Past TimesMarch 04, 2007
Santo Swindled Again
By Al Doyle

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.


Great article, Al. Santo was the best 3B in the NL during his career and one of the top 10 of all time. If that's not the definition of a HOFer, then they may as well shut Cooperstown down.

Joe Posnanski thinks the problem with the Veterans Committee is in the threshold and believes it should be lowered to 66.67% from 75%. I agree with him for all the reasons he listed.

Great article! What a shame Ron Santo isn't in the HOF. I was a child of the 60's and remember him vividly. He was a tough, steady and great 3rd baseman. During All Star Games of the 60's, the AL representative was usually Brooks Robinson (my favorite) and NL's Ron Santo. Brooks was always the better fielder and Santo the better hitter. PUT HIM IN THE HALL!

I think Marvin Miller is a more pressing issue than Santo, to be honest.

I don't have a problem with the 75%. The VC has already done so much damage to the Hall, that if now the thresholds are now nearly too high I can live with that.

I'm probably one of the few people who doesn't think that Santo is a no-brainer Hall of Famer. He was most everything you guys have said, and I agree he is one of the top ten third basemen since 1900. I also agree that if you feel there should be a relatively even distribution of players across positions, then he should be in the Hall.

But I'm not sure the Hall should be evened out across positions. And, to me, Santo isn't distinguished enough from a lot of other great players to get upset about his not being in the Hall, particularly when you consider how much he was helped by Wrigley in his career.

I wouldn't be upset or anything if he made the Hall, but I don't see him as a "lock."

"Does it mean everyone who was involved with baseball before 1990 is unworthy of Cooperstown? No one would dare make such a preposterous statement."

I agree that Santo belongs in the HOF but the statement above does not make sense. Every player who has been voted in to the HOF, by the writers, was involved with baseball before 1990. I also agree that Marvin Miller, is more worthy of HOF induction and, at age, a more pressing concern.

I totally agree with all those who say Marvin Miller belongs in Cooperstown. Since the HOF voters (and people in general) like to put round pegs in round holes, they probably don't know what to do with Miller.

He's not a player, team executive, league president or umpire, so they can't pigeonhole Miller. I'm sure some of the voters may see Miller as that blankety-blank lawyer who upset the traditional order of things, so there's a certain amount of antagonism as well.

I agree that Santo is a HOFer, but I also agree that the exclusion of Marvin Miller is unconscionable. He is among the three or so most important figures in the history of baseball. And despite nostalgic yearnings for pre-union baseball, his influence has been uniformly positive, not only in practical terms, but morally as well. The game has flourished since his tenure, in large part because of how he influenced baseball's labor relations. Only those with truly selective memory can talk of the pre-Miller days as built on loyalty or devoid of labor troubles. Miller's influence rivals that of Rickey's assist in integrating the game; perhaps it was even more powerful in that Veeck was trying to integrate baseball before Rickey, and probably would have been fairer in his treatment of the Negro Leagues had he been successful.

Santo isn't a "lock" in the sense of being an inner circle Hall of Famer. He doesn't have 400 Win Shares, which seems to separate the "no brainers" from the rest. As a result, I believe a case can be made for excluding Santo from a "small" Hall. But, as far as I am concerned, there is plenty of room for him based on the standards that have been established.

In fairness of full disclosure, Santo definitely benefited from playing at Wrigley Field as evidenced by the following rate stats:

       AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
Home  .296  .383  .522  .905 
Road  .257  .342  .406  .748

That said, Ernie Banks and Billy Williams also had huge differentials in their home and road stats and both of them were inducted into the HOF with very little opposition (and rightfully so in my opinion).

As it relates to Marvin Miller, I believe he is one of the most important figures in the game's history and hope non-players like Miller and Bill James are duly rewarded for their off-the-field achievements.

Rich, we probably don't disagree about Santo very much, but I think you're off when you compare Santo's home/road differential to Banks and Williams. Just using a straight difference in OPS:

Williams: .091 (very big -- most major leaguers have a difference of maybe .050)
Banks: .106 (even bigger)
Santo: .157 (Huge!!)

I personally think there are a lot of players whose credentials are as good as Santo's. One example: Dwight Evans, whose profile is very similar to Santo's. He also won a bunch of Gold Gloves, finished in the top ten in OPS as often as Santo, did about as well in career MVP voting, and didn't have as large a home/road differential.

BTW, I agree with everyone about Marvin Miller. Now that's a no-brainer.

A further comment on Marvin Miller. Miller understood that too many free agents could actually drive down player salaries. In his book, A Whole Different Ball Game, which I highly recommend, he wrote that "It dawned on me, as a terrifying possibility, that the owners might suddenly wake up one day and realize that yearly free agency was the best possible thing for them; that is, if all the players became free agents at the end of each year, the market would be flooded, and salaries would be held down..... I realized it would be in the in the interests of players to stagger free agency so that every year there would be, say, three or four players available at a particular position and many teams to compete for their services."

Miller continued: "In fact, there was only one baseball owner who shared Miller's view. That was controversial Oakland Athletics owner Charles Finley, who suggested back in the 1970's that teams would be better off if all players were allowed to become free agents. Finley said, 'Hey, what's the problem? Let them be free agents every year. It will flood the market with players; it'll keep salaries down.' It was so logical, so obvious, that to this day I can't understand why other owners didn't think of it.

The reasons why it was rejected by the other owners was that the idea came from Finley, whom the other owners detested.

Ron Santo perhaps had the highest home vs road HR splits in history, hitting 63% of his HR's at home 216 and 126 on the road. Jime Rice by comparison was 208 HR-home vs 174 HR-road, and Dwight Evans was similar with 203 HR-home vs 182 HR-road despite Fenways reputation as boosting HR's significantly for RHB (it does, for players like Kevin Millar, but Rice and Evans lost as many HR's from line drives hitting off the wall for singles as they did a cheap HR's.) That being said, they all deserve the HOF since who can say if they would not have adjusted to another home ball park just as well as they did the home parks they played for. Playing in parks like Wrigley and Fenway can actually hurt some players on the road. For example, Ron Santo may have tried to hit more LD than fly balls if he played elsewhere, and Jim Rice may have tried to hit to the opposite field more if he played elsewhere. Who knows? We don't so you have to look at what they actually did and not what they might have done if they played elsewhere.

I would like to pick up on a point made by Paul Todd. While I do not want to suggest that analysts should not consider home field factors in evaluating players, I do ask the question whether it is often overstated in those evaluations. Isn't it possible that some players adapt their hitting to the park they play most of their games in? Shouldn't players with large home/road splits get some credit for recognizing where they make the most impact? I think, for example, of Boggs who used the Green Monster so well. Naturally, we would prefer a player who can be outstanding both at home and on the road, but the fact that someone clearly took advantage of home field should not be held against him.

I think this is particularly important when assessing an entire career for an honor such as the HOF. Certainly, if we are considering a trade, for example, it may be instructive to note that a player has been helped or hindered by his home field before judging the wisdom of a deal. But once his career is over, it seems to me the most important issue is how did he perform, regardless of how park factors may have affected him. Mel Ott benefitted from the short porch at the Polo Grounds, but who is to say that he would not have been just as great a hitter, if perhaps in a different way, had he played in Fenway Park for his career?

Until I looked at home/road splits, I believed that Santo's failure to gain admission to the HOF was one of the HOF's biggest travesties. I will tell you what changed my mind. I looked at the Baseball REference career splits to see how much Santo and his numbers benefitted from his home park. At home his line is .296/.383/.522 with 216 Hrs. Santo's road stats are .257/.342/.406 with 126 Hrs. If you double those, does anyone believe you have close to a hall of fame 3baseman? Hall of fame players should not be league average for half their games. I now believe that Santo is undeserving, and more like a Larry Walker candidate who was very good, but benefitted so much by his park, and so lousy outside it (Walker's numbers away are pretty good, but pale in comparison) that he doesn't belong in. Ken Boyer's splits, by the way, are .296/.358/.482 with 129 Hrs at home, .279/.345/.442 with 109 Hrs. away, and that doesn't include his first two years in the ML, when he was very good. Maybe the reason Santo's teams didn't have a ton of success, whereas Boyer's did, is that Boyer was the better player. If Ken Boyer was better, you are not HOF'er in my book. (No disrespect to Boyer, who was a helluva player)

Several HOF members have benefitted from significant home/road splits, and not just ex-Cubs. See Mel Ott (323 homers at home and 188 on the road), Frank Robinson (321 at home, 265 on the road), Jimmie Foxx (299 at home, 235 on the road), Hank Greenberg (205 homers at home, 126 on the road).

Wrigley has always been a good hitters' park, but I get the sense that it has less of a relative advantage for hitters these days, when compared to other parks in the NL, that it may have at other points in its history, given the introduction of other hitter friendly parks into the league, such as Coors, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh. It would be interesting to check out its park factor over time.

Sure there are players who have big splits, but the difference is that Robinson's numbers .283/.376/.503 (sans 1956, I only have access to baseball reference) are star numbers, even if lower on the road. Even Yaz's mediocre road numbers (.264/.357/.422), when doubled, yield almost 3200 hits and 430 Hrs in counting stats. Santo's road numbers are atrocious for a HOF level guy, and he neither was long enough or good enough to overcome the shortcomings.

I think it's mistaken to normalize Santo's statistics by simply doubling his road numbers. Could the road disparity justify taking something away from his career accomplishments? Sure. I wouldn't take nearly as much away as all that.

Santo's road OPS exceeds Brooks Robinson's combined career OPS. You'd have to take a lot away from Santo's home performance in order for him to fall to Brooks Robinson's level.

True, but Brooks is a HOFer of the Ozzie Smith variety (i.e. for his glove) and because of his longevity, his doubled road numbers yields 2888 hits, whereas Santo would have fewer than 2100.

Santo is clearly right around the cutoff for HOF induction. Better than many HOF players, but some players even better are not in (like Dewey). If they do elect Santo, I hope they do it while he is alive.

The interesting thing to me is, what really puts Santo over the top into HOF territory is all his walks. Without his excellent BB totals, he is clearly not a HOF. The thing is I can't think of any HOF player elected in large part due to their walks. Obviously many HOF have been elected with great walk totals, but they are all so great they would have made it if they never walked. Am I wrong about this, can anyone name a HOF player who would not have made it without their above average walk totals? The closest I can think of is Richie Ashburn, but he made it due to his Runs Scored, Hits and especially his putouts.

Interesting that the above comment would highlight Santo's walk totals as placing him in HOF territory, given the discussion of Dewey Evans. Dewey's walks also push him (like Santo) into borderline HOF territory. Both played in eras where walks were not valued as they are today, and as a result, both players were somewhat undervalued. Although many of us in the baseball blogosphere are sold on the importance of the base on balls, clearly today's HOF voters--writers and the Vets Committee--are less impressed.

Perhaps you could say Joe Morgan's walk totals pushed him over the top into becoming a slam dunk HOFer. His BA and traditional counting stats are not overly impressive, but his ability to take a walk or lean into a pitch really push him pretty close to the inner circle. In addition, unlike Santo and Evans he was associated with one of the great teams of his era and played way-above-average positional offense. I think those two conditions probably pulled more weight than the walk totals with HOF voters.