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Santo Hit a Home Run for Young Writer

Ex-Cub helped spur Paul Johnson on to career in sports journalism.

Back in 1998, I was in a magazine writing class at North Central College and our assignment for the trimester was to write a story and pitch it to a magazine.

My idea, since it was Ron Santo's last year eligible on the regular Hall of Fame ballot and he had just received word that he had had not been voted in, was to write a story about that. My teacher was understandably skeptical, but she allowed it. She told me that if I didn't have the contacts I needed in a couple of weeks, I would have to change my focus.

I contacted the Cubs and PR director Chuck Wasserstrom and told him my story, and Ron soon called my college dorm room. Seriously, it was a life-changing moment. I must have replayed the message dozens of times. After I called him back, he did literally four hours of interviews with me, and gave me phone numbers for teammates like Randy Hundley, Glenn Beckert and Don Kessinger.

At the 1998 Cubs Convention, the Cubs hooked me up with Ernie Banks and, as a broadcasting major, one of my major influences, Harry Caray, literally a month before he passed. Here's a link to some of the transcripts from my time together with Ron: http://chicagosportsslant.blogspot.com/2008/12/excerpts-from-1998-ron-santo-interview.html

Alas, nobody bought the story, but I became a journalist, and when I encountered Ron while covering Cubs games in one of my former newspaper incarnations, he told me how proud he was of me and I told him that he was a major reason why I had accomplished that goal.

And I am, to this day, 13 years later, a sports journalist, and extremely proud of that. Ron always made me feel like an equal, not some random young wanna-be journalist, and that is my lasting image of him; a great man.

People who are not Cubs fans may not appreciate his broadcast style or his unabashed fandom of the team he spent the majority of his career with. But I can tell you as a sports journalist, there are only a handful of people who have influenced me. And Ron Santo is near the top of that list.

The willingness to help a nobody like me and his supportive nature after I broke into the field will never be forgotten. And the struggle he went through physically, devotion he gave to finding a cure to diabetes and the love he gave to this team and its fans will not be forgotten either.

This is a man who truly bled for this organization and for all the people who live and die with it on a daily basis. His loss is great. But what he left for us is even greater. May you rest in peace, No. 10. You always will be loved.

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