Friends in Cooperstown

By Bill Francis

Among the estimated 18,000 fans who attended the National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony for shortstop Barry Larkin and third baseman Ron Santo on Sunday afternoon were a number of their former big league teammates who couldn’t pass up the opportunity to witness such a historic occasion for a friend.

Making the pilgrimage to Cooperstown, and soaking up the sun near the induction stage, were second baseman Glenn Beckert and catcher Randy Hundley, who, along with Santo, were parts of some great Chicago Cubs teams of the 1960s.

“I’m so honored that my ex-roommate and one of my greatest friends, Ron Santo, is being inducted. He’s not here with us but he’s probably watching from above,” said Beckert of Santo, who passed away at the age of 70 in 2010. “When I first came to the Cubs in ’65 – he had come up in ’60 – he asked me to room with him. I told my mother and dad, and I thought it was a great honor. But after the third year I found nobody else on the team wanted to room with him.

“He was a great friend, and we teased each other a lot.”

According to Hundley, election to the Hall of Fame was something Santo always wanted.

“He’s very deserving of it, so we’re here to celebrate it today. I feel like he’s still here with us,” Hundley said. “He was the best as far as I’m concerned. He could make any of the plays that needed to be made. He was an excellent fielder and took a lot of pride in it.”

As for Santo’s diabetes, Hundley explained he wasn’t aware of it for a number of years while the two were teammates.

“He kept it a secret because he was afraid baseball wouldn’t allow him to play,” Hundley said. “It’s amazing that he had to deal with it and how well he dealt with it. He did so much for diabetics all over the country.”

When Larkin made his big league debut in 1986 with the Cincinnati Reds, the only team he would play for in his 19-year career, a number of veterans on that team, including outfielders Dave Parker and Eric Davis, would lend their support. Later in his induction speech, Larkin would acknowledge the pair’s positive influence on his life.

“One of my baseball sons, Barry Larkin, has been elected to the Hall of Fame,” Parker said just minutes before the ceremony’s start. “I was with him in the beginning and he had a great 19 years in the majors and he’s getting his just due, and that’s a Hall of Fame induction.

“I just tried to put him under my wing and show him what it takes to be a major league player. And with his ability, he was destined to be a star.”

This past weekend was the first time the longtime friends had a chance to catch up since Larkin’s received the news of his Hall of Fame election in January.

“We saw each other last night for the first time since he was elected to the Hall of Fame and we just gave each other an embrace,” Parker said. “We really didn’t have to say anything. We just gave each other a big hug.”

While Larkin was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in his third year of eligibility, Davis felt he should have gone in on the first ballot.

“This is not just for him – this is for everybody. And to be able to play 20 years in one city that you grew up in, having the success that you had, that’s special,” Davis said. “When you saw Barry, you saw specialness. I can’t sit here and say that I knew that he was going to be a Hall of Famer, but you knew that he was going to be a special player.”

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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