Santo Swindled Again
In what can only be described as a rerun of gross injustice, Ron Santo was again denied his rightful place in the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.
The great Cubs third baseman - one of the best at his position in the game's history - came five votes short of the required 75 percent for induction. Some might say that Santo failed to meet the traditional Cooperstown standard, but a deeper look at the facts shows that the fault doesn't lie with No. 10.
Overhauled after Bill Mazeroski was elected in 2000, the Veterans Committee has failed to elect anyone - players, executives, managers or umpires - in three ballots since then. Does it mean everyone who was involved with baseball before 1990 is unworthy of Cooperstown? No one would dare make such a preposterous statement.
With 27 ex-players and 15 others on the ballot - many of them good enough to attract a fair number of votes, but not quite Cooperstown worthy - it's no surprise that even a highly-qualified candidate such as Santo is going to find diluted support for enshrinement. Despite the long odds and large size of this year's roster of candidates, Santo's career numbers scream for induction.
In the pitching-dominated 1960s, a 30 home run season meant you were "The Man," a serious power threat for sure. Santo clubbed 30 to 33 long balls every season from 1964 to 1967 and had four other seasons with 25 to 29 homers.
From his first full year in the majors in 1961 through 1971, Santo never had fewer than 83 RBI in a season. That was a huge feat by the standards of the weak-hitting '60s. The 11-year streak includes four 100 RBI campaigns, with a career-high 123 RBI in 1969, the year the Mets overcame a big deficit and passed the Cubs on their way to winning the World Series. The right-handed hitter just missed the century mark three times with 99 RBI in 1963 as well as 98 RBI in 1967 and 1968.
Santo was anything but an undisciplined hacker, as proven by seven consecutive seasons with 86 to 96 walks. In one of the great feats of baseball consistency, Santo's total of 95 walks in 1966 was followed by three seasons with 96 bases on balls from 1967 to 1969.
Batting average? Four seasons at .300 or better and a .277 lifetime mark are well above the standard of the '60s and early '70s. Combine that with his patience at the plate and Santo's career .362 on-base percentage was far superior than average.
So why is Santo continually denied his rightful plaque in Cooperstown? Was it his glove? Once again, No. 10 is anything but ordinary. Five Gold Gloves attest to his skill at third base. While growing up in Chicago, I saw Santo fearlessly snag screaming line drives and one-hoppers on countless occasions. His powerful, accurate arm turned numerous infield hits into outs.
He may have been a notch below Brooks Robinson, but Santo was among the top defensive third basemen of all time. Anyone who values skilled glove work would be very pleased to have Ron Santo at the hot corner. Combine his all-around skills and it's no surprise that Santo was a nine-time All-Star.
Since he played for the usually hapless Cubs, Santo never appeared in the post season. Some speculate that this one blemish in an otherwise sterling career is what has kept Santo out of the Hall, but teammates Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins are in Cooperstown.
Few players were as durable as Santo. Despite playing nothing but day games in Chicago's humid, energy-sapping summers, he appeared in 160 or more games in seven seasons, including every year from 1962 to 1965. Santo played in all 154 games scheduled in 1961 (the last 154-game season) and had other years of 154, 154 and 155 games. In Santo's case, this was truly a spectacular feat.
That's because Santo was a diabetic since his teens. He didn't go public with this serious condition until 1971, playing almost every game without complaint. In recent years, diabetes has cost Santo both of his legs through surgical amputation.
Perhaps Santo is suffering from Blyleven's Disease. The symptoms include being consistently near the top of numerous statistical categories with few No. 1 finishes. Santo led the National League in walks four times (1964, 1966-68) and had three other top five finishes. He topped the National League in OBP in 1964 and 1966 and came in the top 10 five more times.
No one cared or knew about Santo's reign as the leader in walks or OBP in the '60s. This was 20 years before the findings of Bill James gained a wide following. An expert in conjugating medieval Lithuanian verbs would have gotten more acclaim than Santo did for being a selective, high-average hitter.
Santo had three second-place finishes in RBI, plus five more seasons in the top 10. He never led the NL in home runs but had seven seasons in the top 10. It's the second verse, same as the first for the rest of his offensive numbers.
On-base percentage plus slugging (OPS): Second place in 1964 and four more top 10 seasons. Three top 10 years in batting average, five top 10s in slugging percentage, total bases and extra base hits, four top 10s in doubles, and three top 10 finishes in runs scored. If Santo was an Olympian, he would get a hernia from wearing the many silver and bronze medals (plus a few gold ones).
Serious fans appreciate the fact that being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame is somewhat more difficult that achieving a similar honor in the other major sports. Many HOF voters and baseball die-hards declare than only the very best deserve this ultimate acclaim. They're absolutely right - and that's why Ron Santo belongs in Cooperstown.
At age 68, with his medical history, no one knows how much longer Santo will live or be able to lead a normal life, which includes annual trips to the Hall of Fame inductions. There is something hollow about awarding honors posthumously. Let this great third baseman enjoy the reward he richly deserves while he is still among the living.