by Kent Sterling
One year and two days after his death, former Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo’s dream finally came true. The Golden Era Committee in charge of the key to the gates of Cooperstown relented, welcoming Santo 37 years after his retirement from his beloved game. Shame on them.
Santo spent countless years being mostly ignored by the Baseball Writers Association of America. The high water mark of his candidacy for traditional admission was a paltry 43.1% of the necessary 75%. In his first year, Santo received 3.9%. The Veteran’s Committee wasn’t much kinder. Every other year, Santo waited by a phone that would not ring – at least not with the news for which he hoped.
Then he dies, and the Golden Era (don’t ask me the difference between the Veteran’s Committee and the Golden Era folks) calls. It bears mention that I hold am dealing harshly with the Golden Era people as though no changes were made from the Veteran’s Committee. I don’t care enough about this gaggle of misanthropes to distinguish one group from the other. It’s possible this is a kinder and gentler group of committee members, and they have simply corrected a wrong done by Joe Morgan and the other crank cases that punished Santo because he was a bit of a hothead and pain in the ass as an opponent.
If Santo is deserving of enshrinement now, he was certainly deserving two, four, six, and eight years ago. He hit his last home run in 1974, and made his last out in the same year. He’s like a guy who applied for a position more than 30 years ago, his resume’ remains unchanged after all that time, dies still praying to get the job, and only then is invited to join the staff – and the reason he gets it is principally because he died.
Make no mistake, I’m not a supporter of Santo’s candidacy. But the way in which this was handled is exactly why so many people loathe so many other people. This whole Santo election makes me sick to my stomach. He doesn’t belong in the Hall, but if these tools were going to enshrine him, it should have been done while he could enjoy it.
There is no denying Santo’s enthusiasm for baseball and the Cubs, but the committees that determine entry had it right for 32 years after his eligibility. The Baseball Hall of Fame should be reserved for the men who achieved unquestioned greatness. If there can be a debate as to whether a retired player belongs in Cooperstown, he doesn’t. Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Johnny Bench, Carl Hubbell, Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Ty Cobb, and Henry Aaron are beyond argument. Nellie Fox, Bert Blyleven, Richie Ashburn, and Bobby Doerr? All very good, and now Santo is in that midst of the good who have been asked to play among the great.
Santo’s career was cut short by the effects of his diabetes. No doubt his career statistics suffered because he was unable to play beyond age 34, but during his prime, it wasn’t all roses either. Not once did Santo finish in the top three in MVP balloting. He led the National League in a major offensive category only once – triples in 1964. There were good numbers, but none that were great. Nine all-star games, five Gold Gloves, hit .300 or better four times, drove in 100 runs four times, and hit 30+ home runs four times. No trips to the postseason.
Sad to say, that’s not enough. I wish it was. I grew up loving the Cubs, and watched Santo for the last six years of his career on Chicago’s North Side. I earned Bs for speeches in high school and college trumpeting Billy Williams hall of fame credentials – Bs because the poster boards I used for my corroborating materials were crudely rendered, and re-used because why the hell would I do new ones when nothing had changed. Anyway, I digress. I chose Williams instead of Santo because Williams belongs in Cooperstown.
That Santo’s career is not Hall of Fame worthy doesn’t diminish the level of profound stupidity and heartless buffoonery of these old farts who have conferred the honor Santo dreamed of since his retirement 367 days after his death. People who do the right thing at the wrong time, or the wrong thing at the right time are everywhere. Those who do the right thing at the right time for the right reason are almost never in a position to do that. Power is generally wasted on those who have no idea what to do with it.
I believe Santo should have gotten in years ago. So players that don’t make it to the playoffs don’t get in?
From the Cubs website: “Santo played 15 seasons from 1960-74, and is one of four players who had 2,000 hits, 300 home runs and 1,300 RBIs in that span, joining Hall of Famers Aaron, Frank Robinson and Billy Williams. Santo drove in 93-plus runs in eight straight seasons. From 1960-74, his 1,331 RBIs rank fifth. The entire top 10 of RBI leaders during that span was already in the Hall of Fame, and now that list is complete. A nine-time All-Star, Santo was one of only two third basemen to have more than 300 home runs and five Gold Glove Awards. The other, Mike Schmidt, was elected to Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility with 96.5 percent of the vote. Among Hall of Fame third basemen, Santo ranks third in home runs, fourth in walks, fifth in RBIs and sixth in hits.”
You mention “Nellie Fox, Bert Blyleven, Richie Ashburn, and Bobby Doerr?” – that’s right maybe they were just good – and not great. Barn door is already open and now you want to close it? I’m glad #10 is in.
Finally you said: “It’s possible this is a kinder and gentler group of committee members, and they have simply corrected a wrong done by Joe Morgan and the other crank cases that punished Santo because he was a bit of a hothead and pain in the ass as an opponent.” So which is it Kent? He either belongs or he doesn’t. It appears to me that you’re saying he should have (and would have) been in if it were not for Joe Morgan and others.
HoF member Billy Williams said it best “the numbers are there.” I agree with that Hall of Famer about the new guy joining him.
What the hell is Billy Williams going to say, “Ahh, you know Ronnie was good, but he wasn’t in my class”? Yes, I want to close the door on the guy who just don’t quite measure up. Santo was consistently very good, but never great. Cooperstown is for the great. The bottom line is that if Santo was still alive, he would still be waiting. As is usually the case when committees convene, the Hall of Fame got the worst possible result. The best would be that Santo does not get in. The second best would be that Santo got in and experienced the jubilation of getting the call and enjoying a weekend in Cooperstown. The worst is that the committee waits until the guy who wanted it the most but didn’t quite measure up is elected postmortem.