Making the Grade

Barry Larkin, Ron Santo enshrined as Class of 2012 at Hall of Fame

July 22, 2012
Ron Santo's widow, Vicki Santo, delivered the Induction speech on Ron's behalf. (Milo Stewart, Jr./NBHOF Library)

Overlooking a sea of Cubs blue and Cincinnati red washed atop a green pasture-like setting, a pair of rookies made the grade on the National Pastime’s greatest squad.

With an estimated 18,000 fans on hand for the celebration, longtime Reds shortstop Barry Larkin and Ron Santo, the deceased former third baseman of the Chicago Cubs, were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and increased its exclusive membership to 297.  

“Earning election to the Baseball Hall of Fame is incredibly difficult,” said Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark at the start of the afternoon’s festivities. “Only the top one percent of those who played Major League Baseball are enshrined…Only 207 of those who ever played major league baseball over its long history.

“These men behind me are living legends and they define character, integrity, sportsmanship all within incredible baseball careers.”

A total of 44 returning Hall of Fame members were seated on stage behind this year’s incoming class. And on a day featuring sunny skies and a slight breeze, the usually reserved Larkin, sporting a dark suit, white shirt and, appropriately, a red tie, let his emotions show right from the start.

“I'm going to tell you guys something before I get started,” Larkin said. “I know you see us up here nice and polished and looking dapper, calm, cool and collected. I'm going to tell you what, this is un-stinking believable! Unbelievable!”

After thanking his family for their support, Larkin, a Cincinnati native, would go on to not only thank the Reds teams of his youth but also those members of the team who influenced him as a young player.

“I grew up in Cincinnati in the era of the Big Red Machine,” Larkin said. “Managed by Hall of Famer Sparky Anderson, many other members that I cheered for sitting behind me, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Pérez.

“I, like many other young players at the time, grew up dreaming about the honor to play for the Reds and represent the city of Cincinnati.”

Pete Rose, Dave Parker, Eric Davis, Buddy Bell and Dave Concepcion, members of the Reds when Larkin first joined the team, also received special mention.

“I had an incredible opportunity to spend some time with some outstanding mentors that showed me way how play, how to be a professional on and off the field, to share with me some life lessons, polish some things that I would apply in my every day life,” Larkin said. “I played with some monumental figures in the game of baseball and I want to acknowledge a few of those guys.

“I want to just thank Pete (Rose) for the opportunity. I wouldn't be in the big leagues if he didn't give me that opportunity,” Larkin said of his first major league manager. “I want to thank him for that.”

Larkin would also acknowledge the 1990 Reds team that swept the A’s in the World Series.

“I had some great years in Cincinnati. I got a chance to play on some great teams with some pretty special people,” he said. “The Big Red Machine, '75 and '76, they certainly set the standard. It was all about winning championships. And in 1990, we did just that, we won that championship. Wire to wire, knocked off a team that many had crowned champion before we even started, the Oakland A’s.”

With thousands of Reds fans cheering, Larkin ended his speech thanking those who led him to this final baseball destination.

“You know, every player wants to be successful, every player wants to win, every player wants to feel appreciated and looks for validation,” Larkin said. “Well, my inclusion in the Hall of Fame is the ultimate validation and I want to thank you all for helping me along the way.”

Santo’s widow, Vicki, represented her late husband with a touching speech that not only recognized his gifts on the field but also the contributions he’s made to fight diabetes, a disease that contributed to his death at the age of 70 in 2010.

“Words cannot express my sorrow that Ron Santo didn't live to see this day, that he's not here to give this speech,” she said. “Believe me when I tell you I'd rather have Ron up here than me, but rest assured that he's laughing at my expense to see me squirm a little bit.

“But this is not a sad day, not at all. This is a very happy day. It's an incredible day for an incredible man, a man who lived an extraordinary life to its fullest. Indeed, he had a wonderful life. It was a spectacular journey fraught with trials and tribulations and incredible lows and highs. But Ron's life was never about the lows. He always found a way to make it about the highs.”

Adding that Santo was “born to play baseball,” Vicki Santo said “his ability to play baseball was a God-given gift, that playing the game was easy, that it was only the diabetes that made the game hard. Looking back, he believed he was given the gift of talent as well as the challenge of diabetes so that through his hardship, he could shed light on a cause that he could help others through his story.

“And I think he would say that's why he's now been given the greatest honor any athlete could ever hope for from a sport, to be included among the greatest players who have ever set foot on earth.”

Harkening back to the holiday movie classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Vicki Santo added, “When the angel Clarence says, ‘Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?’ Ron never needed that lesson, but Ron left an awful hole for so many of us here today.

“I always think of how Clarence inscribed that copy of Tom Sawyer that George Bailey holds at the end of the movie. ‘Remember, George, no man is a failure who has friends.’ Well, I don't know of anyone who had more friends than Ron Santo.” 

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum