I've said it before and I'll say it again: As a broadcaster, Ron Santo was one hell of a great third baseman. You might remember a couple of weeks ago when I called Santo the Worst Sportscaster in the History of Broadcasting. A friend of mine took exception with that statement. He didn't disagree with the sentiment, exactly, but he had a nominee of his own: Joe Carter.
Hmm. Good point. In his entire tenure as a Cubs commentator, Joe Carter never analyzed or broke down a single play. Not one. All he ever did was wait for Chip "Which Breast Joke Should I Use This Inning" Caray to finish awkwardly mixing two or three cliches into one sentence, then repeat everything Caray had just said, without the big words. It isn't so much that Carter saw his job as being an overstuffed, dumbed-down parrot sitting on Chip's shoulder; it's that Carter never realized his job actually was a job.
You will probably regard this illustration as incredibly nit-picky, but I maintain that it is symptomatic of Carter completely missing the point. Southwest Airlines paid a very princely sum to have the Cubs' commentator say, at least once every home game, "Southwest Airlines Plane-view Camera." It was very important to Southwest that it be said in precisely that way. So important, in fact, that I'd bet a substantial sum that the phrase was printed on an index card and taped to one of the walls of the television booth, just in case the commentator was too dumb to remember exactly how it went. Alas, the powers that be never counted on someone like Joe Carter, who was apparently too dumb to read. While Southwest paid handsomely to hear (say it with me now,) "There's the Southwest Airlines Plane-view Camera, high atop Wrigley Field," what they got instead was, "Dere's Dee Souffwess Plane-vyoo." Think I'm being nit-picky? Tell it to the battered wife of the Southwest executive who made that deal.
Even if you take inane, utter wastes of airtime like Joe Carter into account, however, Ron Santo is still pretty bad. He was, as I said before, one hell of a great third baseman, and he should be in the Hall of Fame. Period. But he was also, from what I've read and can surmise, a bit of a prig in his younger days. Not an outright, balls-to-the-wall [sphincter] on the order of a Barry Bonds or a Pete Rose, mind you, but just enough of a prig to [whiz] some people off enough to leave him on the outside of Cooperstown, looking in. Hence the WGN radio gig. Somebody at Tribune Ink saw it as their civic duty to give Ron Santo some exposure --perhaps, even, a chance to show that he's mellowed with age-- in the hopes that it would lead to more popular support for his enshrinement. That was 17 years ago. And counting.
Santo's current play-by-play partner is Pat Hughes. If Santo, as a broadcaster, was a great third baseman, then Hughes, as a broadcaster, has a great former third baseman sitting next to him in the booth. That's about all I can say. Hughes is neither good nor bad, he's... adequate. His two biggest sins are: (1) Just to kill time, he often lofts big, fat, verbal softballs in Santo's direction and waits to see how far "Ronnie" will hit them; (2) All too frequently, he takes untimely and extended bathroom breaks.
It was this second of Hughes' sins that led to The Calamity. With dreadful suddenness, the network came back from a commercial break before Hughes did. With butterflies in his stomach and sweat glistening on his brow, Ron Santo started doing play-by-play... and glass began to shatter all over the upper mid-west. If you don't remember The Calamity, it's probably for the best. The part of your mind that makes these kinds of choices has wisely decided that your psyche cannot handle the trauma, and has buried your memories of it deep in your subconscious. The next time you awaken yourself in the middle of the night, screaming, bolt upright, heart pounding, it's probably because of repressed memories of Ron Santo doing play-by-play.
The Calamity tasered outward in a light-speed shock-wave from radio towers all over the Great Lakes region and the northern Great Plains. Before even one out had been recorded, 21 people on the Kennedy Expressway had spontaneously swerved underneath the tandem axles of the nearest tractor-trailer. Game wardens in the western reaches of South Dakota reported the next day the curious incident of three perfectly healthy timber wolves, in three separate locations, who all apparently committed suicide by throwing themselves from sheer cliffs into deep, hard-scrabble canyons. Personally, I figure that happened sometime around the second out.
By the time the inning was over, the white-collar Tribune fat cat who had hired Santo in the first place --a man with a title like "Senior Executive Director of Production" or "Vice President in Charge of Producing Direction" or "Sub-Supreme Grand High Potentate," which makes every bit as much sense as-- was found dead in his den, the apparent victim of a very sudden stroke, a broken tumbler of single malt staining the carpet nearby. This incident was covered up, of course, after the Tribune quickly made a, uh, "donation" to the local police chief-- not because there was anything to hide, really, just because this is Chicago, and that's how things are done.
When the Sub-Supreme Grand High Potentate's successor, a fortunately younger man whom I shall henceforth refer to as the High Pot and Noose, heard the tape of The Calamity, his knees buckled and he chunked his jaw on the desk, but he managed to hit the "stop" button on the tape machine before his head exploded. Immediately, he hurried out and hired Andy Masur, a young but long-time broadcaster and even longer-time Cubs fan.
Andy was, at that time, reading traffic reports every ten minutes on WMAQ... or maybe it was farm commodity prices every twenty minutes on WBBM... who knows? In any case, he was probably spending a lot of time wondering if his best days in broadcasting weren't already behind him. He'd been the nighttime disc jockey at a Peoria radio station that called itself KZ-93, spinning Top 30 Pap from seven 'til midnight. I know this because... uh... well... because I worked there, too, dammit, albeit on the AM side of the hallway. Don't rub it in. No, I don't have any "dirt" on Andy Masur. If somebody asked me to tattle, about all I could ever say is that he used to sneak girls into the FM booth to impress them with his ability to push buttons and speak directly into a piece of electronic equipment that was shaped like a Very Large Penis. But heck, we all did that. Over on the AM side, the girls would smile and slowly shake their heads and kinda roll their eyes a little... a combination that I learned meant, "I admire your pluck, but you're still not getting any." Anyway, when Masur was offered the job as Pat Hughes' bathroom-break fill-in, he jumped at the chance. When it came to a discussion about salary and benefits, he most likely said, "You mean you're going to PAY me, too?"
But then the hazing started. It came in the form of a visit to the inner sanctum of the High Pot and Noose. (Incidentally, this visit was the first, last and only time Andy Masur has ever even been on that particular floor of the Mother Ship.) When I knew him, Andy was a pretty good guy. He didn't impress me as a paragon of sensitivity, but every man has his breaking point-- and being forced to listen to a recording of Ron Santo doing play-by-play is like being bent forward at the waist and having your head locked into a vice with your face about eight inches away from a very strong-smelling onion that someone then proceeds to chop into tiny, tiny pieces. Before long, Andy was a tearful, huddled, quivering mass in the far corner of the Noose's office.
When he thought Masur had had about all he could take, the Noose shut off the tape machine. With a deep sigh, he removed his ear plugs and poured two stiff drinks. He handed one to Andy and gave him a few minutes to compose himself. Then, taking a seat behind his desk, he fixed Masur with the steeliest look you could imagine. "Your prime directive," he said, with just the slightest nod toward the tape machine, "Don't ever let that happen again. Ever."
P.S... Bud "No, That Isn't Steroids Making My Skin All Blotchy" Selig must go.