Who Benefits From Posthumous Honors? December 6, 2011

Who Benefits From Posthumous Honors?

On Monday morning, the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee confirmed what Chicago Cubs fans have known for a long time: Ron Santo, legendary third baseman, belongs in Cooperstown.

Ronnie was an elite player in his own era, despite a career cut short by juvenile diabetes (for which there were no reliable treatments at the time). But he cemented his place in Cubs fans’ hearts by returning to the organization, this time as a color commentator for WGN Radio’s game broadcasts. He lived and died with every pitch, his groans and cheers (mostly groans) echoing the sentiments of everyone tuning in. That’s how I got to know him, never having seen him play.

On December 3rd, 2010, Ronnie died of complications from bladder cancer. He had also lost both his legs to diabetes, but had continued to make the climb up to the radio booth every day to broadcast. Huge crowds turned out to pay their respects.

Yesterday, almost exactly a year later, Ronnie was voted into the Hall of Fame. To know Ron Santo was to know how much this honor would have meant to him. He was passed over by the committee for years, but he was never bitter, and he understood how much he was loved. On the day the Cubs retired his #10 jersey, he declared to a packed house at Wrigley Field: “This is my Hall of Fame.” When asked, however, he stated explicitly that he did not want to be elected to the Hall posthumously. He wanted to be able to experience it himself, or he didn’t want it at all.

I saw a lot of sentimentality in my Twitter feed today. The most popular word was “bittersweet.” Few of the tweets were overtly religious, but most hoped that Ronnie, “wherever he is,” was satisfied, and could tell his fellow deceased veteran players to shove it. Most acknowledged disappointment that Ronnie could not revel in this moment, like this tweet by Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman:

To which a minor-league pitcher responded:

I found that decidedly off-putting for a couple of reasons. The first, and most immediate, is that regardless of what I actually think, I’m not going to step into a religious person’s emotionally charged situation and start correcting her in the name of comforting her. It’s arrogant and inappropriate. There’s a time and a place for debates like these. This isn’t it.

The second reason was that I hadn’t really decided, as someone who doesn’t believe in an afterlife, what I thought about Ronnie’s posthumous induction. Despite the warm thoughts and wishes of his many fans, Ronnie isn’t anywhere enjoying this. He’s dead. The Veterans Committee missed their chance to give him the recognition he longed for, and they haven’t made up for anything by inducting him now — in fact, they’ve flagrantly disrespected his stated wishes. Frankly, I’m a little pissed off.

Image by Tim Souers at Cubby-Blue.com

But is there a redeeming factor here for a nonbelieving fan? I’m glad for the Santo family that Ronnie is being honored, so that they can know that the rest of baseball shares their pride in him. I’m glad that future generations will know that he was a great player (and a great man, unlike some of his Hall-mates). But I think those things would have been true whether he was inducted or not. And I think the people who are getting the most comfort out of this, Veterans Committee included, are the people who choose to believe that Ronnie knows.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I’m still happy that he’s being honored for his work, even if it’s come late. Better late then never. And his family and fans will finally feel like he’s getting the recognition they feel he deserves, which is also quite fair.

    Death should not exclude a person from being recognized for their contributions to their chosen area of expertise. (And in some ways, it might actually highlight it better – nobody really thought about the contributions Dennis Ritchie made to the world of technology until after he died. Many famous artists, like Van Gogh and Picasso were not particularly famous until after they died. I will not be surprised at all if Amy Winehouse sells more records now than she did when she was alive, and I would not be surprised if Nirvana picked up more fans after Kurt Cobain’s death than before. Morbid as it is, death can often catapult a previously-unknown person into the spotlight, and for a much longer period than would be expected – especially if their death is particularly nasty, unexpected or dramatic.)

  • Anonymous

    I think we should not get upset about this. The committee decided to honor his achievements  at last. Of course, Ron would have loved to be honored in his lifetime, but sometimes awards aren’t everything. He had the love of many of his fans and in my opinion that’s what counts most.
    Of course, it’s quite impolite that tehy went against his wishes to bestow the award, but they probably did so thinking he’d be “somewhere up there” beaming down on this occasion. That is quite inexcusable, I must admit.

  • rhodent

    I don’t see much wrong with inducting him now.  Yes, it would have been better to do it in his lifetime, but better late than never.  I disagree with your thought that future generations would know what a great player he was without him being inducted (some would, but more will with him being in the HOF).  

    As for his stated wishes, I think the whole “he’s dead and not enjoying this from above” cuts both ways.  If he’s dead, then he can’t be offended by this.  As long as his family members have no complaints, we shouldn’t complain, either.

  • Ronlawhouston

    I think you’re getting a bit too attached to your non-belief in an afterlife.  I suspect you’re right about an afterlife (but hell no one really knows); however, when you start getting pissed over inane things like that guys comment you’re getting a bit too attached.

    For me a part of me will live on through my kids.  If someone does something that honors me and brings happiness to my kids, then I’m still there in a way.

  • Anonymous

    To some degree, I agree.  In the likely non-existence of an afterlife, there is no longer a Ron Santo to be upset.  He’s just a memory now, so it’s now just about the fans and family that still remain.

  • Anonymous

    This is a value of ‘gratitude’.  People are better when they give thanks whether or not the person knows they are being thanked.  The acting of giving thanks is itself of value to the individual doing the thanking.  Ceremonies to honor such as are done at the various Halls of Fame do honor to the sport and all its current, past, and prospective members.  On a base level, it gives individuals a goal to strive for – to achieve that honor themselves, but so many others simply feel as if they are in a company of appreciative and caring people when they see everyone honoring the best of their number.  These ceremonies really have less to do with the honoree than the (act of) honoring.

  • Sware

    I think that even though Ronnie’s wishes were to not have it at all if awarded posthumous, as a fan and a visitor to the baseball hall of fame it would be an ongoing travesty to for them to never recognize his achievements.  So to answer the main question the award sadly now just serves the living, the Santo family, fans of baseball current and future and it does piss me off royally that he didn’t get to see it happen himself.  Considering his deteriorating health over the years was well known and the fact that he could have been elected as early as 2003, that is just BS on the part of the whole process. 
    As a non-believer in after life, even though I don’t believe that Ronnie is somewhere “smiling about it all” or whatever, I think awards like this allow a great sportsman like Ron Santo to live on in the only way that is truly possible…through the memories, celebrations and history of the people the departed have left behind.
    My son has watched “This Old Cub” with my husband & I.  My son plays baseball and loves the game and someone like Ron Santo is a famous player that we are proud to point to as someone that not only excelled at what he did, but was very humble and an admirable sportsman.

  • BrentSTL

    As a lifelong, card-carrying citizen of Cardinal Nation, I can say it’s about time Ron Santo got his ticket punched to Cooperstown! Shoulda been done before now, no question.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know baseball, so my comment is not on specifics, but on the general mentality. Posthumous awards are better than no awards, but they are not even on the same plane as awards that honour someone who is still alive to appreciate them. I agree with Megan–holding off while someone is living for whatever reason and then feeling good about granting an honour to someone dead is rather crass. It’s a cop out for those who believe in an afterlife: they can tell themselves that they’ve not done any harm because so-and-so is up there in the clouds getting all the warm fuzzies when in reality they aren’t anywhere. That animation is missing option D: [crickets]. If you’re going to show love and gratitude or acknowledge someone’s contributions either to your life or to their field, do it now before it’s too late.

  • Anonymous

    Posthumous honors as well as posthumous corrections (the Church acknowledging the value of his findings and moving Galileo from heretic to hero) benefit the historical record. 

  • Tim Rinehart

    These are the posts and issues that kind of bother me in atheist bloggery. I understand the message and pointing out supernatural thinking in our society is important, but is it really this important?

    Posthumous inductions and honors, regardless of occupation, are for the communities in which they are held. I am a baseball fan, I understand the importance of recognizing greatness. One doesn’t need to be alive to be recognized by their peers – especially if it’s someone who was way ahead of their time, or underrated.

    It does suck that they went against his wishes, but what does it matter? He’s dead now.

  • BP

    Being a lifelong Cubs fan and someone who knows a fair amount about baseball, I think it’s complete non-sense that this happened to such a lovable figure in the Cubs organization. I’m fine with the fact that if he wasn’t good enough to make the hall of fame he shouldn’t make it (but if you look at his numbers he’s clearly good enough). My question is, what has changed this time around that he is now suddenly good enough to be in the HOF? They had many opportunities to let him in, it’s not like his numbers changed.

    The real problem is that the baseball hall of fame voting is done by a bunch of elitists. They knew the guy had been struggling with diabetes his whole life, and with the health problems he had in the latter end of his life death seemed to be a possibility at any time. It’s sad because it would have meant the world to the guy to  accept the honor himself and be able to give a speech in Cooperstown.

    It adds insult to injury when people say he’ll be looking down from heaven or some BS like that. Even if you do believe in god and heaven, you have to think there’s some chance that you’re wrong (I know that’s not always true with everyone but the rational theists I know would at least concede to that). With that being the case, why not let him in to the hall while he’s alive?

    At the same time, I am very happy for his family and that he will be finally be honored as he should be. I will always miss the way he announced games with such great passion, and every time I listen to the Cubs on the radio I think of him. While it’s bittersweet, it’s better than him not getting in at all.

  • Anonymous

    Years before he passed away, I had a feeling he was going to get inducted after he dies. He had better numbers than some in the Hall of Fame already, but time and time again he gets denied.  Sure, it is nice that he is going to be inducted posthumously, but I am having a hard time feeling happy about it.

    I have a hard time listening to the radio now. I miss Pat & Ron. There are some audio clips on youtube which are quite funny. 🙂 

  • Prometevsberg

    Actually, is it not mainstream christianitys creed that the dead does NOT look down from heaven(although an awful lot of  church members believe so), but that the the ascension to heaven happens after the resurrection of the dead,and the day of judgement?

  • DHB

    Ron Santo made it to the Hall after he died. Who is surprised by this? No one.

    He was not well-liked among his teammates and other players when he played, so there
    was no way they were ever going to give him the satisfaction of getting
    into the HOF during his lifetime no matter how many limbs he lost to
    diabetes, or how loud or how often he wished they would do it before he died. What goes around, comes around.

    And if anyone even THINKS
    about saying, “Oh, that’s terrible, he was a great guy, and don’t speak ill of the dead” save it! The
    HOF voting committees aren’t made up of maudlin, sentimental baseball
    fans. They consist of the guys who had to put up with his crap when he
    was a player. And he was a jerk to the fans, too!

    One of my female cousins told me he was a great guy and signed programs for her right alongside Billy Williams. Well, gee, maybe  he liked the girls. Some of
    my male friends who are ten-plus years older than me said a lot of fans used to dangle their programs from strings over the ivy
    before the games and players would walk along the wall and sign them.
    Santo would rip the programs off the strings and drop them on the ground
    and laugh. Other players would pick them up and give them back to the
    fans. And he almost never went to community events like the other

    I’ll admit I liked him in the booth, especially when the Cubs were total boneheads. By the way, he didn’t “climb up to the booth” or whatever such nonsense your article said. There are ELEVATORS at Wrigley Field, in case you didn’t know. I’ve been in them.

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