Ron Santo career highlights

Better late than never. This weekend, at the annual Hall of Fame Cooperstown induction ceremony, the late former Cubs third baseman Ron Santo will gain his plaque.

When a player has a such a high honor for his career, it’s nice to look back on his playing days. I did something like this for Barry Larkin back in January when the BBWAA voted him in. Now let’s do it for Ron Santo.

Below is a list of his career highlights. They are his personal bests and worsts, milestones achieved, great games he appeared in. And just because I find it interesting, I’ll throw in some odd or bizarre games Santo happened to be on hand for. Here they are, in chronological order:

Cubs tenure

June 26, 1960: Ron Santo makes his big league debut, and it’s a doozy. In a doubleheader against the Pirates, Santo is 3-for-7 with five RBIs, a double, a sacrifice hit, a reached on error, and a run. His efforts provide the difference in both games, as Chicago sweeps Pittsburgh, 7-6 and 7-5. He singles in his first trip to the plate against veteran Pirates pitcher Bob Friend.


July 3, 1960: Santo smashes the first of his 342 career home runs. It’s a three-run shot off Cincinnati’s Jim O’Toole.

Aug. 4, 1960: Not even six weeks into his big league career, Santo is on hand for one of the ugliest brawls of all-time. Cubs pitcher Jim Brewer throws inside to Reds infielder Billy Martin. In response, Martin lets his bat “slip” on a swing toward the mound. He goes to the mound to pick it up, and then sucker-punches Brewer. In the ensuing melee, Brewer is injured, and will later sue Martin. Santo has an uneventful day, going 0-for-4.

Aug. 18, 1960: Against the Dodgers, Santo smacks a pair of homers, in what will be the first of 26 career multi-home run games.

Aug. 25, 1960: Well there’s something you don’t see everyday, even back then. The Cubs top the Pirates 2-1 on a walk-off home run by starting pitcher Glen Hobbie. Santo is hitless but does draw a walk.

May 20, 1961: It’s one of the greatest pitching duels Santo ever plays in, as the Cubs defeat the rival Cardinals 1-0 on a walk-off home run by first baseman Ed Bouchee. Santo gets a double, one of only eight hits the two teams combined for. Santo twice comes to the plate with a runner on third, but grounds out and lines out in those trips.

July 4, 1961: Santo is the only member of the Cubs starting lineup who doesn’t strike out when Giants pitcher Billy O’Dell sets a record by fanning 13 men in a relief outing. He entered with none out in the first when starter Eddie Fisher didn’t have it, and saw the game out to the end.

Aug. 22, 1961: Santo is the only thing preventing Philadelphia’s Art Mahaffey from throwing a no-hitter. Santo singles with one out in the first inning, and that’s it; Mahaffey ends up with a complete game one-hitter.

Sept. 16, 1961: Santo is going through a rough time. For the second straight game, he’s held hitless with a pair of GIDPs. Tomorrow he’ll improve by having just one GIDP in a 0-for-3 game before finally breaking out of his slump on Sept. 18.

April 10, 1962: On Opening Day, Santo appears at a new place. Oh, he’s still at his customary third base position—but it’s in Houston. The Cubs are in Texas for the first ever Astros game, or Houston Colt-45s, as the new expansion team is then called. Santo is 0-for-3 with a walk as Chicago loses, 11-2.

Sept. 23, 1962: For the first time in franchise history, the Cubs lose their 100th game in a season. Today’s defeat is fittingly rough, as the historically bad Mets beat them on a walk-off hit in the ninth for a 2-1 final. Santo, who has played in every game this year, goes hitless to drop his average to .228. The Cubs will lose 100 games again in 1966, but haven’t done so since then.

May 4, 1963: It’s a weird one, and not a fun one for the opposing Braves, as the umpires call six balks on them. Santo is at the plate when the first, second, third, and sixth balks are called—all of which advance base runner Billy Williams. Santo is on base for the fifth balk.

May 28, 1963: Santo hits two triples in one game for the only time in his career. He isn’t normally known as a speedy guy, though he will lead the league in triples next year.

June 6, 1963: For the second time in his career, Santo enjoys a victory that comes thanks to a walk-off homer by a pitcher. Today it’s reliever Lindy McDaniel who wins it with a 10th inning solo shot for a 3-2 Cub triumph over the Giants. Santo walks and singles earlier in the game.

Aug. 8, 1963: Santo hits the first of six career walk-off home runs. It’s a solo shot in 10th for a 5-4 Cubs win over the Dodgers.

Sept. 3, 1963: In general, Santo has a terrific defensive reputation, but you’d never know watching the second inning of today’s game against the Giants. Santo makes three errors in the frame. The Cubs get killed, 16-3.

Sept. 6, 1964: Santo achieves a career milestone by bashing his 100th career home run.

Sept. 13, 1964: Ugh. The Cardinals score in all nine innings of their 15-2 victory over Santo and the Cubs. They never score more than three runs in a frame, but they can’t be stopped in any inning. Santo gets a double, RBI and walk in the losing effort.

April 12, 1965: It’s maybe the most exciting Opening Day tie of all-time. The Cubs and Cardinals fight to a 10-10 in 11 innings before the game is called for darkness in light-less Wrigley Field. Santo hits an RBI double in the 11th to tie it to help Chicago avoid the loss.

April 28, 1965: I just love random games like this—but I’m sure Santo and his Cub teammates didn’t love this game at all. They lose 3-2 to the Reds in 14 innings on a walk-off balk. Yeah, that ain’t fun. The balking pitcher is Ernie Broglio, who doesn’t exactly have a lot of fan goodwill he can afford to lose in Chicago. Santo is 1-for-6 with a double.

May 23, 1965: Here’s an odd ending Santo would’ve liked quite a bit more. The Cubs top the Dodgers 3-2 in 16 innings on a walk-off walk. Santo began the 16th with a groundout. Earlier in the day, Santo homered in the sixth for Chicago’s first run, and in the ninth scored the game-tying run after walking.

July 12, 1965: In the bottom of the 12th in the second game of a doubleheader, Santo smashes a walk-off home run for a 2-1 Cubs win over the Mets.

Aug. 19, 1965: It’s one of the most remarkable pitching performances you’ll see, as Cincinnati’s Jim Maloney thfrows a complete game 10-inning no-hitter with 12 strikeouts against the Cubs. He also walks 10 and hits a batter. Santo is the guy who gets a hit. It happens leading off the ninth and a pair of walks advance him to third. Just think—he came 90 feet from scoring a walk-off win against a pitcher who didn’t allow a hit.

Sept. 9, 1965: It might be the greatest pitching duel of all-time as the Cubs and Dodgers combine for just one hit all day. The hit is a double by LA’s Lou Johnson against Chicago’s Bob Hendley. It doesn’t lead to any runs, but LA does get an unearned run in the fifth. That’s quite enough for Dodgers ace Sandy Koufax, who pitches a perfect game. Santo fouls out, flies out, and strikes out in his at-bats.

May 28, 1966: Santo smashes his third career walk-off home run when he connects for a three-run bomb in the 12th inning against the Braves for a 8-5 Cubs win.

May 29, 1966: Would you believe it happens two days in a row? One day after smacking an extra-inning walk-off home run, Santo does it again. This time it’s a solo shot in the 10th for a 3-2 Cubs win over the Braves.

June 19, 1966: It’s milestone time for Santo. In the second game of a doubleheader against Houston, he doubles in the seventh for career hit No. 1,000.

June 26, 1966: Ow! In the third inning against the Mets, Santo takes a fastball to the face that breaks his cheekbone. Since his debut (exactly six years before on this day), Santo has played in all but four games. But he’ll miss the next seven recovering from this beaning. (This points to a background factor in Santo’s Cooperstown case. Though he played only 15 years, he was out there almost every day, ending up with an extra half-season’s worth of games that a normal everyday player wouldn’t have.)

July 4, 1966: Santo is back with a vengeance. In his return from his beaning, Santo is 3-for-4 with a home run in the first game of a doubleheader against the Pirates. In the second game he’s 1-for-2 with a pair of walks. Now that’s a nice way to return from an injury! Also it gives him a hitting streak of 28 games, which is the longest of his career. It will end the next day, though.

Aug. 5, 1966: According to WPA, this is the greatest game of Santo’s career. He’s 3-for-5 with two home runs and four RBIs as Chicago tops the Giants 4-3 in 10 innings. So, yes, he drives in all the team’s runs. He hits a solo homer in the second inning, another in the ninth to tie the game, and a two-run single in the 10th for the win. His WPA: 1.052.

Sept. 1, 1967: This begins a stretch of four days in which the Cubs play four doubleheaders. Santo plays all 74 innings, going 9-for-29 with a double and two home runs.

Sept. 10, 1967: Gaylord Perry’s streak of 40 consecutive scoreless innings ends when Santo walks and scores against him in the seventh inning.

April 13, 1968: Santo belts his 200th career home run.

June 15, 1968: Santo scores one of two runs the Cubs tally in the second inning, a fact noteworthy only for what comes after it. Beginning in the third inning, the Cubs go 48 consecutive innings without scoring, a drought that won’t end until June 21. Fergie Jenkins loses two games 1-0 in that spell, part of six 1-0 losses he’ll endure on the year.

Aug. 18, 1968: According to WPA, this is the worst game of Santo’s career. He’s 0-for-4 with a GIDP as the Cubs lose 2-1 to the Reds. It’s the double play that kills his score, as he does it with runners on the corners and one out in the bottom of the ninth, ending the game. Santo’s WPA today: -0.559. In the same game, Cubs reliever Phil Regan is accused of doctoring baseballs.

Sept. 25, 1968: This is not only Santo’s fifth career walk-off home run, it’s also his only career walk-off grand slam. The blast against LA’s Bill Singer gives the Cubs a 4-1 win. It’s also one of six grand slams of Santo’s career.

April 8, 1969: It’s one of the most famous Cubs Opening Days in history, as they top the Phillies 7-6 in 10 innings on a walk-off home run, helping springboard them to an 11-1 start on the season. Santo is 1-for-5 with a run. The Cubs stay in first place for the first five months of the year, with Santo finishing each home victory by clicking his heels in celebration. Cub fans love it, but players on other teams find it bush league.

July 9, 1969: Tom Seaver damn near does it. He’s two outs from a perfect game when Cubs backup Jim Qualls, of all people, laces a single. Santo, predictably, is hitless on the day. Six days later, Seaver will top the Cubs again, and then will celebrate by clicking his heels several times, imitating Santo’s postgame heel clickings.

Aug. 13, 1969: The Cubs top the Padres 4-2, giving them a record of 74-43 and a 8.5 game lead in the NL East. They are on pace for 102 wins. Instead, they’ll go 18-29 the rest of the way to finish with 90 wins, eight games behind the Miracle Mets. In today’s game, Santo is 1-for-4 with a double. He’s hitting .305 with 24 homers but the rest of the way will hit .243 with five homers.

Aug. 19, 1969: Young pitcher Ken Holtzman throws a no-hitter for the Cubs against Atlanta. It’s a rare no-hitter because Holtzman doesn’t fan a batter. The wind is blowing in at Wrigley, helping him. The Cubs win 3-0, with all three runs coming on a first-inning home run by Santo.

Sept. 2, 1969: For the last time this season, Ron Santo clicks his heels in celebration of a home victory. The Cubs are setting off on a road trip and when they return they’ll no longer be in first place.

Sept. 8, 1969: The Cubs begin a two-game series in New York, trying desperately to hold on to their ever declining lead. They lose this game 3-2, with a memorable close play at the plate where the umpire calls Tommie Agee safe making the difference. Even Agee will later admit he was actually out. Santo is 0-for-2 with an RBI as the Cubs fall, 3-2. Today’s loss drops their lead over the Mets to 1.5 games. They’ll lose again tomorrow to fall to a half-game edge.

Sept. 10, 1969: Less than a month after holding an 8.5 game lead, the Cubs fall out of first place when they lose 6-2 to the Phillies, their fifth consecutive loss. Santo is 0-for-3 but drives in both of Chicago’s runs.

April 17, 1970: Santo led the league in base on balls four times in his career, but today gets a walk like none other when Montreal reliever Carroll Sembera walks him with the bases loaded and the scored tied 7-7 in the bottom of the ninth for a walk-off walk. It comes immediately after Sembera forces in the tying run by walking Billy Williams.

May 12, 1970: Santo is there for someone else’s milestone as Ernie Banks hits his 500th home run. Santo strikes out leading off the inning before Banks goes deep. Later, Santo doubles and singles.

June 28, 1970: It’s the last day ever for old Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. The Pirates sweep a doubleheader from the Cubs, as Santo goes hitless. He does draw the last walk in the history of the old ballpark, though.

July 3, 1970: Apparently, it was a windy day at Wrigley Field as the Pirates top the Cubs, 16-14. Both clubs score one in the first, sixth in the second, and two in the fourth for some early and eerily symmetrical scoring. Santo goes 2-for-6 with a double.

July 6, 1970: This just might be the greatest game of Ron Santo’s career. He goes 2-for-3 with two walks, two home runs, and a personal best eight RBIs in Chicago’s 14-2 beating of the Expos. He hits a grand slam, walks in a run, and belts a three-run dinger. This is the second game of a doubleheader, and he homered and drove in two in the first contest.

July 29, 1970: 30-year-old Santo, who will retire with 35 stolen bases, swipes two today. It’s part of six steals the Cubs have on the day, as they obviously don’t respect the arm of Houston backup catcher Don Bryant. Santo’s second steal comes when Ball Four author Jim Bouton is on the mound. Houston will cut him after the game, ending Bouton’s career until an unexpected comeback eight years later.

Sept. 13, 1970: It’s one of the most unlikely wins the Cubs ever get with Santo. Just one out from a 2-1 defeat, pinch-hitter Willie Smith lofts an easy fly to Pittsburgh outfield Matty Alou, who drops the would-be game-ender. Given new life, the Cubs rally to score a pair, winning 3-2. Santo is uninvolved in the rally, but he singles and walks earlier in the game.

June 3, 1971: For the second time in his still young career, Cubs pitcher Ken Holtzman throws a no-hitter, defeating the Reds, 1-0. Santo is hitless in the game.

July 22, 1971: It might be the worst game Ron Santo ever has, as he goes 0-for-4 with four Ks. He has one other four-K game in his career, and that was an 0-for-5 day on June 22, 1965. That was worse because there was an extra out, but it seems so over-matched to fan in every single trip to the plate like Santo did here.

Aug. 23, 1971: Cubs manager Leo Durocher will later write in his autobiography, Nice Guys Finish Last, that this is the most upset he’s ever seen anyone in the clubhouse. He even has an entire chapter on it: “The Santo Explosion” on how irate Santo is with Durocher about issues relating to the upcoming Ron Santo Day at Wrigley Field. Several players are infuriated with the manager for various reasons, causing team owner Phil Wrigley to take the unusual step a few days later of putting a full-page ad in the papers defending Durocher. Today, Santo recovers to go 2-for-3 with a double.

Aug. 28, 1971: It’s Ron Santo Day at Wrigley. Santo gives a pre-game speech in which for the first time he publicly announces he’s a lifelong diabetic. In his post-playing career, Santo will become heavily associated with the fight against diabetes. In today’s game he goes 1-for-3 with a walk.

Sept. 21, 1971: Santo’s last home run of the year is the 300th of his career.

April 16, 1972: In the second game of the season, Burt Hooton throws a no-hitter for the Cubs, blanking the Phillies, 7-0. Hooton walks seven along the way. Santo is 3-for-5 with a double and a run scored.

May 5, 1972: In the fourth inning, Santo is hit by a pitch from Larry Dierker. Burt Hooton retaliates by hitting Cesar Cedeno, leading off the next inning. Santo tries to soldier on, but has to leave in the seventh. He won’t return until the end of the month. It’s Santo’s first stint on the disabled list.

Aug. 26, 1972: Santo achieves a milestone in style. Entering the day with 1,998 hits, Santo goes 4-for-5 with two homers, four RBIs, and an intentional walk. He not only gets to 2,000 hits, but guides the Cubs to a 10-9 win. The 2,000th hit is a three run homer in the fourth inning.

Sept. 2, 1972: Milt Pappas throws a no-hitter for the Cubs—and all these years later hasn’t stopped complaining about it. It’s a perfect game until Pappas walks the last batter, and he’ll still maintain to anyone who listens that the umpire should’ve called strikes on his last two pitches, which would have given him a perfecto, not just a no-hitter. Santo is hit by a pitch and scores a run in Chicago’s 8-0 win over the Giants.

Sept. 17, 1972: Santo draws his 1,000th walk. All have come with the Cubs, and to this day only he and fellow third baseman Stan Hack have that many walks with the Chicago Cubs.

May 31, 1973: The Cubs stage an improbable rally in the first inning. With none on and two outs, they turn into a dynamo that scores 10 runs. All the runs are unearned, as Santo reaches on an error before the first run crosses the plate. Later in the inning Santo singles, becoming the 12th straight (and final) Cub to reach base.

July 1, 1973: Santo has a nice day, getting seven hits in a doubleheader. He’s 2-for-3 in the first one and 5-for-5 in the second. It’s one of two 5-for-5 games Santo ever enjoys. All his hits today are singles.

July 4, 1973: For the first time in five years, and sixth and final time in his career, Ron Santo smashes a walk-off home run. It’s a two-run shot in the 10th for a 3-2 Cubs win over the Phillies. It’s also his 13th and final career walk-off hit.

Oct. 1, 1973: For the 2,126th and final time in his career, Ron Santo takes the field for the Cubs. He’s 0-for-4, striking out in his last at-bat. Though he’ll spend virtually his entire adult life taking pride in being a Cub, Santo will demand a trade in the offseason after the Cubs trade Fergie Jenkins to Texas for young third baseman Bill Madlock.

The Cubs initially package him to the Angels, but Santo becomes the first player in history to use the new 5/10 contract clause to veto the trade (causing the press to dub the clause “The Santo Clause.”) Eventually, he’ll end up on the South Side of town with the White Sox.

White Sox tenure

June 9, 1974: Despite being 34 years old and slow afoot, Santo somehow legs out an inside the park home run against the Red Sox. It’s the only one of his career.

June 24, 1974: Royals starter Steve Busby retires the first nine batters he faces—including Santo—giving him an AL record 33 consecutive batters retired over two games. The record has since been broken. In the seventh inning, Santo will homer off of Busby, and that will be his last big league home run.

July 17, 1974 What do Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline and Ernie Lombardi have in common? They all grounded into 250 double plays— and today Ron Santo becomes the seventh member of the club. It sure does sound better if you list the club’s membership rather than what they did to join it, doesn’t it?

Sept. 14, 1974: Santo takes the field for the last time, going 1-for-3 with a walk while playing third base. He still has two more pinch hit appearances left, but this is his last time on defense.

Sept. 29, 1974: Yesterday, in his first appearance in two weeks, Santo got his last career hit. Today, Santo’s career ends when he flies out to left while pinch hitting for DH Pat Kelly.

Though Santo played only 15 years, he retires with some nice numbers. Among guys who played at least 40 percent of their games at third base, when Santo hangs up his spikes he ranks second in homers (behind only Eddie Mathews), third in RBIs, third in walks, sixth in hits, eighth in doubles, 10th in runs, and second in Bill James’ Runs Created stat.

There’s a reason why he’s getting his place in the Hall of Fame this weekend.

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10 years ago

Pappas no-no was against San Diego.  Nice list, though.

Chris J.
10 years ago

Drat – thanks for the correction, tim.

And thanks for the kind words.

Bruce Harris
10 years ago

Terrific list. Thank you. I will be in Cooperstown this weekend to honor the great Ron Santo.