Cubs legend Ron Santo dead at 70

By Marc Strauss

December 3, 2010 Updated Dec 3, 2010 at 7:33 PM CDT

Legendary Chicago Cubs player and broadcaster Ron Santo died Thursday night in Arizona after complications from bladder cancer.

He was 70.

Santo might have been the world's biggest Cubs fan. But he was also a 9-time all-star who won 5 gold gloves at third base.

His love affair with the team and its fans continued as a broadcaster. That's when Harry Caray introduced him to Peoria's Pete Vonachen. The two men shared more than just friendship.

"When I had my leg amputated and I was in the hospital one of the first people to call me was Ron Santo giving me words of encouragement," said Vonachen.

Like Pete, Santo had diabetes. He'd lost a leg. Then, another. He survived as a player by teaching his Cubs roommates what to do in the event he passed out.

And yet, his career batting average was 10 points higher than Brooks Robinson (.277) and he hit 74 more homeruns. Robinson's in the Hall of Fame. Not Santo.

"Privately he might have been disappointed," said Vonachen. "but publicly he never, ever complained. Never."

Over the years Santo raised awareness, as well as also millions of dollars, for diabetes research. In fact, next summer he was scheduled to make an appearance at O'Brien Field at a kickoff event for central Illinois' Ron Santo Walk to Cure Diabetes.

"This was going to be the year. We were going to have him come down this summer, so we're saddened by this news," said Molly Waller, the local manager of the annual walk.

"Perhaps in his absence the local families will rise to the challenge and stay dedicated to raising funds for a cure."

Vonachen called him a role model for everyone.

"He wanted to be out there with them and show his strength to these young people that have this disease. He was one of the greatest examples for people who've got a disability," Pete said.