CHICAGO – The funeral procession for Ron Santo was expected to make a trip Friday past Wrigley Field, giving Chicago Cubs fans a chance for one last standing ovation in honor of the beloved ballplayer who spent 15 years manning third base there before joining the broadcast booth.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and Cubs owner Tom Ricketts were among those set to eulogize Santo on Friday during a funeral service at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, according to the Cubs. Santo died Dec. 3 of bladder cancer at age 70.
After the service, the casket was to travel down Chicago's famous Michigan Avenue, past the WGN studios where Santo worked as a radio broadcaster, then make a somewhat predictable trip around the outside of Wrigley.
Some Cubs followers said that while they respected Santo as a player and broadcaster, they mostly viewed him as someone who experienced the ups and (more frequently) the downs of his beloved Cubs, right alongside them.
"As an announcer it all came through in his voice," said John Anast, of Chicago. "He was a fan."
Anast got in line at 6 a.m. Thursday for a chance to see Santo's casket — 10 hours before the church doors opened to the public. More than 400 people showed up at the wake Thursday afternoon, braving the snowy, windy weather in a line that snaked around Holy Name Cathedral.
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.
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.
"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.
Brad McGlone, 30, said he drove eight hours from Kentucky to pay his respects. 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."