Ron Santo: “Now that’s what I’d call a God-given gift”

By James Colten 12-06-2011
Ron Santo. From a 1961 edition of Baseball Digest via

Ron Santo. From a 1961 edition of Baseball Digest via

Ron Santo, former Chicago Cubs third baseman and radio announcer, was finally inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame on Monday, just over a year after his death.

As many now know, Santo had type 1 diabetes and endured many hardships during his baseball career, as well as every year that followed. In a Guideposts article he wrote about his diagnosis, “Diabetes? I didn't even know what that was. I had just one concern: "Can I still play baseball?"”

He sure could. My favorite story (and I’m sure this is a favorite of many others) of Santo goes like this:

“I was kneeling in the on-deck circle at Chicago's Wrigley Field that sweltering August afternoon. It was the bottom of the ninth. The Cubs trailed the Los Angeles Dodgers, 2-0, but we had a pair of runners on base and slugger Billy Williams at the plate.

It was the kind of situation Billy loved, and he was determined to come through. In the stands, 20,000 fans screamed for a hit. Me, I was silently praying that he would make an out so I wouldn't have to bat.

Anyone who ever watched me play for the Cubs back in the 1960s and early '70s will find that last statement hard to believe. No one loved pressure situations more than I.

But that day things were different. I have type 1 diabetes — juvenile diabetes — and as I watched Williams battle the pitcher, I suddenly felt myself grow woozy. I looked up and saw three scoreboards. My blood-sugar level had dropped fast. I glanced into the dugout.

Should I tell manager Leo Durocher that I needed to come out, that I needed something with sugar to eat, that I didn't think I could hit? Williams drew a walk and those 20,000 screams grew even louder. I had to go up to the plate…

On the mound was Bill Singer, a two-time All-Star with a wicked curveball. My problem was this: I saw three Bill Singers, one on top of the other. His first pitch came at me looking like it was attached to a Slinky. What did I do? I had no choice: I swung.

The ball soared higher, higher, out of the park — one of six grand slams I hit in my career. Now that's what I'd call a God-given gift.”

When I was a camp counselor, I loved telling my kids that God uses little, often disadvantaged people to do great things. I told (or retold) them about Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt, about how God called Samuel, about little David defeating Goliath, how Jesus called fishermen to be his disciples and took one boy’s lunch to feed many. I like to think of it as God’s own challenge: to do the most amazing things through the least likely of suspects.  

Many people didn’t vote for Santo because he didn’t help the Cubs win a World Series. In fact, the Cubs had a record of 1,052 (wins) and 1,104 (losses) in games in which he played.

Ron Santo’s enshrinement in Cooperstown is more than just a tribute to hits, home runs and RBIs but an acknowledgement that the love of the game is just as valuable as “winning” the game.

My hope is that Ron Santo’s story reminds us that God still uses us in our weakness—that God is more concerned about our love for Him and our neighbors than for our pursuit of winning or succeeding in life.


James Colten is a campaigns assistant — and a Cubs fan — at Sojourners.

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