On a picture perfect day in Cooperstown, several hundred Cubs fans gathered for a Cubs Fanfest on the back lawn of the Fenimore Art Museum, overlooking Otsego Lake. Owner Tom Ricketts and the Cubs sponsored the event as a celebration of the life and career of Ron Santo, the team’s newest representative in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
The master of ceremonies was Cubs broadcaster Pat Hughes, who teamed with Santo to broadcast the Cubs for 15 seasons, 1996 to 2010. Hughes led several panel discussions, telling stories, interviewing panelists, and soliciting questions, recollections and Santo stories from the audience, which was clad in every imaginable item of Cub related clothing.
The first panel featured Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Fergie Jenkins, whom Hughes introduced as ‘The greatest pitcher in Cubs history.” Ernie Banks told a poignant story of Ron Santo accepting Mrs. Banks’ invitation to Ernie’s birthday party. According to Banks, Santo was the first white teammate who journeyed to the south side of Chicago to join in such a celebration.”
The second panel featured Ron Santo’s three children, Ron Santo Jr., Linda Santo, and Jeff Santo. The third panel featured Santo teammates Glenn Beckert and Randy Hundley.
Throughout the event, Hughes repeatedly turned the microphone over to the audience for Santo stories. One young man told of the time he was 13 years old, and approached Santo in a hotel lobby in San Diego hoping for an autograph. Santo spent more than a half hour talking baseball with the boy and his family. The story was greeted by a murmur of recognition from the crowd, used to hearing about Santo’s love for life and baseball and especially, for Cubs fans.
Proceeds from the party’s ten-dollar admission charge were split between the Cubs charities and the Hall of Fame. Attendees received a copy of a book on Santo, and were treated to a fabulous buffet which covered all the bases. But the real treat was seeing so many Cubs stars reminisce about Santo, whose special relationship with Cubs fans pervaded the atmosphere.
Tim Wiles is the director of research at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum