Cory Provus only spent two seasons on the Chicago Cubs’ broadcast team, but he’ll never forget his time with Ron Santo.
Santo, who put the “color” in color analyst during Cubs radio broadcasts on WGN for the past 21 seasons, died Thursday from complications of bladder cancer. Provus, who did pre- and post-game work with Santo in 2007 and 2008, learned the sad news on Thursday night.
“I loved the guy,” Provus said.
Provus felt instantly embraced by the Cubs veteran color man. His first on-air work for the Cubs came in March 2007 in Las Vegas, where the team played one of its annual Spring Training exhibitions. Provus was nervous, and feeling a bit down after boarding the charter flight to Cincinnati for Opening Day.
“Halfway through the flight, Ron came back and sat with me for an hour,” Provus said. “He told me to relax, be myself, have fun and that we were going to laugh all the time. That meant the world to me. That started our friendship.”
Provus worked particularly close with Santo because part of the daily duties of the pregame host included recording Santo’s daily chat with manager Lou Piniella. The on-the-record portion lasted just five minutes, but the off-the-record portion was the good stuff. Provus sat in every day while two baseball veterans bantered.
It was the best part of the job, Provus said.
“I didn’t say much unless they wanted me to,” Provus said. “I just soaked it up.”
Santo played 14 of his 15 seasons with the Cubs and remained a fan even after joining the broadcast team in 1990. He cheered the Cubs when they scored a big run and groaned when they committed a costly error, and never apologized for either.
“And he never should apologize,” said Brewers radio broadcaster Cory Provus, who worked very closely with Santo as the Cubs’ pre- and postgame host in 2007 and 2008. “That’s what Cubs fans want. Pat Hughes and Ron Santo make such a great team, because if you missed any analysis, Pat was there to pick it up.
“Ron was vital. Cubs fans wanted to hear Ron Santo be Ron Santo. They didn’t want to hear somebody say, ‘Oh, he hung a breaking ball.’ That’s what a lot of guys say. Ron was different. He was genuine, he was pure.”
Santo had both legs amputated below the knees, the result of complications from his diabetes, so Provus and engineer Matt Boltz would help Santo get around the ballpark. Santo took a keen interest in Provus’ marital prospects, and gave a hearty endorsement after meeting a then-girlfriend named Dana. Cory hasn’t dated anyone since, and in two weeks, he and Dana will be married.
Provus moved on to Milwaukee beginning in 2009 and recently signed a two-year contract extension through 2012. He’ll continue calling Brewers games alongside Bob Uecker, who has battled his own health issues this year.
“I’ve been lucky enough to work daily with the voices and faces of their franchise,” Provus said. “It’s an experience I’ll never forget.”