Most of the interesting birthdays today fall under the heading of the Arts. First, Pierre Auguste Renoir, the great French painter, was born today in 1841. Renoir, Monet, Cezanne; later Picasso; before them, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, da Vinci. There is a small pantheon of great painters whose names become immediately recognizable even hundreds of years later. Renoir is one of them, and perhaps the most human and accessible of them all, as in this famous work my wife and I have seen many times in the Art Institute of Chicago:
Next, we have Enrico Caruso, born in 1873. Perhaps even more than for painters, there are only a few great tenors whose names have reached into popular culture and down through the years. Caruso, Pavarotti, Domingo. Caruso has perhaps the most fame of all.... Caruso has almost become the generic word for a great singer, much as Xerox as become the verb meaning "to copy."
On a sadder note, it's also the birthday of Ron Santo, the great Cubs third baseman, who passed away last year. Santo has never made the Hall of Fame, but should have; his statistics only seem inadequate for the Hall because he played primarily in the 1960s, when pitching was king and ballparks were spacious. Santo "only" hit 342 HRs and "only" drove in 1331 runs, while playing Gold Glove caliber third base. But, using the "modern" statistic of WAR (wins against replacement) Santo had 66.4 WAR in his career. That's 75th all-time among position players.... Santo has more WAR than Gary Carter, Willie McCovey, Ernie Banks (his Cubs teammate), Ozzie Smith, Robbie Alomar, Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg (another Cubs great), Harmon Killibrew, Yogi Berra, Willie Stargell, Billy Williams (another Cubs teammate), Dave Winfield, Andre Dawson (another Cubs great), Hank Greenberg, Joe Medwick, Bill Dickey, Enos Slaughter, Tony Perez, Mickey Cochrane, Orlando Cepeda.... the list goes on and on. Cepeda, playing in the same era, has nearly 20 WAR less. Yet all of those guys, including Cepeda, are in the Hall of Fame. And only six thirdbaseman in the history of baseball have more WAR -- Matthews, Schmidt, Robinson, Boggs, all of whom are in the Hall, and Alex Rodriguez and Chipper Jones, who soon will be. Santo should be too.