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Remembering Ron Santo: National Baseball Hall of Famer who had Type 1 Diabetes

Jeff Santo shares memories of his father

Laura KolodjeskiLaura Kolodjeski

Earlier this year, on July 22, Ron Santo, former Chicago Cubs® third baseman, was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame®. In addition to the baseball legacy he left behind, he also raised millions of dollars for diabetes awareness and research. Today, I’m honored to introduce you to Ron’s son, Jeff Santo. Jeff shares memories of his father, discusses what the Hall of Fame induction would have meant to Ron and tells us about the recently released special edition of This Old Cub, a documentary about the life of Ron Santo.

Jeff, Ron and Ron Jr. Santo
Former Chicago Cubs Third Baseman, Ron Santo with his sons Jeff and Ron Jr.

Q: What do you remember most about your father?

A: My brother and I grew up in the clubhouse at Wrigley Field®. We’d go to the games with him all the time. We were very close as a family and I spent a lot of time with my dad as a kid and also as an adult. But if there was one thing that I remember most about my dad it would be his courage. He inspired his family, which was hard to do. You can inspire other people, but if you can inspire family that’s a pretty big feat. We saw what he fought through, how he stayed positive and his ongoing desire to keep telling his story to those living with diabetes. He showed people what could be done while living with diabetes. To play Major League Baseball® and have a Hall of Fame career while living with diabetes during that time period—it’s pretty amazing.

Q: Do you recall your father talking about his type 1 diabetes?

A: Not really. As a kid, he didn’t talk to my brother and I about it, but we lived it. He would take his insulin in the morning and we’d go to the ballpark. He never complained about it. He said when he was diagnosed at 18; he wouldn’t accept or believe it. He thought he could beat diabetes just by losing weight, so he lost twenty pounds. When he finally accepted he couldn’t beat diabetes, he learned to embrace it.

Q: August 28, 1971 is called “Ron Santo Day.” What do you recall from that day?

Baseball Hall of Famer, Ron Santo’s children
Ron Santo’s children, Linda, Jeff and Ron Jr.

A: That was the day that my father revealed he had diabetes at Wrigley Field. That was the start of him becoming a spokesman for diabetes. After that he became heavily involved with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), which was the only research and fundraising organization for people with diabetes at the time. My dad helped start an annual fundraising walk in Chicago, the Ron Santo Walk to Cure Diabetes, to benefit JDRF. Last year was the 33rd annual walk. Each year the walk generates millions of dollars and to date it has raised close to seventy million dollars.

Q: Ron was recently inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. What do you think that would have meant to him?

 Baseball Hall of Famer, Ron Santo’s daughter and grandchildren
Ron Santo’s grandchildren, Sam and Spence, with his daughter, Linda

A: It would have meant so much, he wanted it bad. He didn’t win a World Series® or play in playoff games, but he deserved to be a part of the Hall of Fame because he was captain of the team and his stats showed it. The Hall of Fame would have been a sigh of relief that he finally got there, but he never had that relief. I know he was acknowledged by Chicago and he cherished that. His number was the third in Cubs history to be retired and the other two were already in the Hall of Fame so they understood what he was. I’m glad the new Veterans Committee got it right. He got ninety-three percent of the vote. It is sad that he wasn’t here to be a part of it, but it was also wonderful. People are now getting a chance to look into who he was and what he accomplished. The more his story gets out, the more it can do to help diabetes awareness and education.

Q: Will you tell us about This Old Cub and why you decided to make it?

A: I’m a filmmaker and I was living in LA until I took time off to come home and help my dad when he started having problems with his feet. The blood flow wasn’t getting down to his leg or foot so he ended up losing his leg. He told the doctors if he had to be on his back for another three months he wouldn’t do it because too many bad things could happen if he wasn’t active. He asked the doctors if they took his other leg if he could be walking with prosthetic legs by spring training and they said yes. So exactly one year after losing the first leg they took the second. My mom was actually the one that said this would be a great story to share, and that’s when I realized I needed to make the documentary. He didn’t want to do the film at first, but he was convinced when he realized he could inspire millions of diabetics.

A special edition of This Old Cub was released on Father’s Day this year and it documents the last chapter of his life. Part of the proceeds go to support JDRF. Get your own sneak peek today!

Thanks so much to Jeff for sharing memories of his father and creating an inspirational film that depicts the life of a legend. It’s good to know that even though Ron is no longer with us, his legacy lives on.

All the best,

Laura K.

Disclosure: Jeff Santo received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.

Chicago Cubs is a registered trademark by CHICAGO CUBS BASEBALL CLUB, LLC

Major League Baseball is a registered trademark by Major League Baseball Properties, Inc.

NATIONAL BASEBALL HALL OF FAME is a trademark by National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc.

World Series is a registered trademark by Office of the Commissioner of Baseball

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  1. Scott
    October 23rd, 2012, 9:06 AM

    Great interview – thank you Jeff & Laura.

    I’m also a big fan of Ron for all of the advocacy and awareness work he did with the Diabetes Research Institute.