CHICAGO – They came to pay their respects to Ron Santo, with stories of watching him gobble up grounders at third base or listening to him suffer on the radio as the Cubs dropped another game.
More than 400 people braved the snowy, windy weather Thursday afternoon in a line that snaked around Holy Name Cathedral to see the casket holding the former baseball great and broadcaster, who died Friday of bladder cancer at age 70.
One man said that when he visits baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., he will always ask where the Santo exhibit is — knowing, as any angry Cubs fan does, that Santo was never enshrined there.
Brad McGlone, 30, said he drove eight hours from Kentucky to pay his respects to. McGlone said Santo, who lost his legs to diabetes, once spotted him in a wheelchair during a game at Wrigley Field and started a conversation with him.
"He was my all-time favorite player," McGlone said. "He was like family and (his death) was like losing a member of the family."
Many who attended the wake said they viewed Santo as not just a player or announcer but a fellow suffering fan, who never gave up hope no matter how many times — or how many years — the Cubs dashed their hopes.
"As an announcer it all came through in his voice," said John Anast, of Chicago, who said he got in line at 6 a.m. — 10 hours before the doors opened to the public. "He was a fan."
Anast recalled Santo's eternal optimism.
"I remember him saying all we need is a couple of doubles, a three-run homer and we'd be right back in this thing," said Anast, as other fans nodded in agreement nearby.
Jody Kruep, wearing a hat with Santo's No. 10 on the front, said she was such a fan of Santo and his announcing partner, Pat Hughes, that she routinely kept the television turned off to listen to the two of them.
"He was like me. He expressed the emotions I was feeling," said Kruep, a 39-year-old suburban Chicago resident.
Michael Veitch, a school principal, said he was in his 20s when Santo was the "heart and soul" of the 1969 Cubs, which allowed the New York Mets to overtake them for the pennant despite what seemed an insurmountable lead.
Veitch, sporting a 1908 Cubs hat in honor of the last Cubs team to win the World Series, said he enjoyed the fact that Santo never hid his hatred for the Mets for the rest of his life. Veitch said he shares those sentiments.
"The greater sorrow here, more than the Hall of Fame thing, is that he never saw the Cubs win (the World Series) in his lifetime," Veitch said.
Had Santo been given a choice between being enshrined in the Hall of Fame or seeing the Cubs just once win a title, he would have taken the championship without hesitation, Veitch said.
Santo's funeral will be held Friday, followed by a funeral procession to Wrigley Field, where fans will get the chance to give Santo one last standing ovation.