CLEVELAND — Billy Williams stood on the grass near the home dugout at Wrigley Field earlier this month, a Cubs living legend. That’s a heck of a thing to get to be, though it gets harder as time marches on. Life giveth. Life taketh away.
It was the very start of the Cubs postseason, prior to Game 1 of the divisional series against the Giants. As Williams took in the gathering excitement on the field and in the stands, he turned to a member of his Cubs extended family and sighed.
“God, I wish my buddies were here,” he said.
Williams was referring, of course, to fellow Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, who died in January of 2015, and Ron Santo, who has been gone since December of 2010.
Oh, how they would’ve enjoyed the Cubs’ series victories over the Giants and Dodgers. And just imagine their faces now if they could gaze upon the majesty of Cubbie blue in the World Series.
They should be part of this.
Or are they?
“Their spirit is here every day,” Cubs radio color analyst Ron Coomer said during the NLCS. “You can feel them hanging out and wanting to be here and loving Cubs baseball.”
Coomer sits in Santo’s old chair alongside radio play-by-play man Pat Hughes, who teamed with Santo for 15 years. Coomer grew up a Cubs fan and got to play third base for them in 2001. On a flight during his first road trip with the team, he got a tap on the shoulder from the greatest third baseman in franchise history.
“Ronnie took me out for a three-hour dinner,” Coomer recalled. “We laughed, joked and became great friends.”
Hughes could tell 100 such stories about the dear friend with the huge heart whom he memorably eulogized nearly six sad years ago.
“I think about Ronnie every single day,” Hughes said the day before Game 1 of the World Series. “Lately, I’ve thought about him several times a day and how absolutely thrilled he would have been with this team. He would have been beyond himself, wild with excitement.
“I think about Ron all the time, all year round. He’s part of me.”
Hughes took time to mention the great, inimitable Banks as well as former Cubs announcers Harry Caray, Jack Brickhouse, Lou Boudreau and Jack Quinlan and longtime WGN producer Arne Harris.
“In a way,” he said, “I feel like I’m just kind of like a messenger for all of them.”
And what would Santo’s message be? It would be full of the earnestness and joy with which he clicked his heels as a player. It would be as heartfelt and imperfect as he was as a broadcaster.
It might make us laugh, shake our heads or even well up. Or all of the above.
But Williams’ buddies aren’t here.
Or are they?
Former Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood wore a Santo jersey to Game 6 of the NLCS. In fact, Wood has repped Santo, with whom he was close, throughout October— same as he did in 2015.
“Ronnie didn’t get to see this. He didn’t get to witness this night,” Wood said after the Cubs’ clincher against the Giants. “So I’m definitely wearing the Santo jersey. I’m going to wear it all the way through and hopefully let him experience it with me.”
It sure is a nice thought.
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