3.5 Stars
Year Released: 2004
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 91 minutes
Click to Expand Credits:

Ron Santo was third baseman for the Chicago Cubs from 1960-73, pulling in 342 home runs and winning the Gold Glove five times between ’64 and ’68. The main focus of “This Old Cub” is on what wasn’t revealed about him at that time, a secret he kept close to him for years, for fear of losing the chance to play the game he loved most. Back then and now, Santo has Type 1 Juvenile Diabetes and worked on controlling it on his own, gauging how he felt during each game, eating a candy bar or drinking orange juice when necessary. His son, Jeff Santo, has created an affectionate documentary about him, even when it slips at times.

“This Old Cub” is easily split into three parts. First is a profile of Santo’s career, buoyed by enthusiastic comments from the Murray brothers (Bill, Brian-Doyle, and Joel), Dennis Franz, William Petersen, Gary Sinise, Tom Dreesen, and Dennis Farina. They were all boys and growing men of Chicago, remembering the good times of watching Santo do the voodoo he did so well, and of course his heel-clicking which Murray observes that once he did it, he had to do it again and again at each game because people expected that. Secondly, there’s Santo’s bout with diabetes and third is the suspense in Santos’ possible induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, which any baseball fan knew didn’t happen.

“This Old Cub” is immensely engaging in its first two parts, featuring people enthusiastic about the Cubs and Santos, and featuring Santos in a variety of different times, brief archival interviews, in the hospital contending with amputation, and in the box at the stadium where he broadcasts the games for WGN Radio with his co-host Pat Hughes. Santo lived in decades where there weren’t the advances in diabetes monitoring that there are today, and it’s courageous in how he lived through it, all for a sport that meant so much to him. Here on out, however, the 91 minute running time is felt long and hard because it is padded with scenes already seen, such as Santos’ visits to the Cubs’ training camps (it happens twice), and more on his radio gig, all used to extend the time between learning of Santos nomination for the Baseball Hall of Fame and when he finds out that he didn’t make it, all for the sake of suspense which becomes more of an annoyance. It’s fortunate however that when the time comes to learn whether Santos made it, his son crafted the film in such a way that we are genuinely there with the player, hoping like he does that he got into famed Cooperstown.

The DVD is actually a shrine to Santos with so much material and even more value. Extended interviews with such people as William Petersen, Gary Sinise, Ernie Banks, and Billy Williams feature the parts of the their interviews used in the film, but also give us what wasn’t seen. The “Behind the Scenes with the Filmmakers” shows what it takes to get a film made, with producer Tim Comstock explaining Jeff Santos’ desire to make the film, and co-producer/narrator Joe Mantegna talking about how he became involved with the project, extremely fortunate for the major players involved since Mantegna collected Sinise, Petersen, Tom Dreesen, and the Murray brothers for interviews.

Just as good is “Ron on Diabetes” in which he focuses on when he was first diagnosed and what he went through, and the “Bonus Footage” is an absolute treasure, especially for the WGN interviews with Santos between 1967-71, showing his love for the sport, at the time he was really in it.

“This Old Cub” is admirable for its profile of a man who’s still pushing on, even after all the adversity he faced.

Posted on December 20, 2004 in Reviews by

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