On December 6, it was announced that longtime Cubs third baseman and announcer Ron Santo will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in the Class of 2012.
For nearly everyone in Chicagoland, the induction news came was bittersweet, as Santo had passed away nearly one year ago to the day of the announcement. I agree with that sentiment to a point-- it really is a shame he was not honored while he was still with us. But I also have to admit one thought superceeded any other for me: “better late than never.”
I’ve been pro-Santo-in-the-Hall for a long time. Despite not having ever seen Santo swing a bat or field a grounder, I am a bit of a baseball buff, and it seemed to be a theme year-after-year around the time of each class of inductees, “Why didn’t Ron Santo get in?”
I even took that idea into my college COM 314 Presentations class, where my Persuasive Speech was themed as “You Should Write to a member of the Baseball Writer of America and Tell Them Santo Should Be in the Hall of Fame”. I did a ton of research for that speech (got a B!), and I came to the same conclusion as many others had. Santo should have been in sooner.
At the time of his retirement in 1973, Santo was arguably the among the five best third baseman to play the game, and many of the others played around the turn of the century. Think about that. At the time, baseball had been played for nearly a century. If you and five friends were to select “All Time” teams that included players dating back to the 1880s, Santo would likely be on one of those teams.
Baseball Reference tosses up some traditional stats in favor of Santo:
Santo hit over 20 home runs eleven times, and his career home run total (342) is one of the highest among players who were primarily third basemen. He was a nine-time All-Star, and a five-time Gold Glove winner. He finished in the top five in the MVP voting twice, led the league in walks four times, led the league in on-base percentage twice, and was in the top ten in slugging five times. He homered 42 times in his career off Hall of Fame pitchers.
And Mr. Advanced Stat himself, Bill James, slams it home:
“In the 1940s, many players were selected to the Hall of Fame who were nowhere near as good as Ron Santo, let alone nowhere as good as William Mays. Players who were nowhere near as good as Ron Santo were elected to the Hall of Fame in the 1950s, players who were nowhere near as good as Ron Santo were elected to the Hall of Fame in the 1960s, players who were nowhere near as good as Ron Santo were elected to the Hall of Fame in the 1970s (lots of them), players who were nowhere near as good as Ron Santo were elected to the Hall of Fame in the 1980s, and players who were nowhere near as good as Ron Santo were elected to the Hall of Fame in the 1990s.”
Even FanGraphs has Ron Santo listed with a higher career Wins Above Replacement (WAR) than Derek Jeter, Eddie Murray and Harmon Killebrew. I hate to bring this up, being a Cubs guy and all, but his WAR was higher than Ernie Banks.
If there is one aspect of the Baseball Hall of Fame is screwed up, its the induction process. All you have to do is Google “Baseball Hall of Fame Joke”, and you can read on why. The important question is, “Why the change in heart 32 years after he was first eligible for the Hall of Fame”?
In 2010, the Veterans Committee restructured its voting process and began voting players in specifically from different “eras” of the game. When this most recent vote came around, Santo earned 15 out of a possible 16 votes from “Golden Era” players, finally earning him a spot in the Hall.
In baseball, your legacy is largely determined on whether or not you were a Hall of Famer. Once you’re in, you’re in. You’re among the likes of Ruth, Gherig, Williams, and Wagner. Until then, you’re just not.
For contemporary Cubs fans, we already knew Santo's legacy of being an entertaining announcer, and we always would hear historians question why he’s not in the Hall of Fame. He didn’t need the special designation, though it was widely known he wanted it.
All that said, it is a shame he wasn’t alive to see it. I totally agree get that sentiment. But in 50or 100 years, he will ultimately be remembered as a Hall of Famer. Generations will go by that didn’t remember him as a player or an announcer, but will recognize him as a Hall of Famer. In this case, it really is better to be late than never.
Brett Fuller is the Managing Editor and Operations Manager for the LIFE network and specializes in social media engagement and content development. Visit Brett on Google Plus, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.