COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- On a gorgeous Sunday afternoon in a pastoral setting on the edge of this quaint village, Ron Santo's family and friends along with thousands of Cub fans who considered him a friend even if they never met him -- came to pay tribute to legacy of one of the toughest men to ever play baseball.
With former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin also being inducted, fans in blue and red filled the hillside behind the Clark Sports Center awaiting the afternoon's Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Santo's No. 10 was being worn everywhere you looked, along with banners like the ones at Wrigley Field in the 1960s, when Santo was in his prime.
Only one thing was missing.
With Santo dying of complications from bladder cancer in December, 2010, after a lifelong battle with Type 1 diabetes that caused him to have both of his legs amputated late in his life, the posthumous induction was certain to be a bittersweet event for many.
But in her acceptance speech, Vicki Santo, Ron's widow, spoke of it as a joyous occasion.
"This is not a sad day,'' Vicki said at the beginning of the speech. "This is a happy day, an incredible day for an incredible man.''
Vicki Santo nicely summed up the Hall of Fame career of a natural athlete who got to the big leagues at age 20 and played 15 years as a third baseman, 14 of those with the Cubs, but fought a daily battle against his disease, which was discovered in a physical after he had turned down many better offers to sign a $20,000 deal with the Cubs.
"It was a spectacular journey frought with trials and tribulations, incredible lows and highs,'' she said. "Ron's life was never about the lows. It was always about the highs.''
Santo played in a golden era for the National League, a time when Hall of Fame pitchers like Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax and Juan Marichal, among others, made life miserable for hitters. He was a career .277 hitter who hit 342 home runs and drove in 1331 runs.
Pat Hughes, Santo's long-time broadcast partner on WGN Radio, referenced how the time since Santo's retiring after the 1974 season created generations of Cub fans who know Santo more for his work as a broadcaster than a player.
"They don't know what a great ballplayer he was,'' Hughes said. "That's part of why it's so great he's in (the Hall). The guy was one of the all-time ballplayers.''
Vicki Santo spoke about Santo's style as a broadcaster.
"He approached it from the standpoint of the world's greatest Cub fan,'' she said. "He had no emotional filter. When you listened you heard the joy and sadness of a real fan.''
Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts headed the franchise's delegation at the induction. Along with Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ferguson Jenkins, former teammates Randy Hundley and Glenn Beckert were present for the induction.
It has been a sunny weekend in Cooperstown, which Williams finds fitting. "When the sun came out today, we knew that Ron was looking down on us and smiling,'' he said.
Santo had endured three decades of disappointment in regard to Hall of Fame voting, first on the ballot for voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America and later the Veterans Committee, which at the time was composed mostly of living Hall of Famers.
"Dad really wanted this, but not for himself,'' Santo Brown said. "He wanted it for his family, his kids and his grandkids. He wanted it for friends. It's really a bonus in our eyes. Dad's real legacy is JDRF and the work he did there. That's bigger than the Hall of Fame.''
Santo raised an estimated $65 million for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
There was a glitch in the induction presentation. When the master of ceremonies, Gary Thorne, pitched to a video about Santo's career, the video that initially played was about the Awards Ceremony held Saturday, which honored broadcaster Tim McCarver and baseball writer Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun, and included a presentation on three generations of Cardinals' championship.
Before the speech, Hughes said the weekend had been more emotional for him than he anticipated.
"I'm not a real emotional guy,'' he said. "It's affected me. I've done so many interviews all week, talking about Ron. Of all the figures in my career, he's one of the biggest. If I try to think about people who have meant more to me than Ron, it's a short list.''