Ron Santo finally got his day, even though he died before he could see it. Santo is perhaps the most famous baseball player or athlete to excel on the field, even though he had Type 1 diabetes.
Vicki Santo, Ron's widow, gave the speech for her late husband on his induction in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
She remarked about the obstacles Santo had to overcome, especially since little was known about Type 1 diabetes when Santo came up to the Chicago Cubs in 1960. Santo didn't tell his teammates about his disease for about a decade.
Though Santo's numbers should have had him in the Hall of Fame long before he got there, imagine what his numbers would have been if he could have played longer in the major leagues. And speaking of numbers, Vicki Santo pointed out that her husband helped raise $65 million for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. That is even more impressive than the 342 home runs he hit in his MLB career.
Here are some diabetes-related excerpts from Vicki Santo's speech on Sunday:
"Ron Santo was born to play baseball. He said his ability to play baseball was a God given gift, that playing the game was easy, that it was only the diabetes that made the game hard. Looking back, he believed he was given the gift of talent as well as the challenge of diabetes so that through his hardship, he could shed light on a cause that he could help others through his story."
"You see, long before science and technology caught up to diabetes, Ron Santo was as much a guinea pig as he was a baseball player. On a given day, he played doctor and patient as well as third base. He tested his sugars by taking batting practice. He checked his glucose levels by fielding grounders. He gauged the amount of insulin he would need after running the bases. And this was before the game even started. His prescription was often a candy bar or a glass of orange juice, never letting on that his sugars were low or telling his teammates about his daily injections."
"Ron told the story many times about an afternoon at Wrigley Field when he was really struggling. The low sugar came over him very quickly, as it sometimes did, and suddenly he found himself in the on-deck circle. Don Kessinger, Glenn Beckert had already reached base, Billy Williams was at the plate and Ron's sugar was really low. It got so bad as Billy took his sweet time up there working the count that Ron was hoping Billy would just strike out so he could end the inning and get back to the dugout for a candy bar, but Billy walked to load the bases. Now Ron really had a problem. His vision was blurry and he was weak. His plan was to hit the first pitch but he didn't count on seeing three balls coming to him so he picked the middle of the three and swung hard. He did it. A grand slam. But as they ran the bases, Billy was jogging, enjoying the moment and Ron quickly caught up to him. Billy said, "Hey don't pass me up, what's your hurry?" Ron said, "You better get moving, Whistler, or I'm running right around you." Billy picked up the pace and they got off the field but it wasn't until years later that Ron explained why he needed to get off the field. He hid his diabetes for a decade. He was afraid they might take baseball away from him. That's a long time to keep a secret. Indeed, he was in so many ways a guinea pig."
"In 2001, Ron lost a leg, amputated because of the complications of diabetes. It had been a terrible fight. 10 operations in 10 months. The next year, he had a sore on the other foot and was faced with a decision. After weighing the odds of a full recovery and no recurrence, he decided to go with a second amputation. … He handled his diabetes with grace, dignity and a sense of humor. As he left for the ball park with the glucometer and insulin, we would joke about getting him an owner's manual in case any of the bionic parts were to break down, someone would be able to help him."