|Academic Papers · Essays · Poetry · Sports · Writing Samples|
To nearly everyone who has met, watched, or listened to Ron Santo, it's difficult not to like him. The former Cubs third baseman is as affable in his older years as he was fiery in his playing days. A player with the Cubs from 1960-1973, and a color commentator for the WGN Cubs broadcast team since 1990, Santo shares a rich tradition with the city of Chicago and its Cubs franchise. Santo remains one of the most popular Cubs players of all time, and every third baseman prospect and free agent for the past 31 seasons has had to face the fan question: is this the third baseman we've been waiting for since Santo?
It's rare to see such an enduring shadow cast over a position for any franchise. Although some of it can be directly attributed to Santo's presence in the boothmuch the same way that many erstwhile Bears players are still omnipresent in Chicago mediait has more to do with the level of Santo's play. For many fans, Chicago and elsewhere, Santo was one of the best third basemen to play the game, and there has been consistent support for Santo to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The campaign to get him there is approaching near infamy, both for its doggedness and its long track record of futility.
Much like his 1969 Cubs team, Santo found himself every year as an also-ran when the votes were tallied. His Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) eligibility is now past; From now on, Santo will be considered by the Veteran's Committee. Santo's credentials for the Hall are at the heart of the debatedoes Santo deserve to be enshrined in Cooperstown?
Santo had a 15-year career in the major leagues, playing all but one season with the Chicago Cubs. He debuted as a 20-year-old rookie in 1960, and by 1964 had established himself as one of the premier third basemen in the leagueand the first major league ballplayer with Type 1 diabetes, although Santo kept his illness a secret during his career. Santo won five consecutive Gold Glove awards from 1964-1968 and was a nine-time All Star at his position between 1963 and 1973. His 342 home runshit in an era dominated by pitchingwould rank only behind Eddie Mathews and Mike Schmidt, and Santo's 1,331 RBI would rank fifth among the players already in the Hall at third base. With 2,130 appearances at third, Santo would rank fourth on that list. Santo has also been hampered, through no fault of his own, by the fact that third base has been traditionally one of the hardest positions for the Hall to judge entrance criteria (there are only 12 third basemen enshrined). By virtue of longevity and productivity, the argument for Santo is compelling.
Santo's best chance at the World Series came in 1969, the year in which the Cubs imploded in September and lost by eight games to the Mets, a team which they'd been leading by 9½ games as late as mid-August. The Cubs already have three Hall of Famers from this team (Banks, Jenkins, and Williams); Santo would make a fourth for a franchise that never finished less than five games out of first during their tenures. Although his production is undisputed, Santo never had an MVP-quality season during his time with the Cubs, and his career numbers lack overwhelming milestones, such as 500 home runs or 3,000 hits. His .277 lifetime average and .954 career fielding percentage are also solid but unspectacular numbers. In fact, Santo is most often compared to Dale Murphy in his quest for the Hall; a solid, good player, but perhaps just a notch below enshrinement quality.
As of this writing, there are 200 players in Major League history who played in 2,000 or more games; Santo is one of those (currently ranked 105 with 2,243 game appearances). Obviously 2,000 games played is a milestone, but does not guarantee greatness, much less Hall enshrinement. Third base, however, can be unforgiving to age given the necessary combination of reaction time and arm strength to field the position. Many players have played third well and moved to another position later in their career; only a handful of third basemen have shown the longevity necessary to make more than 2,000 appearances at the hot corner. As of 2004, that list stands at 11:
At the time he retired, Santo's 2,130 appearances at third would have made him one of only five men to log that many games at third base; none had yet made it into the Hall of Fame. Out of those fiveHack, Mathews, Robinson, Santo, and YostSanto would rank second in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in (Robinson would eventually pass Santo in RBI after he retired). And Santo averaged 142 games per season at third base over his 15 yearsthat's an endurance record matched only by the other Cub third base legend, Stan Hack, who averaged 143 games at third over 16 seasons. Even the gold standard, Mike Schmidt, couldn't average that kind of production over the course of his career. Santo at least deserves credit for being an iron man among the best players at the position.
Baseball is a game of statistics, and any argument for the Hall of Fame begins with a player's numbers. When Ron Santo retired, there were only three third basemen in the Hall (Baker, Collins, and Traynor); by 1979, when Santo was eligible for induction, the list was up to six with the additions of Lindstrom, Mathews and Negro League inductee Judy Johnson. There are now 12 third basemen in Cooperstown, including the most recent third-base electee, Wade Boggs.
|BA||Hits||HR||RBI||3B Games Played||3B Fielding Pct.|
|Ray Dandridge||1987||No MLB stats available - Negro League Inductee|
|Judy Johnson||1975||No MLB stats available - Negro League Inductee|
|And below are presented the same stats for Ron Santo (and where he would rank in the present company above):|
|Ron Santo||.277 (8)||2,254 (6)||342 (3)||1,331 (5)||2,130 (5)||.954 (6)|
Of the third basemen inducted, there are certainly five that stand above Santo: Boggs, Brett, Matthews, Robinson, and Schmidt. Of that group, however, Santo's only contemporary was Brooks Robinson, and of those five, only Mathews had been inducted into the Hall at the time Santo first became eligible. That leaves Santo in the company of Frank Baker, Jimmy Collins, Freddie Lindstrom, Eddie Mathews, and Pie Traynor. With due respect to the reputations of both Traynor and Mathews, it seems absurd to say that Ron Santo wasn't on a par with that group. Clearly, the Hall voters would have been more impressed with a few more home runs and points on the batting average, but the base statistics certainly shouldn't preclude Santo from having a plaque in Cooperstown.
While he did not possess the sheer power of Schmidt, the batter's eye of Traynor, or the defensive wizardry of Robinson, Santo still ranks as the best third baseman not in the Hall of Fame. When compared to current inductees, Santo holds his own, and Santo was, with Robinson, one of the two best third basemen in baseball throughout the 1960s. Considering the historic underrepresentation of third basemen in Cooperstownthird base still has the fewest inductees of any positionand taking into account Santo's career numbers and status in the game, the case stands that Santo was a compelling candidate when he was first eligible. He should have been elected on merit decades ago. Hall of Famers, however, are more than statistical wonders of the game; in the words of the Hall of Fame:
"Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."
Ron Santo overcame diabetes to play the game at its highest level, was a captain on a team that featured three Hall of Famers, and has consistently demonstrated courage and integrity during every phase of his life. The stats aren't astounding, but they are worthy of induction; Santo's character certainly personifies the type of player that should be enshrined. Now that his 15 years of eligibility with the BBWAA has expired, perhaps the Veteran's Committee will see fit to induct Ron Santo.
It's never too late to rectify this old snub.
J. M. Pressley Home