Count me among the childhood critics of eventual Hall of Famer Ron Santo, getting upset when he hit into a double play with crucial ducks on the pond, or made an error with his frequent Gold Glove at third.
But like so many others five decades ago, I didn’t have all the information at hand. Santo was playing at a perennial All-Star level with Type 1 diabetes that he could not accurately monitor with medical instruments before or during games. He developed educated guesswork when diabetic symptoms began to come on, quaffing a candy bar and/or a can of Coke for an instant sugar fix. Sometimes, though, the symptoms arrived quickly. They may have affected his vision or his physical reactions temporarily and thus in turn cut down on his performance.
As Fergie Jenkins noted, Santo could not have grown speed in his legs — slowness being his only physical drawback. But some of those double-play grounders may have been slashed through the infield without the diabetic impact on Santo’s reactions.
Imagine a Santo with a modern day medical monitors, being able to head off symptoms at the pass. Cubs closer Brandon Morrow, former Cubs outfielder Sam Fuld and ex-Bears quarterback Jay Cutler were not hampered in their careers through modern medical monitoring of their Type 1, called “juvenile diabetes” in Santo’s time.
He would have had even greater offensive numbers during his 1963-70 prime, and perhaps not have fallen off as quickly as he did in his final four big-league seasons, the last a controversy-filled campaign with the White Sox in 1974. The several Hall of Fame voters who did not like Santo for his 1969 heel-clicking wouldn’t have been enough to deny him entrance into Cooperstown while the then-Cubs broadcaster was still living. Santo ended up selected in a kind of guilt-ridden posthumous vote by an incarnation of the veterans committee soon after his death in 2010.
STORYCategory Baseball Under Glass Blog Tags Chicago Baseball History, Chicago Cubs, Diabetes, Ron Santo, Yosh Kawano