BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Old #10 ...

Sometimes I pick up books just because the price … yeah, I know, not the best reason, and it's likely a character flaw, but I probably wouldn't have picked up a sports biography if it wasn't at a deep discount … so when I saw Ron Santo: A Perfect 10 on the shelf at Walgreens at a deep clearance price this summer, I grabbed it. Now, if you don't know who Ron Santo is, you're not from Chicago. Santo was the star third baseman for the '69 Cubs, back when I was 12 years old. I can still remember the names of that team, and have ephemera from those days etched into my mind (like the plastic cap liners from Coke bottles that had their pictures, which you'd pull out and put on display cards, etc.). And, I suppose, if you're not a Cubs fan, you wouldn't be aware that Santo, who lived and breathed Cubs baseball, despite having incredible stats, had repeatedly been passed over for the Hall of Fame while he was alive (he made it in posthumously, a bittersweet honor, as he would have been so thrilled to have that happen). You also might not know about his struggles with diabetes, and how he lost both legs to the disease, yet still kept up a grueling travel schedule as a Cubs broadcaster.

Anyway, I was of the age where Santo was a Big Deal from my youth, and a familiar piece of my on-going Cubs rooting. His death was a pretty big deal in town here too, and so I was happy to get the book penned by his broadcast partner Pat Hughes, and sports author Rich Wolfe. I really didn't have any expectations about the book, and was somewhat surprised to find that it was largely a collection of reminiscences from many who knew Santo, but that makes sense as this was published a scant six months after his death, so it wasn't a long-term production or in-depth biography.

The book is split into thematic chapters, covering various aspects of his life, starting with a foreword by his namesake son, and then the longest section by Pat Hughes. Chapters cover his family, his youth in Seattle, baseball, Chicago, broadcasting, and a general “Santopalooza”, with 33 people talking about him. From family members and childhood friends, to the Commissioner of baseball to a half-dozen broadcasters, the tone is something akin to a gentle “roast” … with Santo's quirks and foibles (his toupee rates its own chapter!) being lovingly aired, along with personal stuff that, but for this format, might not ever have reached the general public.

I suspect that this is as well-rounded look at the man thanks to the groundwork laid by his son Jeff's 2004 documentary This Old Cub, which provided an existing biographical context for the authors to reach out to get interviews. They mention that there were almost twice as many people interviewed for this than made it in, and that extra material would likely end up in the third volume of Wolfe's For Cub Fans Only.

There's a 25-page section of color photos which seem to be based on (or at least includes) the memorial piece done for Santo's funeral. This section includes some classic images from he 60's, and was a great “trip down memory lane” for me.

One thing that was interesting in the format of the book, is that there are numerous all-caps, bolded, and underlined people and places through the text that have footnotes highlighting “interesting facts” that are, oddly, not directly related to Santo. I don't know if these are a hallmark of Wolfe's other books, or what, but they seemed a bit out of place (not that they aren't individually quite amusing) in a memorial book like this. Just sayin'.

Ron Santo: A Perfect 10 is still in print, and the on-line big boys have it at 60% off of cover (the copies that were at Walgreens were at a discount as well, even before being on clearance). I'm surprised, after having been on clearance, that this isn't going for less via the “new/used” vendors, but at least at the moment, there's not a big discount there beyond what's being offered by Amazon. If you're a Chicagoan, a Cubs fan, or even just a baseball fan, you should look into getting a copy of this … it's a bit sad, but it's a feel-good look at one of the greats.

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Tags: book review
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