Ron Santo And Baseball’s Shame

It should go without saying that the true tragedy is the death of Ron Santo at the age of 70 after a brave and inspirational fight against diabetes and the amputations of both legs it necessitated.

But beyond the mourning of this day, is the shame of this day. The Cubs’ great third baseman is not in the Hall of Fame, and symbolizes that all-too-large group of players ranging from 19th Century stars to Gil Hodges to Buck O’Neil to Dale Murphy who are, by any means, considerably better than a huge percentage of those already in Cooperstown, but who are still excluded due to the enduringly searing reality that the Hall has never gone more than two years without one of its groups of electors screwing something up.
In “his” era, from his debut in June of 1960 through his rump year with the White Sox in 1974, Ron Santo led all major leaguers who didn’t play first base or the outfield with 342 Homers and 1331 RBI. The RBI total is by itself fifth among all players in that fifteen-year stretch. Santo also won five Gold Gloves in just thirteen full seasons as a third baseman, and he did so despite facing the formidable opposition of the brilliant Boyer brothers. Ken was at his peak with the Cardinals when Santo broke in with the Cubs, and as he faded, Clete arrived in Atlanta in 1967 to challenge Santo for four more seasons.
Santo isn’t just qualified for the Hall, he’s a shoo-in at one of the most underrepresented positions in Cooperstown. Yet when he was first eligible on the Writers’ ballot in 1980, he was named on less than four percent of ballots cast. Frankly, the 96 percent who did not vote for him should have been barred from voting for life, so obvious was their ignorance of the game. He dropped off the ballot, but was restored in 1985 in one of the constant corrections of the writers’ laziness and incompetence. These writers eventually achieved a kind of dim understanding, and, by 1998, he was up to 43 percent.
This underscores the fatal flaw of the BBWAA participation in the vote, especially in the days before inter-league play. Something approaching 50 percent of those who voted on Santo, and all his peers, would never have seen him play except on television or at All-Star Games. After 1998, Santo was placed in the tender hands of the Veterans’ Committee, which has only had to be reconstituted three times since then, including late last summer in order to give Marvin Miller and the late George Steinbrenner a chance. Things were shuffled so that the “Expansion Era” will be considered this winter, which naturally leaves Santo out.
The BBWAA system doesn’t work, the Special Negro Leagues Committee didn’t work, and any of the Veterans’ Committees hasn’t worked. It’s time for baseball to take back control of the election process and model it on something the NFL has long done: convene a miniature college of experts to advocate and debate the merits of each candidate and then announce its consensus. The current system, in which voters simply send in their opinions without any indication that they’ve done any research, has all the validity of mailing in box tops from cornflakes.
I mean, seriously: The statistic I quoted above – that between 1960 and 1974 Ron Santo led all major leaguers who didn’t play first base or the outfield with 342 Homers and 1331 RBI – how many people who ever voted for or against him, even knew that?

20 Comments

I dont see it. He never finished higher than 4th in MVP. 342 HR in a hitters park? 100 RBI only 4 times…

And also a candidate should stand on his own merit. I’m not impressed by jimmy-rigged stats like “led all major leaguers (if you dont count the 3 Outfielder positions and First Basemen)…”. Come on, quit cherry picking.

Thanks for the post, KO. It should be stated there are some on the Veteran’s Committee who are anti-Santo, and that’s why it doesn’t work. But yes, third base is under-appreciated in the HoF.

@halloffamer2020: He’s not cherry picking when you take into account that one of those first basemen of that era was none other than teammate Ernie Banks. The RBI total is still an astonishing accomplishment when you figure that Santo and the Cubs saw the likes of Seaver, Gibson, and Drydesdale consistently.

Keith, I think Ron Santo should have been in the Hall of Fame and should be in the Hall of Fame. But I also think you doth protest too much. I can make just as strong a case for Gil Hodges, on any ballot, and a far stronger case about the politicization of the Veterans Committee down through the years. Indeed, Santo might have had a better chance if the Hall of Fame hadn’t gone into a panic after Bill Mazeroski got inducted when he didn’t have statistics but was merely the best 2B of his time, according to people whose opinion I respect.

Santo is a strange case. He had hall of fame numbers and he was liked by the public and press. You hear stories of writers that didn’t vote for players because of some personal grudge. Heck, even Aaron and Mays didn’t garner 100% of the votes on the 1st ballot. What the heck was that? The voting is weird.

Good points, Keith. Santo should have been in the Hall Of Fame, no doubt. The fact that he was never voted in helped me see that the HOF isn’t the definitive word on a player’s greatness, and that it never has been. Hopefully Mr. Santo’s remarkable career will be remembered on it’s own merits and not by the sad fact it was overlooked by a group of supposed baseball experts, whose ignorance of the game is astonishing.

The idea of MLB writers adopting the PFHOF (Pro Football HOF) concept–letting writers debate the MERIT of a nominee–only goes so far. Bias exists THERE, too…God knows the only reason Art Monk kept getting screwed (until he FINALLY got in) was Peter King of SI had a bug up his hiney about Art.
In case you forgot, Keith…Gil Hodges manged MY Senators of the ’60s (before he took over the Mets) and had a power hitter in Frank Howard. Note BOTH of them not in the HOF. Like most, I saw Ron Santo only on the Game of the Week on NBC (sorry, shameless plug…lol), but everyone’s right. It’s an obscenity he’ll (perhaps) go in posthumously…
Gary
Nasty Nats Live Here (and Everywhere)
http://go-nasty-nats.mlblogs.com
http://greatjake1958.wordpress.com

All of Keith’s points are well taken. You judge a man against the people he played with and against in his time and the people who played his position throughout the game’s history. By any of those measures, he should have been in long ago.

Gary beat me to the punch on the idea that the football HOF system is better. The major problem with a small group is that an even smaller group can then clog up the process. All it takes is a handful of miscreants to stop a man who has richly earned a place from getting in. The Monk example is exhibit A (although I lay more blame on Zimmermann and his malign influence on King than anyone else.)

Happily that issue is now moot but it was a long lasting travesty that still sticks in my craw.

What does it say about the 1970 Cubs that they had four Hall of Famers in Banks, Williams, Fergie Jenkins and Hoyt Wilhelm, were managed by another Hall of Famer in Durocher, and had a HOF-worthy player in Ron Santo… and STILL didn’t win anything?

i (a rabid white sox fan) have to think that if the cubs had been the nation-wide media darlings they are now back when santo was playing, he’d have been a shoo-in for the hall of fame.

(off to the white sox clubhouse sale now).

Shame indeed on the BBWAA. Looking ahead, I believe that Santo will eventually get into the HOF, deservedly. I also believe that Pete Rose will be admitted posthumanously (sic). So the message is that Santo, an ambassador of the game who gave his heart and soul to the game, (and yes i am including his broadcasting days. Why shouldn’t that be considered, annoucers get in?) deserves the same level of respect and comendation as a man who disrespected and disgraced the game. I would not want to be a kid today. Those with atheletic prowess have different standards of conduct than those who don’t. I think I’ll go watch “This Old Cub”.

An interesting comparison with another player from the same era: Santo not only had more career homers (342 vs. 268) and RBIs (1331 vs. 1133) than HoF-er Joe Morgan, but, much more surprisingly (to me), also had a higher career batting average (.277 vs. .271) than Morgan. (Each had 5 gold gloves at his own position.) I know one must be careful in comparing hitting stats between a third- and a second-baseman, and also in comparing homers & RBIs between someone who batted at the top of the order (as I *think* I remember Morgan did: didn’t he usually hit 2nd in the Reds’ order?) vs. a middle-of-the-order hitter, but to anyone who, like me, remembers (correctly) Joe Morgan as an excellent hitter (& not just an excellent hitter *for a second-baseman*), the comparison, and especially the batting average comparison, drives home the point of how tough things were (comparatively) for hitters back then, and how impressive Santo’s batting stats really are.

Not only did the BBWA votes not know his stats, apparently neither did the Veterans Committee and that was a more tragic shame because they were his former competitors. I’m sure someone like Billy Williams or Fergie Jenkins stated Santo’s case often and why not one listened is terrible.
And it’s a myth about Wrigley being this overwhelming “hitters’ park” – only when the wind blows OUT. When it blows IN, you can’t shoot a cannonball out of centerfield.
Most of the other NL parks of that era were NOT hitter-friendly and until 1969, it was a pitcher-dominated league … so the 342 HRs looks better in that context. Wrigley was NOT Fenway with a short LF target, or with a 5-foot fence in RF (old Yankee Stadium, Fenway, Dodger Stadium in LF); it was NOT Coors Field with thinner air, or other band boxes (Baltimore, Citizens Bank, Minute Maid).
Santo deserved induction and his omission needs to be eliminated … even if he isn’t around anymore. Enough is enough.

I’d like to support Santo’s case for the HoF, but I’m troubled by the fact that putting him in means that the 1960s Cubs – a team which famously only came close to winning a championship once, and blew that one – would have had 4 Hall of Famers (Banks, Jenkins, Billy Williams and Santo). I have trouble wrapping my head around that concept.

I’m not impressed by the gerry-rigged “outhomered every position but OF & 1b” argument. The other positions, middle infield and catcher, didn’t generate much power in the 1960s. Out-homering Luis Aparicio and Maury Wills doesn’t impress me much.

Having said that I’d vote for him as the best NL 3b of the 1960s or even as a contributor citing his broadcast work, but I don’t view it as a crying shame that he hasn’t been inducted yet.

KWS, I’ve heard that writers sometimes do not vote for a “shoo-in”, like Aaron or Mays, so they can help a player who might need their vote. Btw, I firmly believe those doing HoF voting should include writers but not have them be the exclusive pool from which voters are chosen. Balance is necessary.

I’ve been a baseball fan since 1941 when my hero was “Pistol Pete” Reiser of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Therefore, I seen more than my share of basball games. After college and the Marines I was tra nsferred to Chicago in 1964. Watched Koufax pitch against Holtsman in an empty Wrigley Field in 1965. Ron Santo was the 3rd baseman on that team and personified the power-hitting, Gold Gloved fielding third baseman of that or any era. He was as good as ANY 3rd baseman I’ve ever seen play the game. (Although I shared his 1969 enthusiasm when crossing home plate in Shea Stadium in September I sure wish he hadn’t clicked his heels…that was the beginning of the Miracle Mets and the end of a wonderful
(and superior) Cub team’s season! HE BELONGS IN THE HALL OF FAME !!!

Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, and Lou Whitaker. You don’t have to tell a Tiger fan that the current HoF voting system is profoundly asinine. When so many of the BBWAA members still can’t wrap their feeble brains around concepts such as OPS or VORP how can we expect that pack of navel-gazing pinheads to get anything right? Sports writing is primarily the venue for those who can compose but can’t provide content. The story lines are provided on the field and they only need to transcribe. We don’t ask the court reporters to make rulings on the law in courtrooms. Why do we ask these glorified transcriptionists to make rulings for the Hall of Fame?

Doesn’t baseball consider the expansion era to have started in 1961? Thus including Santo in this winter’s deliberation? I thought that was the case.

Keith…I love you for your politics and your sense of what’s the right thing to do and now I love you even more because of this column about our beloved Ron Santo. As a livelong Cubs fan who became a fan during those Santo years I know he was part of what may have been the greatest team never to win a pennant. In the later years, I listened to his radio broadcasts (on the internet after moving away from Chicago) and while he was the worst broadcaster in the world, he was the greatest fan and brought so much joy to those broadcasts. Everyone in Chicago knows he should have been in the HOF long ago. Bringing him in posthumously would ring hollow now. You are 100% right about the voting process and I hope it will change in the future.

You don’t have to tell a Tiger fan that the current HoF voting system is profoundly asinine. When so many of the BBWAA members still can’t wrap their feeble brains around concepts such as OPS or VORP how can we expect that pack of navel-gazing pinheads to get anything right? Sports writing is primarily the venue for those who can compose but can’t provide content. The story lines are provided on the field and they only need to transcribe. We don’t ask the court reporters to make rulings on the law in courtrooms.cheappromgown

All good points about Santo, but Ken Boyer has equally as good – much better in my opinion – credits to be in the Hall. But Boyer isn’t either. My bet is that had Santo or Boyer played on the East or West coast during those times, both would be in the Hall. As it is, selections to the Hall from that era are dominated by East and West coast voters.

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