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Sunday to mark 'pinnacle' of late Santo's career

Sunday to mark 'pinnacle' of late Santo's career

Sunday to mark 'pinnacle' of late Santo's career
CHICAGO -- Fergie Jenkins can't wait until Ron Santo is able to add "Hall of Fame" after his name. Unfortunately, as Cubs fans know, the honor came too late for Santo to do that himself.

Santo, the longtime Cubs third baseman and radio color commentator, will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday in Cooperstown. As part of a week-long series of events, Santo -- who died in December 2010, almost one year to the day before he was elected into the Hall -- was celebrated on Tuesday at the "Cubs Corner" luncheon sponsored by WGN Radio.

"Everybody's asking how we're gearing up for it and what we're looking forward to," Ron Santo Jr. said. "Personally, I've never been there, so I'm looking forward to actually going to Cooperstown, and seeing the museum and the town and everything I've heard about. It's just icing on the cake to watch the presentation on Sunday to see dad's plaque finally go up."

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Santo's wife, Vicki, will deliver the speech Sunday, and has been practicing, Ron Jr. said, but not in front of family.

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"I think she'd probably be more nervous doing that in front of us than in front of the crowd," he said.

Jenkins, who was Santo's teammate on the Cubs and was inducted into Cooperstown in 1991, will attend the festivities Sunday.

"I think the family in general will be really excited because of the fact that Ronnie is getting inducted," Jenkins said. "Unfortunately, Ronnie isn't with us, but now with Ron Santo's name, you'll see 'HOF' behind it, [and] it'll be very important.

"This is an opportunity to get put in a class of great athletes, and Ronnie was a great athlete."

On Monday, Jenkins and Ron Jr. took part in a golf outing to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, an organization Santo was involved with since he was diagnosed with diabetes. Santo, who had both of his legs amputated below the knee because of complications from diabetes, has raised more than $60 million for JDRF.

"You couldn't spend any time around him without laughing," WGN Radio's Pat Hughes said of Santo. "You forgot he had all these problems."

Tuesday was a chance to laugh at stories and memories of Santo. Hughes, the Cubs' radio play-by-play man, recalled the April game at Shea Stadium when Santo's hair piece caught on fire from the heaters. It was appropriate, Hughes said, that Al Leiter pitched that night.

Santo will also be remembered for the famous heel click -- which he did after a win in 1969, and which Cubs manager Leo Durocher encouraged at home games -- as well as his passion for the Cubs, which he didn't hide during the radio broadcasts.

"He got excited," Hughes said of his radio partner, who also got very agitated and upset when the Cubs didn't do well.

Now, Santo will be in the Hall of Fame.

"This was something he wanted ever since he retired," Ron Jr. said. "To him, it was the pinnacle."

How would Santo have reacted when he got the phone call? Hughes said he had an image of "a senior citizen and a happy 10-year-old kid."

The only thing that would make the weekend better was if Santo himself were here.

"Of course -- we're the first to admit that, too," Ron Jr. said. "I don't like saying 'bittersweet,' but it's not at all what it would've been if he was here. We know how much it meant to him. For future generations and Cubs fans and our family, to be able to go to Cooperstown and see his plaque, that's something that will always be there, so that's really special."

Santo's son, Jeff, who directed "This Old Cub," a movie about his father's life, has put together a special edition of the film (available at santofilms.com). It includes footage of the statue unveiling at Wrigley Field for his father, as well as the city of Chicago's sendoff after his funeral. Fans also can celebrate Santo highlights on a CD compiled by Hughes, part of his "Baseball Voices" collection.

The Cubs will host a party at Cooperstown on Saturday at the Fenimore Art Museum for Santo fans, and on July 27, those who didn't get to Cooperstown can toast the third baseman at the Cubs-Cardinals game at Wrigley Field.

But Sunday is the big day.

"He probably would've been floating on air," Ron Jr. said. "I was thinking how the season would've been -- it's such a special year. To have seen him actually get that call would've been priceless. Life's all about timing, and it typifies his life and everything he's dealt with. Nothing ever came easy, so why should this?"

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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