The baseball Hall of Fame is growing by three on Sunday, but Ron Santo won't be there. Not in the Hall. Not in attendance.
|Ron Santo, one of the best in the 60s, died before he could make HOF. (Getty Images)|
It's not like anything else has worked.
Baseball knowledge? Common sense? Hasn't worked.
Ron Santo was one of the two best offensive third basemen of the 1960s, and since Eddie Mathews' best years were a decade earlier, I'd say Santo was the single best offensive third baseman of the 1960s. He led all third basemen in home runs and RBI for the decade. He led all third basemen in slugging. And on-base percentage. And OPS.
That's offense. Defense? Ron Santo was one of the two best defensive third basemen of the 1960s, and since Brooks Robinson played in the American League, I'd say Santo was the single best defensive third baseman in the National League. He won five Gold Gloves. He set NL records for putouts, chances, assists, double plays.
Best guy on offense in his league. Best guy on defense in his league. For an entire decade. And when that guy hit the Hall of Fame ballot in 1980, Ron Santo received 4 percent of the votes.
Voters from 1980, you were idiots. And you people didn't get a lot smarter. Over time Santo received more support, but never enough to get into the Hall. Never close to enough. Needing 75 percent of the BBWAA votes to get in, he topped out at 43.1 percent in 1998, his offensive numbers from the pitching-dominated 1960s obscured by the cartoonish steroid era that was in full bloom in the late 1990s -- and his defensive contributions simply ignored, I guess.
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Look, there are thousands of words I could write on Santo's worthiness for Cooperstown, and theories why he hasn't gotten in. His nine All-Star seasons. His offensive numbers being diluted over time by steroids and the forgotten fact that Santo played during a pitcher's era, a period marked by a higher mound and bigger strike zone. His signature 1964 season when he led the league in walks, triples and on-base percentage, in addition to hitting .313 (seventh) with 30 home runs (sixth) and 114 RBI (second). He was second in slugging at .564. Oh, and he won the Gold Glove that year. For all of that, this wonderful two-way player finished eighth in the 1964 MVP voting.
See, the Cubs stunk that year. They stunk most years. They were 76-86 in 1964, which was pretty decent for the Cubs in the 60s, when they lost 100 games or more twice and 90 games or more three other times. Santo wasn't properly appreciated in the 1960s because his team was lousy, and he wasn't properly appreciated later because Hall voters were lousy.
Some day Santo will get into the Hall of Fame. I believe that, because I believe the veteran's committee -- living Hall of Famers, mostly -- knows how good Santo was. Already the notoriously stingy veteran's committee has come close to righting this wrong, giving Santo 69.5 percent of its votes in 2007, just under the 75-percent threshold required.
But when it does happen, it will happen too late.
By 2007 Santo was obviously dying of diabetes, and voters just didn't give enough of a damn to get it right. By then both his legs had been amputated under the knee, an awful complication of diabetes, and if that's another cheap tug on the emotions, good. You're paying attention.
But get this straight: Santo didn't deserve to be in the Hall of Fame because he was dying. He didn't deserve it because he was a popular Cubs broadcaster for nearly two decades. He didn't deserve it because he kept his diabetes a secret, playing all those years while monitoring his condition by feel. If he felt weak, he ate a candy bar. Then he played every day, averaging 159 games (with 26 home runs and 100 RBI) from 1961-71.
Santo didn't deserve the Hall for any of those reasons. He deserved it -- he deserves it still -- because he retired as one of the best two or three third basemen of all time. Dead or alive, Ron Santo should be in the Hall of Fame. How appalling that death made its final call before Hall voters made theirs.