Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Ron Santo

Claim to fame: Santo just might be the best eligible baseball player not in the Hall of Fame, depending on one’s views of Jeff Bagwell, Bill Dahlen, or a few others. Santo was certainly one of the most-beloved non-enshrined players even before his death at 70 in December. In 15 seasons, he was a nine-time All Star, five-time Gold Glove winner, and, together with Ernie Banks and Billy Williams, one of the top Chicago Cubs in the 1960s. His career WAR of 66.7, while not iconic, ranks among the best for eligible players not in Cooperstown. The question is if all this is enough for a plaque.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Santo exhausted his 15 years of eligibility with the Baseball Writers Association of America in 1998, peaking with 43.1 percent of the vote, well below the needed 75 percent. That leaves him for the Veterans Committee to consider, though as Joe Posnanski wrote in December, “The structure and standards of the committee changed so that in the last 10 or more years the Veteran’s Committee has turned into a grumpy bunch of scrooges who seemed to come out once a year for the expressed purpose of not voting for Ron Santo or Marvin Miller.”

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? I’ll start by saying Santo would be far from the worst Veterans Committee pick. I’d have him in the Hall of Fame over Nellie Fox, Rick Ferrell, or just about any former teammate Frankie Frisch railroaded into Cooperstown in his years heading the committee. But that’s not the best way to get a guy into the Hall of Fame. Posnanski wrote something about this last summer.

Posnanski wrote:

The reason this is fairly useless (but enjoyable) is that nobody really believes the Hall of Fame line is drawn at the most controversial choices. Nobody wants a Hall of Fame that includes every single player who was ever as good as or better than George Kelly or Herb Pennock. Then, suddenly, you find yourself arguing why Danny Darwin is not in the Hall of Fame, and nobody really wants to have THAT argument (except maybe Danny Darwin, I don’t know).

The line has to be drawn somewhere, and where it sits now, guys like Santo and Gil Hodges are sentimental favorites for fans, but fence cases statistically. I heard someone refer to Santo a few months before his death as one of the living legends not in the Hall of Fame, and that seems a little over the top, given his .277 batting average, 342 home runs, and OPS+ of 125, among other things. Still, he exceeds the Gray Ink standard on career stats for Cooperstown and comes close on two other metrics, so there may be more worth exploring here.

Of course, stats aren’t everything. So much of making Cooperstown comes down to what the player means to fans, writers, and baseball folk, and with that I’ll offer one more thing. A few months ago, I organized a voter-driven project to find the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame, and Santo tied for second with Roberto Alomar. I mention this as Alomar and our first place winner, Bert Blyleven each were subsequently voted into Cooperstown by the baseball writers. While I’m absolutely not taking any credit here (as it would be hilariously ridiculous), perhaps this is a good omen for Santo when he’s next eligible with the Veterans Committee in 2012.

He’s well-regarded. At some point, perhaps that will be enough.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

Others in this series: Adrian Beltre, Al OliverAlbert Belle, Barry Larkin, Bert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Cecil TravisChipper Jones, Closers, Dan Quisenberry, Darrell Evans, Dave ParkerDon Mattingly, Don NewcombeGeorge Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Harold Baines, Jack Morris, Jim Edmonds, Joe Carter, Joe Posnanski, John Smoltz, Juan Gonzalez, Keith Hernandez, Ken Caminiti, Larry WalkerMaury WillsMel HarderPete Browning, Phil Cavarretta, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Ron Guidry, Smoky Joe Wood, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman MunsonTim Raines, Will Clark