Cubs honor anniversary of Santo's debut

Cubs honor anniversary of Santo's debut

CHICAGO -- It's been 50 years since Ron Santo made his Major League debut in the first game of a doubleheader against the Pirates. He notched his first big league hit in that game at Forbes Field on June 26, 1960, off Bob Friend.

"I can't believe it's gone this quick," Santo said.

On Monday night, the team feted its former third baseman, now the color commentator on WGN Radio, and presented him with a white flag with "Santo 50" on it in Cubs blue and autographed by the players. He also received a photo of the Wrigley Field marquee with the message, "Thank you Ron for 50 great years."

Santo, 70, remembers his first game. He had flown in the day before from Houston and roomed with Don Elston. He'd never been in a Major League ballpark until the day of his first game, and he sat in the stands to watch the Pirates before he got into uniform, watching Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski.

The first pitch Santo saw was a curveball that buckled his knees.

"[Catcher] Smokey [Burgess] threw the ball back and said, 'That's a big league curveball, kid,'" Santo said. "Then I hit a line drive up the middle and it was like the world came off my shoulders."

Santo was 20 years old, playing in front of 40,000 people for the first time. He was scouted by all 16 Major League teams, but had developed a love affair with Wrigley early after watching the Cubs on the game of the week television broadcasts.

"When the Cubs played, there was something about Wrigley Field and Ernie Banks," Santo said.

The Cubs didn't make him the highest offer.

"Money wasn't the criteria for me," he said. "It was to get to the big leagues."

After he was finished playing in 1974, Santo was away from the game for 16 years. He came back in 1989 to throw out the first pitch for a Cubs playoff game.

"I said, 'I'd love to be here when the Cubs win it,'" he said.

He auditioned for a radio gig and figured he didn't have a chance. But WGN Radio hired him, and this is his 21st season in the booth. He has survived despite a tough battle with Type 1 diabetes. He's lost both legs because of the disease but is actively involved with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

"This has been my life for 50 years," Santo said of the Cubs. "I wouldn't be around after what I went through with the diabetes and all the operations. Every time I walk into Wrigley Field and I'm up in the booth, I don't have a problem in the world, other than moaning and groaning when the Cubs aren't doing well."