12/3 Sad news travels fast

Billy Williams was awakened Friday morning by a phone call with the news. His teammate and friend for more than 50 years, Ron Santo, was gone.

“I thought he was going to live forever after all the tragedies and stuff he’s gone through,” Williams said. “It’s hard to believe that all of a sudden you get a call this morning, a guy you’ve known for so long has passed away.

“In baseball, there’s so many ups and downs,” he said. “Man, it was sad to hear that.”

Santo, who was in Arizona, lapsed into a coma Wednesday, and died of complications from bladder cancer. He was 70.

Sitting on a white chaise near the pool at the Iberostar Hacienda Dominicus on the last day of a Cubs’ fan trip to the Dominican Republic, Williams reflected.

“This was really not a teammate,” Williams said. “He’s a friend — it’s like losing a family member. When I lost my brother, it’s the same reaction. We became friends in 1959 and through those years, going back and forth to the ballpark, sitting on the bench, talking about the Cubs. It’s just a sad day for the Cubs fans and baseball.

“People who listened to Ronnie and Pat [Hughes on WGN Radio], they’re going to miss that,” he said. “[Santo] kept a lot of people laughing through his radio analysis. He and Pat were there everyday at 1:20 [p.m. when the games started at Wrigley] listening to the game. When you listened to them, you didn’t have to know the score. If he’s in that mode [when he moans], you know we’re losing.”

The Cubs fans on the trip also were shook by the news. They’d lost their voice.

“It’s a crying shame he didn’t live to see himself in the Hall [of Fame] or the Cubs in a World Series,” said Don Parker of Warsaw, Ind. “It’s a bigger loss than most Cubs fans realize.

“The ’69 team was my favorite,” Parker said. “Santo was great not only because of what he did for the Cubs as a player and a broadcaster but what he’s done for the [Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation]. He’s a special dude.”

— Carrie Muskat

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