It would be easy to say that This Old Cub is about the Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo who played with the Cubs from 1960 to 1973. That it shows the trials and tribulations of a man, who, in spite of having juvenile diabetes, was the first and the only player to play professional baseball with the disease; certainly on an all-star level, and perhaps on a Hall of Fame level. That would be easy to say, but it would only be half the truth.
This Old Cub is about a man whose accomplishments are far outweighed by the kind of person that he is and the role model that he provides for a generation of kids out there who look for someone to emulate. While I know that there are the Ron Santos of today out there and that it is too easy to focus on the Barry Bonds and the Michael Vicks of the world, sometimes seeing a video like This Old Cub helps to bring things back into perspective.
When Ron Santo first was drafted, he could have gone to any of the 16 teams that played major league baseball. The first sign of his moral character was to sign with the Cubs — the team that paid the least, but the one he felt drawn to the most. From there he went on to have a very illustrious career with the Cubs.
This movie is also about a man who had to struggle with juvenile diabetes since he was 18. It brings into focus the reality of what this crippling disease can do to a person. There is one story that Santo relates in the movie in which he is on deck, Ernie Banks is at bat, and Santo begins to see triple (one of the times during which he would need to eat a candy bar to overcome the sugar imbalance in his body). He hopes that Banks will just strike out and the game would be over. Banks walks! Santo comes to the plate only to see three pitchers in his vision. He picks the middle one and proceeds to hit a grand-slam home run. That is what I call old school.
It shows how his type one (insulin-dependent) diabetes eventually resulted in the amputation of one and then the other of his legs. It is ironic that his trademark gesture, the clicking of his heels (as seen on the cover of the DVD package), would be eventually claimed by the disease. This Old Cub captures all of the joy, and all of the pain, and even more, all of the character that is Ron Santo.
The documentary is sometimes choppy, sometimes inconsistent, but it is always emotional. It features the likes of Johnny Bench, Bill Murray, Gary Sinise, William Patterson, and Dennis Franz. The production of This Old Cub – like Santo himself – makes up in heart what it lacks in perfection.
The movie was produced and directed by Santo's son Jeff and is sometimes a plea for Santo's installment into the Hall of Fame. Being a life-long Cubs fan, I have a bias, but I think that the facts stand on their own. He played 14 seasons; he was the first third baseman to hit over 300 home runs (337) and five gold-gloves, a feat matched only by hall of fame third baseman Mike Schmidt. He was an eight-time All-Star, lead the NL in on-base percentage in 1964 (.398) and 1966 (.412) and lead the NL in triples in 1964 with 13. In 2005 he came within eight votes and 2007 within five votes of getting into the Hall.
Certainly if you are a Cubs fan and definitely if you are a baseball fan, This Old Cub is a must have. If you are tired of the Barry Bonds of the world trying to justify their records in light of questionable behavior, then you should watch this video for what it really means to be a role model and a person of character. Show it to your kids as well.
As a side note, a portion of the proceeds from this video go to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and so far This Old Cub has raised over a half-million dollars.