When I came up in 1960, we were averaging maybe 600,000 fans. In ’69, we felt that was going to be our year. The fan base started to get larger and larger, and in ’69 when we were in first place from the get-go, the “Bleacher Bums”-everything that was happening that year was unbelievable. You’d go on the road and you’d have the “Bleacher Bums” with you. You’d have fans there all the time. You knew the fans by their first name. And when we drew nearly 1.7 million fans for the first time ever, from that moment on, it’s just gone straight up.

We were like rock stars. We always stayed in the clubhouse for two hours talking about the game, and we’d come out and we’d have 150 fans waiting. I had my shirt ripped off me once.

Source: OUT LOUD: Ron Santo – Chicago Tribune

In July 2005 I made a long bus trip from Chicago to Cooperstown, New York to see my boyhood hero, Ryne Sandberg, get inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Despite “woo” some annoyances “woo” on the trip “woo,” it was one I’ll never forget. I’ll do my best to give you some highlights, but only with the following disclaimer … Until you go to Cooperstown yourself – with your buddies (or someone who you love) – and sit in a lawn chair or on a blanket that you carried yourself – eating $4 ice cream bars and $2 (or $1 depending on who’s buying) sausages – to see someone whom you watched (and hopefully admired) play the game of baseball for many years … you won’t truly appreciate the experience!

The Town – I didn’t realize this until I actually went myself, but the induction ceremony is actually held a mile or so away from the Hall itself. It’s walking distance from downtown Cooperstown, but you better wear comfortable shoes. National AnthemTrue there are free trollies and buses that will transport you from Main Street to the ceremony, but I’ll tell you that if you don’t make the walk at least one way, you’re missing out on a great experience. Along the walk, you experience small-town America at it’s best. Beautiful old homes, children out playing in the yards, flags flying, and lemonade stands are the norm. On top of that, you’ll probably end up walking with several thousand other people who have made the same trip on the same weekend because they have the same love for baseball (and their childhood hero) that you do.

The Hall – Every baseball fan needs to visit the Hall of Fame to have a true appreciation for the history and evolution of the game. True it’s fun to see the artifacts (the #xxx home-run that slugger so-and-so hit, the spikes that pitcher you-know-who was wearing when he threw his no-hitter, etc.), but that excitement quickly fades. What you’re left with then is a well thought-out and laid-out history of the game. If you don’t already know, you can learn about the impacts that various wars had on the game, you can learn about Jackie Robinson and the Negro Leagues, and you can learn about how technology (from the first radio broadcast to the first wireless “call to the pen”) has influenced the game. A few hours in the Hall of Fame will teach you more than you ever imagined.

The Fellowship – Hopefully every trip you take to the Hall of Fame will be with friends or family. That was the case for me: my first trip was with my wife, and the second trip (Sandberg’s induction) was with buddies. Both trips opened conversations and passion in areas we had never talked about much before. For my wife, the trip gave her not only an understanding of how much I love baseball, but also a new appreciation for the game itself. With my buddies, we took time to talk about things that don’t typically come up at the office (our favorite baseball players, the number of sausages one should eat at a game, and our dislike for people who say “woo” between every word). Oh, and we played catch … more than once. I challenge you to find grown men in your area having a friendly catch just for the enjoyment of doing so. I also challenge you to find a grown man who loves the game of baseball who wouldn’t love to play catch with his buddies more often.

Tom Anderson and Yogi BerraThe Respect – Ryno talked about it, and I think most Hall of Famers have it, but it is slowly slipping away from the game. I won’t get on my soapbox (just read Ryno’s induction speech), but I will say that the Hall of Fame is for those who respect the game. If you respect the game, it’s great to be surrounded by so many others who do as well.

Only time will tell if the McGwires, Sosas, Palmieros, and Bonds of the game make it into the Hall. On the other side of that coin, time is running out for a should-be HOFer, Ron Santo. My case for Ron goes beyond the numbers. True he stands up with many others already elected. However, I say Ronnie deserves to be in the Hall of Fame because he accomplished what he did, the right way (as Ryne Sandberg would say). That gets lost in todays world of corked bats, steroids, and juiced balls … but it’s important. At least it’s important to those willing to make the trip to Cooperstown.

The other reason I would like to see Ronnie inducted is because of the fans’ love for him. I challenge you to give me another player more loved by such a wide audience. Does love for a player mean he deserves to be elected? Not always – but in Ronnie’s case, it would be great for the game. I believe his induction would bring a record number of people to the ceremony, and I think more people would make the effort to see Santo’s plaque hanging in The Hall. All of that would not only bring the right people, but by getting them to Cooperstown, they’ll add to their historical knowledge of the game, and have the opportunity for some great fellowship with other baseball fans.

To some extent, that movement is going on in Chicago today as people rally to support Ron. We have one of the best kept secrets in Chicago … it’s a shame that we’re willing to share him with the Hall of Fame and he hasn’t been inducted yet.

When Ron Santo gets inducted into the Hall of Fame, look for me in my lawn chair, eating sausages and ice cream with my buddies, and my wife and kids … and bring your glove because I’ll be ready for a game of catch.

Cubs FlagRecently, almost a year since my first trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame, I was playing catch with a friend from church to warm up for a pickup softball game a group of us has regularly during the summer. My friend, Mario, is originally from Italy but had moved to the States as a kid. And he remembered just wanting to play catch all the time once he started learning baseball after moving to the Chicago area from Italy. We were having the discussion, because his cousin, Maglio — who lives in Italy — was visiting and playing catch with us, and for the first time in his life.

So I had to tell Mario about my experience at the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies last year. A large section of the open seating area/field at the induction ceremony site was taken up by many people playing catch. There were dads and sons, friends, strangers — all playing catch. It was an interesting phenomenon. People of several generations brought their gloves to the induction ceremony to play catch. Heck, 4 of us played catch on the smallest patch of grass next to our hotel and a parking ramp in Cleveland the first night of our bus trip to the Hof induction ceremonies.

What does that have to do with whether Ron Santo should get into the Baseball Hall? It is a picture of the enjoyment people still get from the simple parts of the game, which might help explain the passion some of us have for getting one of our favorites into the Hall.

For those of you campaigning for your favorite player — or your dad’s favorite player — to get in, you really should go to the induction ceremony when he does. (Don’t forget your glove.) I plan to be back for Frank Thomas and maybe others. Yes, even after all he said about the Sox this past off-season. Because at the induction ceremonies, people will choose to remember all the good stuff about their favorite players and teams.

By the way, Maglio handled a glove and a bat amazingly well for a first timer. And before we took off that night, Maglio wanted a picture with everyone from the game (the “team” picture). And Mario made sure he went home with a ball to capture some of this still somewhat uniquely American experience (with apologies to the World Cup of Baseball).

I had heard on the radio that Ron Santo wasn’t at the Cubs game due to health issues, but didn’t catch more than that as I was following the game during travel to various stores while running errands in town.

So I did a bit of searching and here’s what I found….

Source: Ron Santo update – CubsNet.com