Ron Santo, Hall of Famer

Chicago Cubs 3B Ron Santo


The Hall of Fame is a place that holds a special place in most baseball fans’ hearts, and I am no different.  Since receiving a Hall of Fame sticker book from my grandmother in 4th grade, I’ve been fascinated by who gets inducted, who gets left out, and when a player goes in.

This week’s announcement that Ron Santo, the former Chicago Cub great third baseman, has finally been inducted into the hallowed hall comes to my ears as a mixed bag of feelings and opinions.

First and foremost, the man was a great player.  In an era where offense was lacking, Santo was a 9-time NL All-Star, hit over 20 homers 11 times, drove in over 90 runs 8 times.  Not to mention he lead the league in walks 4 times, and received votes for MVP 7 times.

Santo’s career line looks like this:

.277 / .362 / .464 / .862  OPS+ of 125, 342 HR, 1,331 RBI, my favorite website of all-time and the baseball stat junkie’s heaven, has a Similar Player section at the bottom of every player’s page.  It tries to best link 10 players to any particular player based on stats.  Of Santo’s top 10 most similar players, none are current members of the HOF.  Not a one.  He is most comparable to Dale Murphy, a fringe Hall candidate, whose career was cut short due to his knees.

But after that, the list is like a roll call for good-but-not-great players:  Gary “The Rat” Gaetti, Ken Boyer, Ruben Sierra, Chili Davis, Bobby Bonilla, Brian Downing, Graig Nettles, Scott Rolen, and Adrian Beltre.  Like I said, good-but-not-great company to be in.

Third base is the hardest position to get into the Hall of Fame.  Other third basemen in the HOF include:  Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Frank “Home Run Baker”, Pie Traynor, Eddie Mathews, Wade Boggs, Jimmy Collins, Freddie Lindstrom, George Kell, and Brooks Robinson.

The two on this list that are of significance to Santo would be Mathews and Robinson.  Normally, the qualification to get into the Hall of Fame is that you “dominated your position for a decade or more”.  Mathews and Robinson each played at the same time as Santo, so how do they all stack up?

Robinson played for the Orioles in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, racking up an amazing 16 consecutive Gold Gloves.  But his batting stats pale in comparison to Santo’s:

.267 / .322 / .401 / .723  OPS+ of 104, 268 HR, 1,357 RBI

Brooks “The Vacuum Cleaner” Robinson could pick it at the Hot Corner, but couldn’t hit nearly as well.  This career counting stats have also nearly 2,400 more plate appearances behind them, or the equivalent of 4 big league seasons more than Santo’s.  He accumulated just 6 years of 20+ HR and a paltry 4 90+ RBI seasons.

Mathews, on the other hand, was an offensive force playing for the Milwaukee Brewers alongside Hank Aaron.  Here is his line:

.271 / .376 / .509 / .885  OPS+ of 143, 512HR, 1,453 RBI

The Braves’ third sacker also clubbed 25 or more homers in his first 14 full seasons and had 9 90+ RBI campaigns.  He has no Gold Gloves to show for his defense however.

So, during Santo’s playing days, he is most compared to Mathews and Robinson.  Two diametrically opposed players; one who could mash (Mathews) and one who could pick it (Robinson).  If you seek a balance between a wizard with the bat and a sage with the glove, Santo fits in beautifully.

With all of that said, I’m more fine with Ron Santo getting his call to Cooperstown than before I began this piece.  The biggest problem I have with it all now is why didn’t the veterans’ committee select the guy before he died?

Santo suffered from diabetes his whole life, probably costing him years of service and, dying at 70, years off his life.  Never, not once, did his Hall ballot exceed 43%, far short of the 75% required for induction.  After falling off the ballot in 1998 (when he received that 43%), it took another 13 years for the veterans’ committee to finally give him the nod.

All a year, almost to the day, after Santo had left this world.  Now something just isn’t right in all of this.  Did his stats get better as time drug on?  Did he homers get multiplied, his Gold Gloves added on to?  No.  It is a matter of the Baseball Writers of America, the de facto governing body of the Hall of Fame and their near insane rules of balloting that prevented a (fringe) Hall of Famer from realizing the goal of every player before he past one.

Quite the bittersweet moment indeed.


~ by goetgre on December 8, 2011.

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