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

6 Replies to “Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Ron Santo”

  1. I gave up caring about who was in the HOF years ago, when it became clear to me that most voter’s choices were purely idiosyncratic.
    Of course, Santo should be in the HOF. But a lot people think otherwise, casting analysis and reasoning aside.
    Another player who had a better career than Pie Traynor, who was the universal choice as the greatest third baseman in the 50’s and 60’s, was Stan Hack. Hack had the unfortunate luck to have come into the league 10 years after Traynor, when hitting stats were relatively depressed, and to have played as leadoff man, scoring runs instead of posting RBI totals like Traynor.

  2. Some time just go back and look at the names of the guys playing 3rd in the teens, twenties, thirties and even forties and you’ll see not a dirth of good players, but you won’t find many greats that jump off the page at you.
    Given the perceptions of the game and the players at the time, Traynor’s numbers as well as what was thought to be his superior ability to field bunts was what leapt out at everyone.
    Just looking at the names, try and imagine as a fan back then and having to make the choice. Would it have been different? Based on what?
    It’s a shame they couldn’t have been as insightful and unerring in their opinions and judgements as we today have the luxury of being.

  3. If you compare Santo’s career to the other HOF third baseman, he ranks fairly high in most categories. Santo was also a HOF calibre fielder who broke some records that were later broken by Mike Schmidt.

    With an excellent career to his credit, Santo accomplished it all while struggling with the deadly disease that eventually killed him. Santo kept the disease as a secret even from his teammates until 1967 when he collapsed on the field. To have been as good as he was– and he was the dominant NL third baseman of the 1960’s, all the while fighting a disease that can wreak havoc with your energy level, concentration, clarity of mind, blood pressure, heart and overall emotional and physical state is an amazing accomplishment. At a time when little was known about how to treat diabetes, Santo used to treat himself by his mood or state of mind, and then have a candy.

    I cannot imagine playing at such a high level in the heat of the Chicago summer, year after year and self-treating yourself on the field. The pressures had to be huge.

    No other player to my memory ever played year after year with such an obstacle and accomplished what Santo did.

  4. Santo played in the era of the pitcher and still hit 30 hrs and hit over .300 a few times. AND he could pick it at third. My dad says Santo was unfairly compared to Brooks Robinson most of his career even though Santo was a better hitter for the most part.

  5. Santo hit .257 with 126 HR’s on the road. He hit .296 with 216 HR’s at home (almost entirely at Wrigley Field).

    Those road numbers tell why the Cubs didn’t win pennants. It was easy to score runs at Wrigley; easy for the Cubs and easy for their opponents. A lot of players would have posted stratospheric numbers at Wrigley. Imagine the numbers that Stargell would have accumulated. He was trapped in Forbes Field, an impossible home run park, during what should have been his prime years, and hit most of his HR’s after age 30. McCovey and Mays were in Candlestick, a tough home run park. Frank Howard was trapped for many years in Los Angeles in the 1960’s; he would have hit over 500 HR’s in Wrigley.

    Imagine if Santo had played in a neutral park during his career, and had never gone to a World Series. He would have hit perhaps .260, hit 255 HR’s and earned 5 gold gloves. No one would be talking Hall of Fame about him. He’s be remembered only as a good solid player, or very good player, which he was.

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