Big day is Saturday for hall of fame inductees

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COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Barry Larkin almost seemed wistful as his mind traveled back through time.

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FILE - In this April 5, 2002, file photo, former Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo throws out the ceremonial first pitch before the Cubs' home opener baseball game in Chicago. Santo, who died Dec. 3, 2010, at the age of 70, will be posthumously inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Sunday, July 22, 2012, along with Cincinnati Reds star shortstop Barry Larkin. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)  Ted S. Warren
Ted S. Warren
FILE - In this April 5, 2002, file photo, former Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo throws out the ceremonial first pitch before the Cubs' home opener baseball game in Chicago. Santo, who died Dec. 3, 2010, at the age of 70, will be posthumously inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Sunday, July 22, 2012, along with Cincinnati Reds star shortstop Barry Larkin. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

“I think coming out of high school I was a better football player than a baseball player,” Larkin said. “I wanted to play football. That was my first real love at the time.”

Larkin, a two-sport standout in his senior year at Cincinnati’s Moeller High School, went to the University of Michigan on a scholarship to play football for coach Bo Schem­bechler’s Wolverines, opting for college life after being picked in the second round of the 1982 draft by his hometown Reds.

Larkin’s dream of becoming a standout defensive back was doused when Schembechler redshirted him as a freshman, and it didn’t take long for football to become an afterthought.

“That was really the first time in my life that I just played one sport, and I got a lot better at that sport,” Larkin said.

He rode his considerable talent to heights he never imagined as a kid – election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

“This is kind of off the charts as far as something that I could even dream about,” said Larkin, who will be inducted a week from today along with late Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo.

Also to be enshrined in a separate ceremony the day before are former St. Louis Cardinals catcher and longtime broadcaster Tim McCarver, recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award, and Toronto Sun beat writer and columnist Bob Elliott, recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award.

Larkin won the Reds’ starting shortstop job as a rookie and two years later was an All-Star with a .296 average, 91 runs scored, 32 doubles and 40 stolen bases.

In 1990, Larkin hit .301 with 30 steals and 67 RBIs and finished seventh in NL MVP voting. The Reds won the NL West that year, beat the Pirates for the pennant and swept the Oakland A’s in the World Series, where Larkin hit .353 and scored three runs.

“The reason I played was to try to win championships, and we were able to do that,” said Larkin, who played his entire 19-year career with the Reds and was an All-Star 12 times.

Santo often thought about the Hall of Fame. And he wasn’t alone.

When former Cubs great Ryne Sandberg was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005, he ended his speech with this: “I know there are a lot of Cub fans here today. I feel like every Cub fan in the world is here with me today. And by the way, for what it’s worth, Ron Santo just gained one more vote from the Veterans Committee.”

Unfortunately, Santo didn’t live to experience what will be a special day for his family.

Plagued by health problems, Santo died Dec. 3, 2010, at the age of 70. His long battle with diabetes cost him both legs below the knees, but he ultimately died of complications from bladder cancer.

“It was unfortunate that he didn’t receive that award while he was living, and he so much warranted it,” said former Cubs star Billy Williams, elected to the Hall in 1987. “He won’t get the enjoyment (he would have if) he were living and walked up to that podium and received that award.”

A member of the Chicago Cubs organization for the better part of five decades as a player (1960-74) and broadcaster (1990-2010), Santo was selected by the Veterans Committee exactly one year after his death.

“It was always his dream. It was always so important to Ron,” his widow, Vicki, said. “It’s been such a long time coming. It’s been so important to all of Chicago, Ron’s fans in Chicago. We feel that he was meant to be there. I can see him sitting on the sofa here as we did many, many times and he would just be pumping his fist in the air saying, ‘Yes! Yes!’ “

In 15 major league seasons, Santo compiled a .277 batting average, had 2,254 hits, 1,331 RBIs and 365 doubles in 2,243 games. He also was a tireless fundraiser for juvenile diabetes, raising more than $50 million.

As a broadcaster, Santo was known for unabashedly rooting for the Cubs, a trait that endeared him to fans who never saw him play.

Santo fought serious medical problems after he retired as a player. He underwent surgery on his eyes, heart and bladder after doctors discovered cancer. He also had surgery more than a dozen times on his legs before they were amputated below the knees <0x2014> the right one in 2001 and the left a year later.

Working Cubs games on radio was an elixir of sorts for Santo. He could find comfort at the ballpark and a respite from his many health ailments. He even said once that he thought his association with the team probably prolonged his life.

Vicki Santo will speak on behalf of her late husband, and her message will be akin to the one that has endeared the late Jim Valvano, the former North Carolina State basketball coach, to millions of people fighting cancer: “To never give up,” Vicki Santo said.

“To have this come to him after his passing, it just shows you can’t give up, and that’s what Ron was all about.”

A LOOK AT THE HONOREES

BARRY LARKIN

Born April 28, 1964, in Cincinnati … 6-foot, 185-pound, right-handed hitting shortstop who played in 2,180 games and had a .295 career average, 2,340 hits, 1,329 runs scored and 379 stolen bases in 19 big league seasons, all with the Cincinnati Reds, and was an All-Star 12 times ... was taken in the second round of the 1982 draft by his hometown Reds, but instead accepted a football scholarship to the University of Michigan … was redshirted as a freshman by coach Bo Schembechler and concentrated on baseball thereafter … was taken fourth overall by the Reds in the 1985 draft … member of Cincinnati’s World Series championship team in 1990, hitting .353 and scoring three times in sweep of Oakland … scored at least 80 runs in a season seven times, hit 30-plus doubles in six seasons and stole 30 or more bases five times … won three Gold Gloves en route to a career fielding percentage of .975 … was named NL MVP in 1995 after hitting .319 en route to the Reds’ NL Central title … in 1996 became the first major league shortstop to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases in a season … retired after the 2004 season … elected on his third try.

RON SANTO

Born Feb. 25, 1940, in Seattle … 6-foot, 190-pound, right-handed hitting third baseman … signed by the Chicago Cubs as an amateur free agent in 1959 and made major league debut June 26, 1960 ... a nine-time All-Star in his 15-year career, Santo played in 2,243 games and batted .277 with 2,254 hits, 365 doubles, 67 triples, 342 homers and 1,331 RBI and also won five Gold Glove awards … a member of the Cubs organization for the better part of five decades as a player (1960-74) and broadcaster (1990-2010) … hit 337 of his career homers in a Cubs uniform, fourth-most in franchise history … Santo’s battle with diabetes cost him both legs below the knees, but he ultimately died of complications from bladder cancer on Dec. 3, 2010, at age 70.

TIM McCARVER

Born Oct. 16, 1941, in Memphis, Tenn. ... Recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award, presented annually for major contributions to baseball broadcasting ... ... a baseball broadcaster for more than 30 years ... spent 21 seasons as a big league catcher, playing in 1,909 games with the St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies, Montreal Expos and Boston Red Sox, batting .271 with 1,501 hits, 242 doubles, 57 triples, 97 home runs and 645 RBI ... earned two All-Star game berths … was a member of the 1964 Cardinals team that beat the New York Yankees in seven games for the World Series title.

BOB ELLIOTT

Born Sept. 10, 1949, in Kingston, Ontario … Recipient of J.G. Taylor Spink Award, presented annually for meritorious contributions to baseball writing … covered first major league game in 1978, the Montreal Expos’ home opener at Olympic Stadium, and covered the team through 1986 … moved to Toronto in 1987 and has since covered the Blue Jays as a beat writer and baseball columnist for the Toronto Sun … wrote the best-seller Hard Ball on 1987 AL MVP George Bell in 1990, The Ultimate Blue Jays Trivia Book in 1993, and The Northern Game: Baseball The Canadian Way in 2005.


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