Ron Santo always kept rooting for the causes dearest to him — for his Chicago Cubs to win the World Series, for doctors to find a cure for diabetes and for him to reach the Hall of Fame.
On Monday, Cooperstown finally came calling.
The barrel-chested third baseman who clicked his heels in victory was elected to the Hall, overwhelmingly chosen by the Veterans Committee nearly a year to the day after he died hoping for this very honour.
"It's really exciting because so many years that we had parties over to his house in spring training saying this is the year, I'd tell him this is the year you're going in," said Hall of Fame teammate Billy Williams, a member of the voting panel.
"The one thing, of course, is he's not here to enjoy it, but his family will. He long awaited this, and we're all happy. I know I'm happy, his family is happy, the fans of Chicago are happy," he said.
Santo was a nine-time All-Star, hit 342 home runs and won five Gold Gloves. He was a Cubs broadcaster for two decades, beloved by the home crowd for the way he eagerly cheered for his favorite team on the air, hollering "Yes! Yes!" or "All right!" after good plays and groaning "Oh, no!" or "It's bad" when things went wrong.
Shortly after the announcement, Santo's flag — white with blue pinstripes, plus his name and No. 10 — was flying from the centre pole atop the scoreboard at Wrigley Field.
"I've got tears in my eyes writing this: congrats to the Santo family on Ron's election to MLB Hall of Fame. A good day to be a Cub fan," tweeted Chicago-area rocker Billy Corgan, frontman for the Smashing Pumpkins.
Santo breezed in with 15 votes from the 16-member panel that met at baseball's winter meetings. It took 75 per cent — 12 votes — to get chosen.
Santo died Dec. 3, 2010, from complications of bladder cancer at age 70. He had diabetes, which eventually cost him both legs below the knees, and worked tirelessly to raise millions for research into the disease.
Williams was on the line when Santo's widow, Vicki, got the congratulatory phone call.
"Ron has passed, but it was always his dream, to even have this come to him after his passing. It just shows you can't give up," she said during a conference call from Arizona.
"All he said [was] I hope I get in in my lifetime, that's certainly a reasonable request for anybody who gets an honour as special as this one. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be," she said. "With his lifetime every disappointment that came along, he was very disappointed."
Santo joined former Cubs teammates Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins and Williams in the Hall. That famed quartet did most everything at the Friendly Confines through the 1960s and early 1970s except bring a World Series to the ivy-covered ballpark.
"With Ernie, myself and Fergie, those players he played with … to hear this kind of news today that he's inducted in the baseball Hall of Fame is really gratifying because so many times that we talked about it, it's a place he wanted to be," Williams said.
Santo will be inducted into Cooperstown on July 22, along with any players elected by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America on Jan. 9. Bernie Williams joins Jack Morris, Barry Larkin and others on that ballot.
"This is a great day for baseball and for Cubs fans everywhere," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. "Ron was a staple of the Cubs' experience every single day for decades."
"I always admired Ron's courage and loyalty, and I miss him very much," he said.
Jim Kaat was second with 10 votes, Gil Hodges and Minnie Minoso each drew nine and Tony Oliva got eight on the 10-person Golden Era ballot. Buzzie Bavasi, Ken Boyer, Charlie Finley, Allie Reynolds and Luis Tiant each received under three votes.
Santo never came close to election during his 15 times on the BBWAA ballot, peaking at 43 per cent — far short of the needed 75 per cent in his last year of eligibility in 1998.
Santo had gotten closer in previous elections by the Veterans Committee. The panel has been revamped several times in the last decade, aimed at giving a better look at deserving candidates.
Since his final swing in 1974, Santo's numbers on the field never changed. The perception of what he meant to the game did, though.
"From the discussion yesterday, we kind of got in depth," Williams said. "We really, really talked about each individual and some things were brought out, I imagine that wasn't brought out last time, in so far as what he'd done for the game of baseball, the $60 million he raised for [juvenile diabetes research], all the other stuff we knew."
"This was the case of Ron Santo. We talked about it, we had good discussions on it and it happened," he said.
Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson was also part of the panel that voted on Santo.
"I kept thinking that he would get in then, then, then and finally he got in, but it's a little too late for him to be there," he said.
"He's just a terrific guy, he's baseball through and through, he's done a lot for the game of baseball in his career, and he's been though a lot of hardships physically and he was just a terrific player," he said. "He certainly belongs in the Hall of Fame. A long time coming. No one knows the reason he didn't get in when the writers were voting, but this process we have has been the fairest, I think."
Santo is the 15th third baseman in the Hall, including three from the Negro Leagues. He was a career .277 hitter and hit at least 30 homers every season from 1964-67.
Santo made his debut at 20 with the Cubs in 1960 and played his whole career with them until finishing with the crosstown White Sox in 1974.
Like Banks, Santo never got to play in a World Series. They came close in 1969, overtaken in the stretch by a New York Mets team managed by Hodges, the former Brooklyn star first baseman.
That year, Santo liked to jump and click his heels after wins. It was also the season a fateful picture was taken, showing Santo with on a bat on his shoulder in the on-deck circle at Shea Stadium as a black cat scampered past.
"The '69 team was so very, very close, and the joy that they had not only as players, but to the day he passed, and they're still so very close," Vicki Santo said.