December 3, 2010

Ron Santo, RIP

Chicago Cubs player and radio color man Ron Santo died yesterday at the age of  70. His love for the Cubs, baseball, and life was infectious and made him, without exaggeration, the best-loved man in Chicago. He will be sorely missed.

Ron brought great pleasure not only to those who watched him play baseball in the sixties and seventies but also to fans who listened to his WGN broadcasts with play-by-play partner Pat Hughes. The contrast between the two men's styles and their obvious liking and respect for each other made "The Pat and Ron Show" a huge hit.

Pat Hughes:

“I never met anyone like him, I don't even know anybody close to being like him,” said Pat Hughes, the Cubs' play-by-play announcer and Santo's partner in the WGN radio booth for 15 seasons. “My mom said it very well. She said, ‘He's teaching us all how to age, because as we get older, we all have problems, and he's teaching us all how to do it.' I thought she put it very well, because he kept plowing ahead, no matter what.
John Kerr on Santo's humility:
As he walked out I thought, how cool was that? Here was I, a young, raw broadcaster who had a fraction of the experience he had. He could have easily used his charisma to make me feel lucky to have spent an hour with him. Instead, he made me feel like we were in the same club.

Ken Levine on his optimism:
How can someone have heart problems, diabetes, several amputations, bladder cancer, and worse, be a lifelong Cubs fan, and still be the cheeriest person you've ever met? That was Ron Santo, and that was his gift.
CBS Sports:
A nine-time all-star in his 15-year career, Santo was widely regarded as one of the best players never to gain induction into the Hall of Fame. The quiet sadness with which he met the news year after year that he hadn't been inducted helped cement his relationship with the fans.

But nothing brought fans closer to Santo -- or caused critics to roll their eyes more -- than his work in the radio booth, where he made it clear that nobody rooted harder for the Cubs and nobody took it harder when they lost. Santo's groans of "Oh, nooo!" and "It's bad" when something bad happened to the Cubs, sometimes just minutes after he shouting, "YES! YES!" or "ALL RIGHT!" became part of team lore as the "Cubbies" came up short year after year.
Critics? I never met one.

Ron never got to see the Cubs play in a World Series. Nor did he live to see himself inducted into the Hall of Fame. But his fans know which he would choose if he could.

Ron's son Jeff made a documentary film on his father's remarkable life, including his battle with diabetes and loss of both legs. This Old Cub isn't only for baseball fans. From an Amazon review:
Director Jeff Santo's This Old Cub is more homage to his father than a documentary. (And it's something of a calling card to baseball's Hall of Fame. It is not just for Chicago Cubs devotees or fans of old-school baseball, of which former third baseman Ron Santo is in a class by himself.) Anyone facing adversity or hardship will be inspired by Santo's moving story. Santo is in the pantheon of great Cubs players: hard-nosed and blue collar. In his 14-year career, he suffered heartbreaking setbacks, including the Cubs' ignominious 1969 collapse, and not yet making it into the Hall of Fame. But his unyielding courage, perseverance, and determination to not let diabetes strike him out far outshine his on-the-field heroics. Santa was diagnosed with diabetes at age 18, and for most of his playing career, he kept it a secret (at one point, he recalls a remarkable at-bat when Santo, seeing triple, somehow managed to hit a grand slam!). As Johnny Bench observes, "No disease could ever defeat him." One stirring scene is quintessential Santo. Now a double amputee, he is seen trying to acclimate himself to his walker. Unsteady on his prosthetic limbs, he stumbles. Jeff, who is working the camera, instinctively reaches out to help him. Ron waves him off. "I'm supposed to be doing this myself," he states. This Old Cub is affectionate, but unflinching. What it lacks in slick production values, it more than makes up in heart. Chicagoans and die-hard Cub fans Bill Murray, Gary Sinise, William Petersen, and Dennis Franz add some star power as they reminisce about the dreaded 1969 season, when it actually seemed like the Cubs would make it to the World Series before being overtaken by the "miracle" New York Mets. While This Old Cub efficiently covers all the bases of Santo's storied career as a player and broadcaster, it is more an uplifting story of a man facing the severest tests of his optimistic attitude (insert your own Cubs joke here). --Donald Liebenson
More on Santo's life and careers here. Santo/Cubs fans are pouring their hearts out in the comments.

Edited to add this from the NYT:
Hughes recalled standing for the national anthem with Santo in the Shea Stadium radio booth in 2003 when the heater above them ignited Santo’s favorite hairpiece.

“I saw smoke coming out of his hair and he was rubbing his head,” Hughes said. “I said, ‘Man, what did you do?’ He hadn’t noticed how close he was to the heater. I took a cup of water and doused it.”

Santo wore it during the game despite looking as if a “golfer had whacked a divot in it,” Hughes said. He eventually discarded it but had three others, one worse than the next.

Steiner admired the on-air camaraderie of Hughes and Santo.

“Pat was Bud Abbott,” he said, “and just let Ron fly.” tributes here.

May he rest in peace.

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December 1, 2010

Down with carrot and stick parenting

Josh grumbles and dawdles when he's told to pick up his toys or do his homework. He has a habit of mistreating his little brother. Jenna can't seem to get herself out of bed on time or keep her room tidy. By the age of twelve the eye-rolling is well underway. At fourteen she barely gives her mother the time of day.

Mainstream parenting books suggest that when the going gets tough, the tough offer carrots and sticks. And if the method fails it's because it hasn't been properly applied. Perhaps Josh acts out because Mom and Dad haven't "motivated" the little guy with a tempting-enough incentive, or hit him hard enough with the stick of "logical consequences."

Though these parenting books don't come right out and say so, their methods are based on behavior modification. The key to getting a child to comply, they say, is the use of positive or negative reinforcement, as if he were a lab rat or a pigeon. I don't know quite how it happened, but sometime in the last forty years or so, B. F. Skinner and his ilk became the go-to guys for parenting advice. Problem is, Skinner's experiments were all done on animals, not human beings. And a child is nothing like a pigeon.

Positive and negative reinforcement as a parenting tool has so thoroughly pervaded our thinking and practice that it's difficult to imagine raising children without it. In the eyes of too many teachers, coaches, and parents, kids are sluggards who would never do a single constructive thing but for the chorus of hollow praise, bribes, and threats running continuously in the background. (If you doubt this, attend a U-10 soccer game this weekend. The "positive reinforcement" is urgent and unremitting.)

But there's a dirty little secret veteran parents have discovered: Behavior-mod tricks don't really work very well. When they do work, say, to help a child develop the habit of making his bed every morning, the success achieved extends just as far as the child is willing to acquire the habit, and no further.

Sometimes a reward works well at first. But then the appeal wanes and a new kind of carrot must be offered. Jenna gets a kick out of affixing a smiley sticker to that cheery chart on the fridge after doing her daily chore, but that only lasts a few days. Likewise with negative reinforcement; the parent of an unyielding child may find himself forced to up the ante, successively removing more and more privileges from Josh's life to the point where there's nothing left to take away except good things, like playing outside or reading comic books.

Time-outs, a surprisingly ineffective tactic given its near-universal use, will get longer or more frequent when the child isn't compliant. And if Josh's parents believe he's spending his alone time deeply regretting that whack he gave his brother, and making a firm purpose of amendment for the future, well, it's possible, I suppose. But a likelier scenario is that he's stewing in his resentment toward those who have, in his eyes, wronged him. Under different circumstances he might have arrived at some contrition on his own. As it is, he may now see himself as a victim and dwell on ways to get even. Ironically, his time in solitary is teaching him a lesson which is the polar opposite of the one his parents had in mind: the importance of personal responsibility and the golden rule.

Carrot-and-stick parenting takes an external view of the child, focusing too much on his behavior and not enough on his motives or intentions. And it shows little respect for his free will, which is treated as an obstacle to be worked around, subverted or coerced into line, rather than what it really is: a gift that separates human beings from Skinner's pigeons and aligns us with the angels, enabling us to choose virtue over vice, or not. A parent who overrides a child's will to prevent him from choosing vice prevents him from choosing virtue as well.

Parents who see their role as helping their children grow in virtue might want to think twice about the carrot-and-stick approach. But what can they put in its place? The long answer won't fit in this space, but a short one was simply expressed by an unnamed headmaster, commenting on the best way to teach the young: "There is only one system of education, through love and one's own example."

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