tour by being mobbed at the airport by thousands of fans. Wow. That's enough to bring this site back to baseball only.

This trip takes us through both leagues:

1. Santo and Larry Gura '70 to '73 Cubs;
2. Gura and Cookie Rojas '76 to '77 Royals;
3. Rojas and Bob Johnson '70 Royals.


  1. I could look at that Santo Cubs card all day. It's so strange.

  2. How cool is this card?!? How come I've never seen this before?