THIS OLD CUB (director/writer/producer: Jeff Santo; screenwriter: Tim Comstock; cinematographers: Garett Griffin/Hollywood Heard/Terry Pratt; editor: Christopher Cibelli; cast: Joe Mantegna (Narrator), Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Fergy Jenkins, Bill Murray, William Petersen, Dennis Franz, Gary Sinise; Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Tim Comstock; Emerging Pictures; 2004)
“Ron’s story goes beyond the world of sports.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
I caught on DVD this inspirational documentary that is narrated by Joe Mantegna and directed, produced and written by Jeff Santo. It chronicles the life of Jeff’s famous father Ron Santo, the former great Chicago Cubs third basemen (1960-73), who was a crowd favorite and known for jumping in the air and clicking his heels after every win. It’s a touching story about a nice guy legend ballplayer and his lifelong struggle with Type One Juvenile Diabetes (insulin dependent) that was first diagnosed at age 18. The blue-collar, nine-time All-Star played most of his career without revealing his disease for fear that it might get him benched and also because he didn’t want false pity. Santo had a very productive career that matched the stats of the other great third baseman of his era such as Brooks Robinson, George Brett and Mike Schmidt. His only disappointment is that he didn’t get elected to the Hall of Fame, though he’s proud that his number 10 was retired by the Cubs in 2003 (the only other Cubbies with retired numbers are teammates and Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Billy Williams). Veteran sports writer and ESPN baseball analyst Peter Gammons says that Santo is the “best player not in the Hall of Fame.” After retirement Ron worked as a Cubs broadcaster on radio, and the longtime broadcast team of him and Pat Hughes has become legendary in the Chicago area–known for being partisan Cubs fans but also providing a very entertaining sportscast. Having suffered from diabetes since the age of 18, Ron’s circulation problems eventually forced the amputation of the lower half of his right leg in 2001. When during his hospitalization he developed a bruise on his other leg that didn’t heal, the other leg was also amputated. Undaunted, Ron continues to broadcast games, tirelessly working for charity organizations supporting research for diabetes and displaying the same positive attitude toward life he has always had.
This heartwarming and refreshing story about someone who played the game the way it was supposed to be played comes out at a time when the news from the baseball world is filled with negative stories of some of the top stars of the game cheating by taking steroids, an illegal substance used as a performance enhancer. In contrast, this positive biopic is filled with nostalgia and love for the game by a stand-up guy who handled his difficulties with class and humor, never becoming embittered over his tragedy. Santo is epitomized as the perfect lifetime Cubs player and fan, someone filled with eternal optimism and still believing his beloved Cubbies will win even though the last time they won a World Series was in 1908. I wish him and the other diehard Cubs fans luck and know it’s possible because my beloved Boston Red Sox won in 2004 after not winning since 1918.
The film goes on for a little longer than it should have and has too much sentimentality without offering a different viewpoint, but it’s easy to forgive these transgressions considering Ron’s story goes beyond the world of sports and it simply felt good rooting for him. Some of the film’s most poignant scenes show Ron going about his daily routines with the use of artificial legs, as the image of him climbing the stairs to the clubhouse after exiting the dugout in the Cubs’ Arizona spring-training facility tells me all I want to know about his courage and moxie. Despite all the corn dished out, I believe we saw the real Ron Santo and he’s an admirable fellow–someone that both kids and adults can look up to.
REVIEWED ON 12/7/2004 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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