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December 5, 2011

BP Unfiltered

Overdue Justice: Cooperstown Finds Room for Santo

by Jay Jaffe

One of the creepier truths of the music industry is that death is a good career move. The attention surrounding the passing of an artist brings new attention to his or her body of work, offering not only a chance for critical reassessment but also commercial gain — at least for whomever is left behind to enjoy its benefits. Such a parallel may be the most charitable way to assess what happened to Ron Santo, who one year and two days after his passing, and 37 years after the end of his career was finally elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame via the Golden Era ballot, whose voting results were announced on Monday morning at the Winter Meetings in Dallas.

The nine-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glover and Cub icon was unjustly snubbed by the BBWAA, receiving just 3.9 percent of the vote when he debuted on the 1980 ballot; he was dropped for failing to reach the minimum five percent, but granted a second chance five years later when he was among a handful of candidates whose eligibility was restored by a review committee. He never came close to election via that route, topping out at 43.1 percent in 1998, his final year of eligibility. He had been the top vote-getter in various iterations of the Veterans Committee balloting in 2005, 2007 and 2009, receiving 60.9 percent of the vote the last time around, when the voting body consisted of all living Hall of Famers.

This time, Santo received 15 of 16 votes from a smaller committee of Hall of Famers (conspicuously including teammate Billy Williams this time around), executives and writers, one that bore more resemblance to the Veterans Committees prior to 2003. Twelve votes were needed to reach the requisite 75 percent; he was the only one of the 10 candidates to gain entry, with Jim Kaat receiving 10 votes, followed by Gil Hodges and Minnie Minoso each with nine, and Tony Oliva with eight. Of the other five candidates, worhty executives Buzzie Bavasi and Charlie Finley both received fewer than three votes, as did Luis Tiant, Allie Reynolds and Ken Boyer.

As with Bert Blyleven, my JAWS system has consistently recognized Santo as a top candidate for election since I first turned my attention to him, back in March 2005; at times he has ranked as the single best eligible hitter outside the Hall. In the most recent iteration, the system recognized him as the third baseman with the fourth-highest peak in history, behind only Mike Schmidt, George Brett, and Wade Boggs, a whisker ahead of Eddie Mathews. He falls a bit short of the position average in term of career WARP and JAWS score, but still ranks seventh among all third basemen. Considering that just 11 hot cornermen were in the Hall, the fewest of any offensive position, and that the JAWS standard is significantly higher there than at all but one other position, there's a good argument to be made that the standards need a bit of tweaking to correct for the smaller sample size; given the feedback I've received, I believe that I will go forward with the changes outlined last week when I turn my attention to the BBWAA ballot.

Nonetheless, that Santo is not around to enjoy the honor personally does make his election a bittersweet moment; who wouldn't have wanted to hear his acceptance speech? When combined with the snub of Minoso — who exceeds the peak standard in left field by a good margin and falls just short in career and JAWS despite losing prime years of his career to matters far beyond his control (first the color line, then an Indians team which stashed him in the minors for two seasons before his blazing 7.2-WARP rookie season at age 25) — the results prompted BP alum Christina Kahrl to quip, "This is an example of when the process works?"

Despite the tardiness of the result, the overdue justice should provide some amount of relief and closure to his family and friends, not to mention a Cubs fan base so inured to disappointment. This was clearly an honor that Santo wanted, to the point that some of his critics accused him of campaigning for the honor. I've gone into detail for the potential reasons behind his slight more than once among the links above, so I won't crowd this piece further except to say that anything not focused upon his dominance of his position over a span longer than a decade was a horse**** excuse for excluding him from Cooperstown. That he accomplished what he did while battling diabetes in a day before insulin pumps — to the point of hiding it, out of fear he would be forced to retire — only makes his accomplishments even more amazing.

As sad or even heartbreaking as it may be that Santo didn't live to hear the official news, he had to know in his heart that he was worthy of the honor, as all of us who have supported his candidacy have for so long. We all head the way of dust eventually, ballplayers and nonballplayers alike. Few of us are lucky enough to have a bronze plaque detailing our top accomplishments left behind for posterity in the museum of record, even posthumously. Ron Santo will get his bronze plaque in Cooperstown now, and for that we can be thankful. I look forward to hugging a Cubs fan or two as we raise a glass of strong beverage in his honor this evening at the Winter Meetings.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

Related Content:  The Artist,  Attention

26 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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flyingdutchman

The Hall is a complete joke, and, inadvertently or not, this is a slap in the face of fans and probably family of Ron Santo. What a bunch of idiots.

Dec 05, 2011 12:35 PM
rating: 0
 
flyingdutchman

Santo: "“I don’t want to go in post-humorously."

But you know what he means. Apparently he doesn't get to be in the special club, where members get the privilege of enjoying membership.

Dec 05, 2011 12:38 PM
rating: 0
 
Royalsfan

Finley is only worthy of the Hall of Shame for what he did to Kansas City.

Dec 05, 2011 13:09 PM
rating: 0
 
JoshT

Thank you. Ernie Banks may be "Mr. Cub" but Ron Santo was "Mr. Cub Fan." Santo's disappointment mirrored our own disappointment. But he was always a lesson to Cub fans: No matter what life throws at you, you just have to keep going.

Even if he wasn't beloved with an incredible life story, his election was well-deserved on the numbers alone. But all the other stuff: from the diabetes and its complications, to the funny stuff like his toup catching on fire, and to the stuff where he gave voice to every Cub fan's heart when he moaned "NOOOOOOOOO!" at Brant Brown; well, that just makes it all the more bittersweet.

Dec 05, 2011 13:16 PM
rating: 2
 
rrvwmr

I am frustrated in not knowing of any better forum to voice my thoughts regarding today's events but take solace knowing that the people that read this are among the few that actually care about baseball.

I would like to call on the Cubs and the Santo family to officially disavow the HOF and refuse to accept this award. Ron Santo is too good for any group that would refuse to accept him amongst its ranks while he was still alive.

Admitting him today to the HOF is tantamount to spitting on his grave. Santo is the man to whom this honor would have meant more than it ever has or ever will to anyone else. Depriving him of that thrill of being accepted deprived not only him but all of us a special moment. It was selfish and beyond forgiveness.

I pray that none of the 15 people that voted for him this time around neglected to vote for him the last time he was eligible. If so, I call for them to be exposed and if by any chance current members of the HOF to be expelled immediately.

13 years ago I made my first and only trip to Cooperstown. It was awesome, my dad and I had plans to go back together for Santo's induction, now I am leaning much closer to refusing to go back for the rest of my life.

Dec 05, 2011 13:39 PM
rating: 1
 
BillJohnson

Cut. Off. Nose. Spite. Face.

Dec 05, 2011 15:12 PM
rating: 2
 
flyingdutchman

Clever! How. Pithy. Of. You. Bill.

Since Santo, who so dearly desired (and richly deserved) to be inducted, is now dead, I assume you're referring to the family, Bill. So they are to unquestioningly reap whatever gains there may be from this, without their departed father's/husband's wishes to be respected? What for, out of respect for the institution?

The institution doesn't even respect itself enough to get its business straight, after all of these years, after decades of leaving the "analysis" to various groups of ignorant (many willfully so), lazy writers, ex-players and other unfit quasi-dignitaries. Other than to go about their business without calling all kinds of unwanted attention to themselves, why should anyone having to do with Ron Santo do ANYTHING out of respect for the Hall of Fame? The Hall of Fame does not deserve Ron Santo.

The institution is a joke, and it's been a joke for a long time. I'm glad that something like this might have a chance to call attention to it. I personally don't care about it and would never give it my money, but the fact remains that it means a lot to a lot of ballplayers, and it meant a lot to Santo. Perhaps this is a sign that that ought to change.

Dec 05, 2011 15:51 PM
rating: 0
 
frampton
(870)

I guess I don't understand how *fixing* the years-long failure to induct Santo is somehow a slap in the face. Yes, he deserved to get in, and now he's in. It would have been better if he'd lived to see it, sure. I think that it's a good thing that baseball's hall is more selective than other sports' halls, and I think BP and others have done a lot to help get guys like Santo and Blyleven in. It is an honor to be inducted, and I'm with Bill that the attitude that "the Hall of Fame doesn't deserve Ron Santo" and so the family should make some kind of statement is misguided. Let's celebrate the career and life of Ron Santo next summer.

Dec 05, 2011 18:49 PM
rating: 5
 
Richard Bergstrom

I look at the whole issue differently. I'm a Cubs fan, born in '76, and been a Cubs fan all my life... which means all I really know of Santo is his "baseball card stats" and all I've ever seen of him is not from watching him on TV playing, but watching him as a broadcaster during his infrequent appearances on WGN. Sure, I know he was a big Cub fan and I always rooted for him to be in the HOF, but I'm not as connected to him as, say, Ryne Sandberg or Andre Dawson. So to me, I think he needs to be in the Hall of Fame just so people, whether they're future generations of Cubs fans or future generations of baseball fans in general get some more exposure to him. I don't think boycotting the Hall of Fame does his story or the Chicago Cubs any good either.

Dec 05, 2011 19:21 PM
rating: 0
 
BillJohnson

I second that last sentence, RB. All it does is make Cubs fans look vindictive and petty.

As for whether "some sort of collusive vendetta" is required to explain how long it took to get Santo into the Hall, this claim is silly. All it takes is disagreement as to whether a hitter who derives much of his WARP value from walks, particularly one batting cleanup for mediocre teams as he did for the first half of his career, is really contributing as much by doing so as the raw stat would imply. The modern position is that a walk is a walk, that a batter is helping his team by drawing walks, and a high walk rate as part of WARP, TAv, etc., is a good thing regardless of where one bats in the lineup. This assertion is not carved in stone, and to this day there are knowledgeable baseball people who deny that it is so. Those people would look at Santo's enormous walk totals and see a guy whose value was not as great as it is now perceived to be. Are they wrong? Possibly, maybe probably. But a "collusive vendetta" is certainly not required to have this view.

Dec 05, 2011 19:49 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

One thing I'll say.. Cubs fans have gotten extremely vindictive and petty over the last decade. Re: "Fire Quade and Hire Sandberg" as one of many examples.

Dec 06, 2011 10:01 AM
rating: 0
 
rrvwmr

The HOF is more selective and that is good but that doesn't explain Santo's exclusion up until today. I am not sure what was going on but there was clearly some sort of collusive vendetta amongst the people voting over the last decade.

Sites like this are great for pointing out the merits of certain players and many times arguments that are beyond compelling have been made on Santo's behalf on this very site.

The whole production is all too convenient, the HOF is trying to right a wrong here and if everyone goes along with it they can put it to bed and feel better about themselves feeling like they have made the necessary amends. The only problem is that the travesty in this situation isn't that Santo wasn't in the HOF, its that he was prevented from enjoying his moment, a moment that he wanted so dearly and would have appreciated so deeply. This a wrong that can never be rectified and it should be made clear to the HOF that making some clerical correction to it's books, which is all this amounts to, doesn't absolve them of the crime they committed in shamefully excluding him all these years.

His election today is a joke and a sham and should be treated as such. They should put a plaque of him up at wrigley, a place where he was actually appreciated.

Dec 05, 2011 19:33 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

They already retired his number at Wrigley and built a statue. Does he need a plaque too?

Dec 05, 2011 19:37 PM
rating: 1
 
frampton
(870)

"Collusive vendetta"? Really? Look, I have been persuaded that he's worthy, but I followed baseball during his prime (I was born in 1954), and as a non-Cubs fan, I always thought of him as a very good, but not great, player. It's been a slow process that mainstream baseball writers understand the value of walks or the nuances of context in the pitcher-dominant 60s. In short, it was ignorance, not a vendetta. (Or do you think there was some reason writers didn't like Santo? My impression was always that he was a well-respected player, though as I say, I grew up on the west coast so wasn't really aware of the way he was regarded in the rest of the country.)

Again, it's a shame that Santo didn't live to see himself get inducted. But really, it's not a crime. It's an injustice, that is belatedly being rectified. But at least it is being rectified.

Dec 05, 2011 19:57 PM
rating: 1
 
rrvwmr

"Collusive Vendetta" is the terminology i am using for what Jay touched on a mere two weeks ago in anticipation of this vote. It is also kind of the prevailing narrative around here as far as i can tell and it is basically that Santo wasn't thought of very highly amongst his peers and that they were never going to vote him in as long he was alive. The last 10 years he has been at the mercy of the veterans committee the vast majority of which was made up of HOF players.

Clearly I feel he is deserving but that's fine if someone doesn't, that argument can certainly be made.

If he wasn't deserving two years ago is he more deserving now? As I said earlier this all just far too convenient for me to take it with a smile. I find it offensive and spiteful that only now he is gone are they able to find the wherewithal to get him in and no, I don't feel like an injustice is being rectified because the true injustice here was never his exclusion but rested in depriving him of reveling in this honor and us of being able to celebrate it with him.

His acceptance speech might have been borderline unintelligible and perhaps a bit hard to follow and it still would have blown the doors off of any induction speech in history. The raw emotion would have been palpable in a way that only Santo could convey, as those that have listened to him over the years can attest. That speech would have been epic. That's what he was hoping for and that is what I was looking forward to. That can't happen now, that is the injustice and that is not being rectified, it can't be.

Pat Hughes said something yesterday or today that he doesn't see any point in being angry about it. He knew Ronnie close to as well as anyone so I guess I have no choice to defer to him on that one. So I will, begrudgingly and as such stop railing away on this message board.


Dec 06, 2011 10:44 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Ideally, I'd like to think it was a conspiracy because, gosh knows, I like conspiracies. On the other hand, seeing some of the questionable votes by members of the BBWAA on things like the Hall of Fame and MVP/Cy Young awards, the crazy Gold Glove voting which is also done by the players, etc. then I have to come to one of two conclusions... either #1 Santo really p'd a lot of people off or, #2 (and more likely), the voters just didn't know better and really didn't know anything about Santo or how to properly evaluate him... Eddie Murray, Jim Rice, Rickey Henderson etc are all players who had surly attitudes yet somehow got in and unless it had to do with steroids, the HOF voting process has never really been known as the moral police.

Besides, it's not quite apples to apples since there's an entirely different group of voters this year that voted for Santo than in previous "Veterans Committee" years.

Dec 06, 2011 17:00 PM
rating: 0
 
flyingdutchman

#2, Richard. I agree, no point in being mad at a different set of voters, but why not raise a middle finger to the institution of the HOF, which hasn't had enough common sense or integrity to take an honest look at itself, and to figure out how to fix the stupidity and rank cronyism that has plagued it since damn near day one?

The institution is a joke, and no one should care one lick about it. It pissed away the right to take itself seriously a long time ago. I would have suggested as much before Ron Santo's grave was spat on, but this pretty much clinches it.

Dec 07, 2011 08:38 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

As an institution commemorizing baseball, the HOF is better than other organizations that do so.

Hence, I don't extend my middle finger.

Personally, I wish Santo was elected when he was alive, but on my list of HOF gripes, I think that's not as great a travesty as Buck O'Neill. There are also a lot of baseball lifers that could be in like Don Zimmer, etc.

Dec 07, 2011 14:53 PM
rating: 0
 
flyingdutchman

And I ask you, what difference does it make that the travesty is as great as or less great than the non-election of Buck O'Neil? I agree that Buck should be in, and anytime you want to complain about it, I'm all ears. Santo waited and waited, becoming no less electable the whole time, and then they put him in when he died. I don't understand how that isn't a really, really legitimate gripe. It's a bunch of crap is what it is. And I'm a Tigers fan, by the way.

Please do not open up the flood of names here, because that isn't what this is about. C'mon, do you really think we can make a completely convincing, unequivocal case for Don Zimmer? I mean, go ahead and try, but this is different. The Santo case is cut and dried, and he was denied entry due to voter ignorance and institutional laziness. Period. Do you disagree?

So the HOF is better than any currently existing organizations. So that means we shouldn't criticize it when it pulls something like this? Is that what you're saying?

It's a travesty what happened to Santo. You had your chance to bring this up when Buck O'Neil's (that's O'Neil with one "L" - not a travesty to misspell it, but still) death was in the news, and I'm going to guess you didn't on the grounds that "the HOF is better than other organizations that [commemorate players/contributors]". I would have been right behind you, Richard.

You know, Buck said not to cry for him, so maybe we shouldn't. Maybe we should, I don't know, but Santo never said such a thing. Santo said he didn't want to go in "post-humorously", so he shouldn't. The family should see to it, and the people should be right behind him. Let the Hall of Fame pay for it's intransigence by not having one of the best 3rd baseman of all time grace its hallowed halls.

Dec 08, 2011 15:23 PM
rating: 0
 
flyingdutchman

I don't see why anyone should defer to Hughes on this. Hughes has to take what is perceived to be the high road. If only the "high road" was measured in intellectual honesty and intellectual curiosity...

Pat Hughes knew Ron Santo well, and I guarantee you that this rubs Hughes the wrong way. It has to.

Dec 07, 2011 08:32 AM
rating: 0
 
flyingdutchman

Clever! How. Pithy. Of. You. Bill.

Since Santo, who so dearly desired (and richly deserved) to be inducted, is now dead, I assume you're referring to the family, Bill. So they are to unquestioningly reap whatever gains there may be from this, without their departed father's/husband's wishes to be respected? What for, out of respect for the institution?

The institution doesn't even respect itself enough to get its business straight, after all of these years, after decades of leaving the "analysis" to various groups of ignorant (many willfully so), lazy writers, ex-players and other unfit quasi-dignitaries. Other than to go about their business without calling all kinds of unwanted attention to themselves, why should anyone having to do with Ron Santo do ANYTHING out of respect for the Hall of Fame? The Hall of Fame does not deserve Ron Santo.

The institution is a joke, and it's been a joke for a long time. I'm glad that something like this might have a chance to call attention to it. I personally don't care about it and would never give it my money, but the fact remains that it means a lot to a lot of ballplayers, and it meant a lot to Santo. Perhaps this is a sign that that ought to change.

Dec 05, 2011 15:50 PM
rating: -1
 
flyingdutchman

Apologies for the multiple post...didn't click the right button the first time...

Dec 05, 2011 16:01 PM
rating: -1
 
JohnnyB

Jim Kaat with 10 votes. Any thoughts on this?

Dec 06, 2011 04:04 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

I was surprised, to be honest, that Kaat fared as well as he did. I do think his ability to stick around for 25 years and win 283 games, while impressive, is a bit overrated due to the absence of a high peak.

But that's why I built JAWS the way I did - it is abundantly clear from the de facto Hall of Fame standards that the notion of peak is a critical one in the minds of voters. It explains the Greenbergs and Kiners and Koufaxes and Pucketts, not to mention a lot of the 1920s and 1930s guys whose stats are inflated by the era and who didn't stick around long. Not all of those decisions look great in light of JAWS, but one can at least understand why they were made.

Dec 06, 2011 09:54 AM
 
JohnnyB

So is Kaat going in next time around? I personally would like to see it. I've never been a peak guy. I think you win 283 games in the majors, you should have a seat in the Hall

Dec 07, 2011 04:04 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

The one decision that slays me is the lack of support for Buzzie Bavasi. I can understand the perception that the Dodgers teams of the Fifties still bore the imprint of Branch Rickey, particularly thanks to his bold decision to integrate, but he was forced out in 1950, and the team's dominance was just beginning. The Dodgers had won pennants in 1947 and 1949 with him in charge, and they would go on to win again in 1952, 1953, 1955 and 1956 under Bavasi, before leaving Brooklyn, and then again in 1959, 1963, 1965 and 1966 with the Boys of Summer in the twilights of their careers or gone - the team was completely rebuilt.
Detractors have always slighted Walter Alston's managerial acumen, a charge i don't agree with; as I wrote in It Ain't Over, his 1959 victory with a transitional team was almost LaRussian in terms of the way he juggled pitchers and used an early hook well. It has been suggested that the team should have won more, but much of that refers to the second half of his career (one pennant from 1967-1976). To me, there's still a good bit of credit unaccounted for beyond Alston and O'Malley and it rightfully belongs to Bavasi.

Dec 06, 2011 10:09 AM
 
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