Social media get a lot of criticism, much of it justified. Friday, we were reminded of how it brings people together.
The most comparable recent death in the Cubs family to yesterday's death of Cubs icon Ron Santo were the passings of Harry Caray and Jack Brickhouse, beloved broadcasters who died within a few months of each other twelve years ago, in 1998.
That's not so very long ago, but even that recently, word passed slowly of these deaths. When Harry fell ill, we found out about it through daily updates in newspapers and in brief notes on television news programs; when he died on February 18, 1998 there were multiple stories in the Tribune and other papers and coverage of his funeral live on local television.
But where were all of us? Some people waited seven hours in line at Holy Name Cathedral for Harry's visitation and a few hundred were lucky enough to have a seat there for his funeral service. The rest of us had to read about it, or hear about it on television. It happened just before spring training began, and a few weeks before the season was to start, and Harry was expected back in the broadcast booth that he was anticipating sharing with his grandson Chip, who instead became the lead broadcaster that year. We had no way to collectively mourn. When Jack Brickhouse passed away August 6, 1998, the service was held in St. James Episcopal Cathedral; many dignitaries attended, including politicians and former Cubs players, including Santo himself -- who, according to the Tribune, accomplished a broadcast first:
Ron Santo demonstrated contrasting emotions Wednesday. He mourned the loss of Chicago broadcast legend Jack Brickhouse during the funeral at St. James Episcopal Cathedral. Then Santo cheered on his Cubs nearly 2,000 miles away during a simulcast from the WGN Radio studios.
"It is the first time that has ever been done, as I recall," said Santo, who offered his color comments while play-by-play partner Pat Hughes watched the game in person at 3-Com Park in San Francisco.
But again on that sad occasion, Cubs fans who remembered fondly Brickhouse's 34 years at the WGN-TV microphone were mostly left alone with their memories.
Friday, the news of Ron Santo's passing flew virally across the Internet within minutes and a couple of hours after it was announced in the wee hours on WGN radio. As the sun was coming up, this photo of the Wrigley Field marquee had already been sent to thousands virtually.
By the time many people left for work on Friday morning, numerous photos of happenings at Wrigley Field had been tweeted, including this one of Ron's No. 10 flag being raised to half-staff and my photo of the tribute on the marquee, which was retweeted no fewer than 50 times (thanks to all who did, incidentally). Dozens of people on my own Facebook news feed posted their own personal tributes or memories of Ron, linked to articles from here, Bleed Cubbie Blue and mainstream media, and changed their profile photos to one of Ron, his No. 10 or another picture that engendered memories of this man who touched all our lives. In addition, this Bleed Cubbie Blue eulogy/tribute post I wrote yesterday brought forth hundreds of people leaving personal comments and remembrances of how Ron Santo affected their lives. Friday was the biggest day in the history of Bleed Cubbie Blue, with over 21,000 visits, mostly by people who wanted to share their sadness. Dozens of Facebook tribute pages were set up within a few hours, with literally thousands of people "liking" them.
Complain about what Facebook and Twitter have done to lives all you want -- and much of that criticism is warranted -- but this is our electronic world at its finest. It allows us to have a virtual gathering place -- yes, not face-to-face -- where we can react to major events like this, even when we're not at home or work, given the easy access to social media on smartphones, which are becoming easier and easier to use. We all shed tears for Ron Santo on Friday, but thanks to Facebook and Twitter, we did not have to do so alone. For certain, it helped me know that the emotions I felt on the passing of someone I admired as a player and was entertained by as a broadcaster were felt by thousands of others.
Technology rules our lives more each day, and not always for the better. Friday, we got a reminder of how this technology can be used to bring people together.