I used to tell people the annual charge for my MLB Gameday Audio subscription was possibly the best $15 I spent all year. The reason for that was simple–it meant that even though I’m more than two thousand miles and two time zones away from Wrigley Field, I was able to listen to Pat Hughes and Ron Santo call every Cubs game.
Any Cubs fan who ever listened to Pat and Ron knows what rare chemistry they shared. Regardless of how good or bad the ballgame was, they were always able to keep listeners engaged and entertained–and that’s quite a feat, considering some of the truly awful Cubs teams they presided over.
They had the repartee of a seasoned comedy team, with Ron as the lovable, blustery curmudgeon, and Pat as the sly needler. Pat knew right where Ron’s buttons were, and exactly how and when to push them for maximum effect. One of his greatest gifts as a broadcaster is his excellent sense of when to be quiet, often letting Ron dig deeper or paint himself further into a corner. I always felt like he knew how much fun we listeners were having, and he was eager to keep it going. He always got the joke.
Most of the time the joke was Ron, or at least it was on Ron. He’d get tangled up in an anecdote, confused by a name, phrase, or concept, or just plain disgusted with the game in front of him–always to hilarious results. His mispronunciations were classic, and his misunderstandings the stuff of legend. His real gift though was that he didn’t mind being the butt of the joke–in fact it seemed he preferred it that way. A lifetime of hard work and private struggle had made him perpetually humble and grateful, and that spirit poured out of him every day–even when he’d just set his hairpiece on fire or poured a beverage into his lap.
Together they were like brothers. Hilarious, interesting, entertaining brothers, and no matter how the Cubs fared that day, we listeners had a front row seat to the magic of the the Pat and Ron Show.
That magic has been preserved in the album Ron Santo: Cubs Legend. Ironically, it’s part of the Baseball Voices series that Pat Hughes has assembled and advertised on air over the years. It’s bittersweet but appropriate that Pat was able to curate this memorial to his longtime friend. With tracks that span their 15 years working together, Hughes has preserved some of their classic moments. Some are notable because of what how they figured in Cubs history–as I write this, I’m listening to the track that covers Ron’s reactions to Kerry Wood’s 20 K game and Brant Brown’s dropped fly ball. Others are classic simply because they epitomize Ron’s foibles and their collective goofy sense of humor. You’ll hear about the time Ron lost his toupee in his hotel room, his long-standing confusion about Antonio Alfonseca’s name, his run-in with a yogurt machine in Arizona, and his failure to ever once use the cough button. If you’ve got a favorite Ron story or moment, chances are it appears somewhere on this album.
Blended throughout the album are recollections of Ron’s life, many taken directly from the audio of Pat’s eulogy at Santo’s funeral. You’ll also hear Ron’s speech on the day his jersey was retired at Wrigley Field, and I dare you not to cry.
If I’m honest, I don’t listen to as many Cubs radio broadcasts these days. Pat Hughes is as excellent as ever–as good as there is in baseball, as far as I’m concerned. And Keith Moreland has filled in admirably in an unenviable role. But without Ron, it’s just not quite the appointment listening it once was. I’m sure I’ll still pay for my subscription each year, and that I’ll get more than my money’s worth.
But I know without a doubt that I’ll listen to Ron Santo: Cubs Legend for the rest of my life, and it won’t ever cease to make me smile and take me back to the glory days of the Pat and Ron Show. That is easily worth $9.99 I paid.