If Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo had been conjured up by a Hollywood screenwriter, he would have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame during his lifetime. He would have come to Cooperstown on a bright midsummer day and, perhaps, shed a tear or two during his induction speech.
But movies and real life are two separate things. So at his induction last month, while scores of seats with “Reserved Seating Santo” stickers filled the induction site, Ron Santo himself was among the missing. That was because, after coming oh so close to being elected to the Hall in his lifetime, he finally received the honor one year after his death.
As I say, if Ron Santo’s life was a movie, he still might have been overlooked-- and the resulting conflict would have added to the drama of the film and kept the viewer involved in its story. By the happy-after-ever Hollywood finale, of course, that conflict would have been resolved and Santo still would have been around to savor his Hall of Fame election.
But Ron Santo is a real person. His situation is real life. He might have been inducted during his lifetime-- heaven knows, he came ever-so close-- but this was not to be. Indeed, the only link between Cooperstown on Induction Day 2012 and the Hollywood Dream Factory was the presence in the crowd of one bona fide movie-land celebrity. That was Charlie Sheen.
The time element involving Santo’s election was not lost on the Chicago Cubs fans who came to Cooperstown to celebrate their hero. Some of them hoisted signs that read: “Ron... You’re Finally Home” and “It’s About Time: Ron Santo HOF.” Gary Thorne, the play-by-play announcer who emceed the event and introduced Santo’s wife Vicki, noted: “All of us wish he could have been here today.” In her gracious acceptance speech, Vicki Santo observed: “Words cannot express my sorrow that Ron isn’t here to see this day, (and) give this speech.”
But I was struck by a reference she made near the end of the speech. In it, she cited one Hollywood movie that adds genuine resonance to the importance of each and every human being, no matter the fame or power they’ve amassed or the amount of coin in their pockets. That would be IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, Frank Capra’s 1947 classic.
If you will recall, the film’s central character is George Bailey, who is played by James Stewart: an actor who, on and off-screen, surely is the anti-Charlie Sheen. George Bailey is a kindhearted small-town American who has dreams of going out into the world, but he constantly is thwarted by fate, bad luck, or whatever. Then near the finale, as he is on the abyss of financial ruin because of the misdeeds of avaricious old Mr. Potter, the story’s villain, George wonders if his life has been worthwhile. He sees himself as a failure. Just perhaps, he observes, the world would have been a better place had he never been born. Then Clarence, George’s Guardian Angel, appears and takes him on a tour of George’s world as it would have been had he never existed. Had this been the case, George’s world would have been a much sorrier place.
A bit of advice that George receives from Clarence was quoted by Vicki Santo. That is: “No man is a failure who has friends.” She concluded her speech by saying, of her husband, “He truly had a wonderful life.”
I am delighted that Vicki Santo chose to mention IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. This is a film that becomes, with each passing year, more and more relevant in our increasingly materialistic, celebrity-obsessed, Charlie Sheen-dominated culture.
Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.
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