DENVER—For more than three decades, the debate raged over whether Ron Santo belonged in the Hall of Fame.
The answer is yes. He will be enshrined this year, after 32 years of waiting, alongside Barry Larkin.
After lobbying on his behalf for years, Santo backers grumbled that it was too late because Santo isn’t here to enjoy the moment, having died in December 2010. Disappointing though it may be, his survivors and his supporters at least get a chance to enjoy the recognition Santo has finally received. And it’s not unusual. He’s the 105th of the 297 Hall of Famers to be inducted posthumously.
Santo’s induction underscores that the revamped veterans committee procedures instituted by the Hall of Fame are working.
Eighteen previous times Santo’s name was on a ballot, and 18 times he struck out.
In his first year of eligibility in 1980, he was named on just 3.5 percent of ballots. Not only was that far below the 75 percent necessary for election, but it was also below the five percent threshold to keep his name on the ballot.
Because of concern about the quality of the players who were being lopped off the ballot, Santo was among a group of players reinstated for consideration by the Baseball Writers Association of America in 1985. Yet it wasn’t until his 15th and final year that he even managed to slip past the 40 percent level of support. After that, his name was handed over to the veterans committee, where he still never got the support needed for induction.
Change For The Better
A realignment of the veterans committee procedure grouped players, managers and umpires into ballots with their contemporaries. Voters now consider candidates from three eras—Pre-Integration (1876-1946), Golden (1947-1972) and Expansion (1973 to the present)—once every three years.
Finally, Santo’s career could be broken down in the context of when he played, primarily the 1960s, when pitching dominated. The new voting format also allowed Santo’s positives to be underscored, as a member of the Hall of Fame’s oversight committee, which builds the ballots for the veterans committees, presented the thought process that went into deciding who went on the ballot.
In that frame, Santo was a slam dunk for a spot in Cooperstown. Fifteen members of the 16-person Golden Era committee, made up of Hall of Famers, historians and media members, threw their support behind Santo, making him the only one of the veterans ballot who had the 12 votes needed.
“Some people brought out a lot other than numbers for Ron Santo, talked about what he did for the community,” said Hall of Famer Billy Williams, a member of the voting panel, and a teammate of Santo’s with the Cubs. “The numbers are there . . . I think they looked at it with a different view, saying this guy should be in the Hall of Fame.”
Santo was an all-star in nine of his 15 seasons. He won five Gold Gloves, more than anyone who played before him other than Brooks Robinson, who won 16. He finished in the top 10 in batting three times and had 342 home runs, 88th on the all-time list. At the time of his retirement, he was the second third baseman, along with Eddie Mathews, to have hit .300 for his career, and the only third baseman with 90 or more RBIs in eight consecutive seasons.
Santo did all that despite battling severe diabetes, which in his later years resulted in the amputation of both lower legs. In response to his own battles, he helped raise more than $40 million for juvenile diabetes research.
He also became a part of baseball’s labor history, becoming the first player to invoke the five-and-10 rule, which gave players the power to veto trades if they had 10 years of big league service time, and five with their current team. Following the 1972 season, when the Cubs tried to ship him to the Angels, Santo refused to go. He wanted to stay in Chicago, so eventually the Cubs dealt him to the White Sox, where Santo spent his final year.
What he never had a chance to do was enjoy the postseason, and that as much as anything explained his lack of support among the writers.
The Cubs teams he played for had three Hall of Famers: Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins and Williams. At long last, Santo will join them in Cooperstown.