The documentary "This Old Cub" doesn't wallow in nostalgia in its reverent homage to Ron Santo, the Chicago Cubs' longtime third baseman.
There's some looking back, especially at the heartbreaking season of 1969 when the Cubbies were overtaken in the last month of the season by the New York Mets, but the film primarily focuses on Santo's life in the present.
In the 1960s, Santo typically slugged 25 or more home runs and drove in around 100 runs per season while playing third base for the Cubs. For his career, the nine-time All-Star won five Gold Gloves for his defense and finished with 342 homers and 1,331 RBI, which clearly place him among the best to ever play the position.
Santo accomplished all this while living with Type 1 juvenile diabetes, which he was diagnosed with in 1958 when he was 18. In an era when ballplayers played hurt for fear of losing their jobs, Santo battled it in secret during his first 12 seasons in the big leagues.
An affectionate account by director Jeff Santo of his father's baseball career and ongoing fight with diabetes, "This Old Cub" follows Santo as he recuperates after his second leg amputation and his eventual return to the broadcast booth. Ever the optimist, Santo is unflappable as he rehabs, showing the perseverance required to play more than 2,000 games in the major leagues while giving himself insulin shots and scarfing down candy bars when he felt his blood sugar drop.
A Cub from 1960 through 1973, the senior Santo retired from the White Sox in '74 and is now in his 15th season as an unabashed cheerleader and ultimate fan working the Cubs' radio broadcasts.
A model of consistency while manning the hot corner at Wrigley Field, the tenacious Santo was a hero to the working class Cub faithful. Famous Chicago natives such as Bill Murray, William Peterson, Gary Sinise and Dennis Franz (he and narrator/co-producer Joe Mantegna were among the creators of the Organic Theater's "Bleacher Bums," a play about rabid Cub fans) reminisce about watching No. 10 play, particularly during that memorable 1969 season, the closest Santo ever came to making the playoffs.
The film makes the case for his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame as he awaits a Veterans Committee vote in 2003. Testimonials from former teammates, opponents and journalists vouch for Santo's worthiness. Whether you know the outcome of that vote or not, it makes for a touching drama involving this larger-than-life figure.
As great a ballplayer as Santo was, he is even more compelling as a human being, and his son does him justice with this heartening film.
Though at times sentimental, the documentary is a terrific character sketch, capturing both the rough edges and the compassion of its subject. "This Old Cub" shows he still has a lot of fight in him.
'This Old Cub'
MPAA rating: Unrated.
Times guidelines: Suitable for all ages.
An Emerging Films release. Director Jeff Santo. Producers Tim Comstock, Jeff Santo. Executive producers Bill Pullano, Terry Athas. Screenplay by Jeff Santo, Tim Comstock. Cinematographers Hollywood Heard, Garett Griffin, Terry Pratt. Editor Chris Cibelli. Music supervisor John Bissell. Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes.
Exclusively at Laemmle's Fairfax Cinemas, 7907 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 655-4010.