Saturday, February 25, 2017
Top Five: Ron Santo
Today would have been Ron Santo's 77th birthday.
Growing up around Chicago my whole life, Santo was an integral part of my baseball upbringing. I can say with certainty that no single player -- with the possible exception of Ernie Banks -- is more closely tied to the Cubs organization than Ronnie.
I'm not sure how well-known Ron Santo is outside of Chicago, but you can't argue with the numbers: the guy was a Hall of Famer. It is one of the great disappointments in the history of Cooperstown that he didn't get to see his own election. Sadly, Santo passed away in 2010, and after decades of dragging their feet, the Hall finally gave him a rightful spot in Cooperstown in 2011, albeit a year too late.
It's in honor of Ronnie's birthday that I've decided to focus on him in this week's edition of Top Five.
#5 -- 1997 Tuff Stuff Sports Classic #NNO Ron Santo
We start with one from the super-oddball files.
I found this in a dime box a number of years ago, and I'm 99 percent sure it was originally issued as a ticket to get Santo's autograph at a card show. It may have even been some kind of VIP pass, judging by the hole punch at the top.
Like many other wacky items I've found in the past, I had to ask myself: is this a baseball card?
And as was the case with the vast majority of those items, I answered: of course it is.
#4 -- 1975 Topps #35 Ron Santo
Nothing about this card is right.
No way did Ron Santo -- forever a '60s ballplayer in my mind -- play until the mid '70s. No way did he play second base. And no way did he ever play for the White Sox. Surely this was some kind of hoax.
Like it or not, though, the proof is in the stats: in what would be his only season as a South Sider (and the final one of his baseball career), Santo appeared in 117 games -- including 39 at second base -- for the '74 White Sox.
Oddly disconcerting? Yes. Great? Also yes.
#3 -- 1962 Topps #170 Ron Santo
This is my oldest Ron Santo card, at least until I can get my hands on an affordable copy of his '61 Topps rookie -- no easy task around Chicago.
Although I've never particularly cared for '62 Topps, this terrific shot of a baby-faced, 22-year-old Santo has long been a sacred piece of my collection.
#2 -- 1965 Topps #110 Ron Santo
Ron Santo on the greatest Topps design ever.
Need I say more?
#1 -- 1974 Topps #270 Ron Santo
As it did with Tom Seaver, '74 Topps owns the distinction of producing my personal favorite Ron Santo card.
Like others on this list, my affinity for it closely linked to its weirdness. This is, for one thing, Santo's final card as a Cub, and the fact that he wasn't a career Cub is strange enough all on its own. But then you have the photo itself, which -- with players and fans dallying about behind a surprised Santo -- looks about as candid as candid can be.
Adding to the zaniness is the presence of (former) Cubs skipper Leo Durocher in the background (whose pose, forgive my immaturity, has always reminded me of someone urinating). Durocher last managed the North Siders in 1972, which means the photo was at least two years old when this card hit the streets. Kind of an oddity for Topps.
When you add it all up, it's the craziest -- but the best -- card of the birthday boy himself, Ron Santo.
Happy birthday, Ronnie.