A year too late for him to enjoy it, 30 years past the day he should’ve been selected, the Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans’ Committee has finally elected the most deserving candidate not in Cooperstown, Ron Santo.
For those who doubt, here is my statistical analysis of the five leading playing candidates:
The simplest tool for judging a player against his contemporaries is, I think, the most overlooked one – exact comparisons, from a guy’s debut season through his final year.
Awards are useful, especially as an indicator of greatness – in Ron Santo’s case, the five straight NL Gold Gloves 1964-68 pretty much confirm his defensive prowess – consider the one from 1964, when Cardinals’ third baseman and defensive hero Ken Boyer was MVP, but Santo still won the Glove.
The hardware is nice. But statistics are better.
In short, in his era, from when he came up with the Cubs in 1960 through his last year with the White Sox in 1964, Ron Santo was one of the top ten hitters in all of baseball.
Santo was fifth in RBI in his era.
Santo was ninth in Runs in his era.
Santo was tenth in Homers in his era.
Santo was tenth in Hits in his era.
There are 17 players besides Santo on these four lists of the top ten offensive producers of the 1960’s. Only four men on all four lists: Aaron, Frank Robinson, Billy Williams – and Santo. Even the three men who are only on three lists, compared to Santo’s four, are all in Cooperstown already.
Needless to say, only one other full-time Third Baseman (Brooks Robinson) shows up on any of the four lists – and he, only twice. Part-timer Killebrew is on three of them: handily ahead of Santo in one (HR), behind Santo in another (R), and just two spots and only 74 RBI ahead of him in the third.
You can’t ask more of a man than to produce those kinds of numbers against his direct contemporaries: what he did while he played, compared to what everybody else did while he played, is all that he can be judged on. But it focuses exactly where a player stood against his peers.
By the way, if you want to be more generous to Santo, and judge him from his first full year as a regular (1961) through his last year as an everyday player (1973) he looks better still: he holds at fifth in RBI, but moves up one spot each in Runs (eighth), Homers (ninth), and Hits (9th).
I had Gil Hodges second.
Again, what he did in his time tells me what I need to know. Here is a list, updated through May 5, 1963 – the date Gil Hodges played his last game in the major leagues.
All-Time MLB Home Run Leaders (RH Batters):
1. Jimmie Foxx 534
2. Willie Mays 373
3. Gil Hodges 370
4. Ralph Kiner 369
5. Joe DiMaggio 361
6. Ernie Banks 340
7. Hank Greenberg 331
8. Hank Aaron 307
8. Al Simmons 307
10. Rogers Hornsby 301
By the way, on the all-time homer list, lefties and righties both, Hodges had just been knocked out of 10th place, by Mays (373 to 370). The game changes. Still, it is extraordinary that Hodges’ home run performance measured against all his contemporaries and predecessors, is pretty much ignored.
Hodges’ career spanned 20 calendar years, but he only played regularly from 1948 to 1959. In “his” era, Hodges was second in MLB in homers (344, to Duke Snider’s 354), second in RBI (tied with Berra at 1136, behind Musial’s 1226), fourth in Runs, and seventh in Hits. Hodges is often dismissed as a “Home Park Homer Hitter.” In fact in his ten years at Ebbets Field he averaged only 4.60 homers a year more in Brooklyn than on the road. For comparison, Duke Snider, in the Hall since 1980, averaged 4.56 homers a year more in Brooklyn than on the road.
It is also of note that Hodges hit 27 or more homers in eight consecutive seasons, drove in 102 or more runs seven years in a row, and the first baseman on two World’s Champions and four more NL champs.
Haven’t even mentioned Hodges the manager (1969 Miracle Mets) nor Hodges the Man (I have never, ever talked to anyone who knew him who didn’t revere him.
Third on my list? Luis Tiant. Bill James hit the nail on the head: Luis Tiant is Catfish Hunter with poorer marketing.
Statistical doppelgangers are often either coincidental, superficial, or irrelevant because the players are of different historical eras. Not Hunter and Tiant. They pitched side-by-side in the same league for fifteen seasons, in the same division for six, and were teammates for a year. And they look like twins in a dozen key stats:
Statistic Hunter Tiant
Starts 476 489
Complete Games 181 187
Shutouts 42 49
Innings 3449.1 3486.1
Home Runs 374 346
Wins 224 229
Losses 166 172
ERA 3.26 3.30
Run Support 4.30 4.46
20-Win Seasons 5 4
Sub 3.00 ERA Seasons 5 6
‘Wins Above Team’ 20.2 20.6
That’s right: Tiant made 13 more starts, won five and lost six more games, threw seven more shutouts, and finished with an ERA 0.04 higher, than Hunter. Otherwise, they share a virtually identical statistics.
Where they deviate leaves open the question of which was the better pitcher. Tiant had 404 more strikeouts, but 150 more walks. Hunter twice led the AL in wins, which Tiant never did. Tiant twice led it in shutouts, which Hunter never did. Tiant twice led it in ERA, which Hunter did once.
Hunter’s big advantage? He made 22 ALCS and World Series starts to Tiant’s five. He was seen on the biggest stage, by fans and reporters alike, for seven of eight Octobers. Tiant had only one shot at such impact.
Beyond the Hunter comparisons, in the match-him-against his era numbers, Tiant was ninth in wins, tenth in K’s, twelfth in ERA, 1964-80 (even though in five of those seasons he did not make even 20 starts).
And there is one more remarkable and overlooked statistic. Two of Tiant’s six sub-3.00 ERA seasons were actually sub-2.00 ERA seasons. Since 1920, only 29 pitchers have had a seasonal ERA under 2.00. Koufax did it three times, and the other four did it twice: Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez – and Tiant.
Fourth – and he’s right below Tiant – is Minnie Minoso. He’s kind of damned by the overall quality of his play: superb at a lot of contradictory things, not extraordinary at any one of them:
Who were the top five hitters during Minnie Minoso’s 13 seasons as a Major League regular, 1951-63? Keep it to the guys who averaged at least 475 at bats a year and here’s the headline: one of them was Minnie Minoso.
Highest Batting Average 1951-1963 (Minimum 6175 AB)
1. Stan Musial .319
2. Willie Mays .315
3. Richie Ashburn .309
4. Harvey Kuenn .307
5. Minnie Minoso .299
Note please, that performance included eight .300 seasons. It’s impressive stuff, but below is my favorite Minoso stat:
Highest Slugging Percentage 1951-1963 (Minimum 6175 AB)
1. Willie Mays .588
2. Stan Musial .543
3. Eddie Mathews .535
4. Minnie Minoso .461
5. Harvey Kuenn .417
The slugging number is especially astounding given that Minoso only hit 184 homers in those 13 years (28th in the era). Without being a real longball threat, he still places 8th in total bases in the span, and 9th in RBI.
Most Runs Scored, 1951-1963
1. Mickey Mantle 1381
2. Willie Mays 1258
3. Eddie Mathews 1220
4. Nellie Fox 1142
5. Minnie Minoso 1130
Seeing my point here? Pick a category, and Minoso shows up on it:
Most Stolen Bases, 1951-1963
1. Luis Aparicio 309
2. Willie Mays 248
3. Maury Wills 236
4. Minnie Minoso 205
5. Billy Bruton 193
Minoso is also fifth in hits in the era, second in doubles (behind Musial, ahead of Mays), fourth in triples, led the A.L. in hit-by-pitch ten times, won three Gold Gloves – and all this even the color line and circumstance kept him from becoming a major league regular until he was at least 28 years old.
My fifth guy out of the group is just a notch below. I love Jim Kaat and I think he belongs (as does Tommy John). I mentioned contemporaries Hunter and Tiant looking separated-at-birth. Jim Kaat and Robin Roberts are unlikely statistical twins who overlapped by only seven full seasons:
Statistic Kaat Roberts
Starts 625 609
Innings 4530.1 4688.2
Wins 283 286
Losses 237 245
Strikeouts 2461 2357
Walks 1083 902
ERA 3.45 3.41
10+ Win Season Streak 15/15 16/17
Roberts got to Cooperstown quickly because of the fact he reeled off six consecutive brilliant seasons, and despite of the fact that after the age of 28, only once did he finish more than three games above .500 in his final eleven seasons.
By contrast, Kaat won 18 as a 22-year old, slumped for a year, then starting in 1964 reeled off 17, 18, and then 25. Eight and nine years later he would produce consecutive seasons of 20 and 21 wins. As Bill James pointed out, if like Roberts, Kaat had bunched his great years instead of scattering them, he might’ve been elected in the ‘90s. As it is, he is still 31st all-time in victories — eighth all-time among lefties:
Wins, Lefthanded Pitchers:
1. Warren Spahn 363
2. Steve Carlton 329
3. Eddie Plank 326
4. Tom Glavine 305
5. Randy Johnson 303
6. Lefty Grove 300
7. Tommy John 288
8. Jim Kaat 283
9. Jamie Moyer 267
10. Eppa Rixey 266
11. Carl Hubbell 253
12. Herb Pennock 241
There are only eight active lefties with more than 100 wins, and of them, only CC Sabathia (176) is younger than 32. Kaat is also 10th in strikeouts by lefties. Kaat’s victory total has been criticized as “padded” by his five years as a reliever and spot starter. But subtract those seasons and his career won-lost improves to 261-217, he remains in the top 10 among lefties, and still has better won-losts than Ted Lyons and Eppa Rixey (and is just behind Red Faber).
Lastly, the 16 consecutive Gold Gloves are almost a cliché. We don’t stop to think that the first of them was won when Kitty was 23, and the last when he was 38 – and that the streak stretched through five presidential administrations and three expansion drafts.
Just to show my math, here are the Homer, Runs Scored, RBI, and Hit lists from ’60-’74 that back-up Santo’s greatness:
Most RBI, Majors, 1960-74:
1 Hank Aaron, 1585
2 Frank Robinson, 1412
3 Harmon Killebrew, 1405
4 Billy Williams, 1351
5 Ron Santo, 1331
6 Brooks Robinson, 1217
7 Willie Mays, 1194
8 Willie McCovey, 1190
9 Carl Yastrzemski, 1181
10 Orlando Cepeda, 1164
Most Runs Scored, Majors, 1960-74:
1 Hank Aaron, 1495
2 Frank Robinson, 1390
3 Billy Williams, 1306
4 Lou Brock, 1303
5 Willie Mays, 1285
6 Carl Yastrzemski, 1240
7 Pete Rose, 1217
8 Vada Pinson, 1177
9 Ron Santo, 1138
10 Harmon Killebrew, 1131
Most Homers, Majors, 1960-74:
1 Hank Aaron, 554
2 Harmon Killebrew, 506
3 Frank Robinson, 440
4 Willie McCovey, 422
5 Willie Mays, 410
6 Billy Williams, 392
7 Frank Howard, 380
8 Norm Cash, 373
9 Willie Stargell, 346
10 Ron Santo, 342
(Note: 11th was Orlando Cepeda, 327)
Most Hits, Majors, 1960-74:
1 Billy Williams, 2505
2 Hank Aaron, 2463
3 Brooks Robinson, 2459
4 Vada Pinson, 2455
5 Lou Brock, 2388
6 Pete Rose, 2337
7 Roberto Clemente, 2318
8 Willie Davis, 2271
9 Carl Yastrzemski, 2267
10 Ron Santo, 2254
(Note: 11th was Frank Robinson, 2220)
Hey Keith, I think you mean 1960 – 1974 not 1964.
Nice piece. One note: typo in 6th para, you list the end of his career as 1964, but think you meant 1974?
I would have liked an older ballplayer like Hodges to get his due recognition.
Hodges and Santo I agree and I also wish to see Kaat and Jack Morris in there.
Kaat deserves it for the GG’s alone
It is the Hall of FAME, not Hall of statistics, which is why Catfish Hunter belongs and Luis Tiant does not. Hunter being on two dynasties makes his very good stats a GREAT baseball career.
Excellently argued. Nice to see Santo in, finally. Extra kudos for mentioning Tommy John, who sadly often gets overlooked in these arguments. His numbers are eerily similar to Kaat’s, and both deserve induction.
Finally….The Veterans Committee Does Something!
But They should be ashamed it’s after his Death!!
Joe Morgan is an AssClown!!
Out of curiosity, what are your thoughts about the executives; especially Buzzie Bavasi. I would think his time as GM for the Dodgers from ’51 to ’68- some of the best years for the Dodgers- would have garnered him more attention than it did.
Thanks for posting this excellent argument!
A fact that gets little mention is despite only 35 career stolen bases Santo once tied for the National League lead (with then rookie and left-off-this-ballot Dick Allen) in TRIPLES with 13, making him perhaps the unlikeliest post-expansion leader in that category (along with Tim McCarver).
Yes, FINALLY. And yes, it would have been nice if he were here to enjoy it. Oh, well.
Nice argument with facts & stats showing why he deserves to be in. Well written, my eyes didn’t glaze over while reading stats. ; )
Perhaps a subject for another blog, but thanks for going with Jack’s “Hey Hey!”. Appropriate since he was Ronnie’s announcer for most of his career. Harray Caray got/gets all the press, but he drove me nuts (I became a fan during the Brickhouse/Pettit days).
Thanks for being as pleased with Santo’s selection as any Cubs fan is. : )
“The simplest tool for judging a player against his contemporaries is, I think, the most overlooked one – exact comparisons, from a guy’s debut season through his final year.”
There are about a dozen full time position players who played throughout the “Santo era”. I don’t get how this is as useful as you believe, much less an “exact comparison”. Compare career statistics of Santo vs career statistics of players who played in the Santo era and Santo surely wouldn’t be in the top ten.
Careers don’t line up perfectly, or even all that well.
This not to say Santo isn’t deserving…
No offense, Keith, but only NINE players between 1951-63 had as many as 6175 at bats. Finishing fourth on such a list does NOT mean you’re a HOF-caliber player.
His whole idea on comparing cumulative stats (or percentage stats with outrageous requirements) for player A vs all other players in a timeframe that completely biases player A is deeply flawed and misleading. He’s taking all of one player’s stats and putting them up against a partial showing of every other players’ stats and claiming an “exact comparison”. Players don’t enter and exit the league like line shifts in a hockey game.
Santo for example… If you look at the CAREER stats of all players who played at any time between, say, 63-71 (+3 from the start and -3 from the end of “his era”), you’ll find Santo was about 30th to 35th in terms of the cumulative stats Keith uses.
Great points – all of them. At some point, i think we’ll be adding Tim raines to this list.
The point is, it is possible to make a case for ANY of the people mentioned. I’m glad Santo got in–I think he was deserving. So was Gil Hodges.
As to the question above about Buzzie Bavasi, I have thought he was overrated for the wrong reasons and underrated for the right reasons. He was indeed GM during some of the Dodgers’ glory days. But if you look at the great Brooklyn teams, the bulk of them consisted of players out of the farm system started by Larry MacPhail and brought to greater success by Branch Rickey. Bavasi didn’t have to make a lot of big trades. Then, in Los Angeles, it again was mainly the farm system, continued by Fresco Thompson. Bavasi’s time in San Diego came up, too, but that wasn’t a roaring success.
What goes unmentioned are the following: he was GM with the Angels and although he let Nolan Ryan go, he also was involved in creating the teams that went to the LCS. As GM of the Dodgers (actually, director of player personnel; Walter O’Malley’s hatred for Rickey compelled him to get rid of the GM title that Rickey had held), Bavasi protected (some say directed) Walter Alston, helping to build the record for consistency that the Dodgers enjoyed (O’Malley reportedly wanted to fire Alston after the 1962 collapse, and Bavasi held the line then and on other occasions). And as a minor league executive for the Dodgers, Bavasi promoted baseball’s integration.
All in all, we can make a case for him, but I think there was another factor: this was a player-dominated committee, and these players remember the executives of their era without a lot of pleasure. I remember the story of Bavasi telling the Dodger players that Marvin Miller was bad news, stay away from him, etc., and one of the players said, if Bavasi is that afraid of him, we need him.
Good job as usual Keith! I truly appreciate the support for Luis Tiant, Jim Kaat and Tommy John (only to a slightly lesser degree). As far as Kaat and John are concerned, how can any pitcher climb the mountain to over 280 victories and then be passed over? This also ignores all their other myriad accomplishments. Tiant was simply the top money pitcher in baseball for about 5 yrs. with Boston, a fan favorite, great drawing card and universally acknowledged clubhouse leader with a team that, by all accounts, sorely needed one! This, also, doesn’t take into account that he had one of the finest seasons for a pitcher of all time in 1968 with Cleveland. Please keep beating the drum for all the unjustly overlooked HOF candidates! How about Carl Mays?
Those were the five that I had in, as well. I had El Tiante second but that’s a quibble.
Kaat is also often derided as a “compiler”, as if that’s some sort of disgrace or something.
Unfortunately, some of these guys have become de facto stalking horses in the increasingly frustrating and silly conflict between sabermetricians (who love rate stats and champion Minoso) and those who take a more traditional view and value certain career milestone numbers, most of whom would favor Kaat (and John and Morris, all favored whipping boys of devotees of advanced metrics.)
There is a lot of tribalism involved and, unfortunately, it helps to deny great players their well earned status.
You’re right about Santo. He deserved induction long ago, even when compared to the other ten 3rd basemen in the Hall. Only one of those players had more homers. Only two had a better slugging percentage. He had a better lifetime average than 5 of them. And only four of them had more RBIs. In that category he trails Brooks Robinson by 26 and Santo accomplished his total in far fewer seasons.
The stats are there. What I don’t understand, KO, since you’re so big on the stats is why you were so adamant a few years ago about Ryne Sandberg not being deserving of his induction. His numbers compare favorably with other 2nd basemen in the Hall.
Holy Guacamole! The guy is a SAINT! And you, Mr. Olbermann…with all these numbers…are pretty amazing yourself! Congratulations, Ron! Justice is sweet!
Sorry, Mr. Santos to me. Another player I will happily learn more about! Hugs.
know what these stats show? that mays was the greatest player of all time, and should be removed from the hall and given his own special shrine
I love Minoso. May have lost a year or two at the beginning of his career because of his race. Add together his major league, minor league and Negro league data and he’s one of only a handful of players who had more than 4,000 hits in his professional career…
Keith, I don’t quibble with your conclusions, but your methodology leaves something to be desired. You compare Santo with what others did during 1960-1974? Well, it’s very convenient for Santo to compare his 15-year career to *portions* of other people’s careers. Suppose you’re (not making a HOF case, just a point about a contemporary) Rico Carty and you played from 1963-1979. You played longer than Santo, but in the “counting stats” comparisons, you come up short because only 12 of your 17 seasons are within the narrowly-defined parameters of the Santo-specific years.
To be fair about this, the best thing to do is to add five years in either direction. The game doesn’t change all that much in five years. Compare Santo to all players 1955-1979. You’re still putting him up against his contemporaries but they’re not disadvantaged because their careers don’t exactly overlap. Likewise, compare Minoso to hitters 1946-1968, and you’ll get a lot more than *nine* eligible batters to rank him amongst.
Two words: WRIGLEY FIELD.
What does Wrigley Field have to do with it? If you mean that myth about it being a hitter’s park, it’s just that – a myth.