During one weekend in mid-July each summer, the Major League Baseball spotlight shines on the small town of Cooperstown, N.Y., where the National Baseball Hall of Fame turns boyhood heroes into immortalized icons of the game.
The hallowed halls of the National Baseball Hall of Fame opens its doors this weekend to welcome two of the most deserving legends of the game. My boyhood hero, Barry Larkin, and the boyhood hero of many Chicagoans, the late Ron Santo, will be enshrined forever as baseball immortals.
These two 2012 Baseball HOF inductees captivated their respective cities of Cincinnati and Chicago because they represented more than just excellence on the field—they represented the best that baseball has to offer off the field as well. Larkin and Santo represent integrity, perseverance, humility, dedication, commitment to their cities and the highest of character.
Growing up in Cincinnati in the 1980s and 1990s, it was only natural that I was drawn to Larkin. The slick-fielding and sharp-hitting Larkin taught me how to play baseball—the right way.
As a pre-teen and teenager, I watched as Lark would hit behind the runner. I watched him take on nearly every spot in the lineup and excel by adjusting his approach. I watched him beat out an amazing offensive year by Dante Bichette, claiming the 1995 MVP award with his leadership and willingness to give himself up for his team.
And I watched him be as humble as any player I have ever seen about his accomplishments.
Of course there was the other stuff too—you know, the stats.
Larkin was the first 30/30 shortstop, a perennial .300 hitter, a nine-time Silver Slugger Award winner, yada yada yada.
You see, Larkin didn't need to flaunt his stats,—they were there—but they were a product of the player and person that he was and still is.
Larkin epitomized the type of person every parent wished for their kids to look up to. He was the hometown kid who made good and continued to give back to his community through service and through his examples on the field that rubbed off on those watching off of it.
Decades earlier as Larkin was growing up in Cincinnati and idolizing the likes of Pete Rose, Tony Perez and Lee May, a charismatic captain of the Chicago Cubs named Ron Santo was winning over the hearts of youth in Wrigleyville.
The playful, fun-loving third baseman with his trademark heel click represented all that was good in baseball for 15 seasons in Chicago. Santo's accomplishments on the field would only be strengthened when it was let known that he played his entire career while suffering from diabetes.
I once heard Santo tell a story of a grand slam that he hit while suffering from severe adverse affects of his condition. He claimed that as he came to bat he looked to the mound to see not one, not two, but three pitchers on the mound. He decided to swing at every pitch thrown by the middle pitcher and immediately connected for a shot over the Wrigley wall—amazing.
Santo, like Larkin (or vice versa), was recognized and idolized more for the person he was and not just for his numbers. Again, though the numbers are certainly there (nine-time All-Star, five Gold Gloves, 342 HRs, 1,343 RBI, etc.), they were only a product of the person.
Santo was to Chicago what every person there saw in themselves; he represented the backbone of middle-America, showed up to work with a smile and performed his job with dedication. These were traits that would be with Santo through all of his post-playing career adversity and proved to everyone that Santo, the person, outweighed the great Santo who played third base for the Cubs.
If there was ever a time to visit Cooperstown, this is the weekend. The crowd on Induction Sunday will surely be filled with Cincinnati Red and Chicago Blue. Two cities that are normally baseball rivals will be united as one, celebrating two men both equally deserving and both equally as respected by the other's rival city.
There is a mutual respect that these two men bring to the table, and like everything else that they have represented throughout their lives, it rubs off on those who surround them.
Though I usually root against the Cubbies, for one day I will not only be a Reds fan but I also will be a Cubs fan, a Santo fan. I am pretty confident that my rival fans in Chicago will reciprocate this feeling as No. 11 Barry Larkin and the late No. 10 Ron Santo—two of the greatest players of all time—share the Cooperstown stage.
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