I listened with bittersweet emotion as I heard the news this morning that the Chicago Cubs great third baseman Ron Santo was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. While he obviously deserved it, he should have been elected years ago when he was alive and could have enjoyed it.
To be voted in posthumously was something he said he never wanted.
I remember throughout the years listening to the radio waiting to hear the voting and see if Ron finally made it in. He never did, and then the reporters would interview him and you could see the disappointment written all over his face.
He wasn't good at hiding it. Earlier in the process, he would have Chicago media at his house in Arizona waiting for the good news, but just like the disappointment he experienced with the Cubs—never winning a World Series—his individual experience was no better.
I'll never understand why he had to wait so long. He shouldn't have been punished because his team never played in a World Series, but it seemed like he was.
Brooks Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles, another great third baseman, was elected on the first ballot when he became eligible. Could it be because he had a series for the ages defensively where he earned the nickname, the "human vacuum cleaner?"
I won't say Santo was as good defensively as Robinson. but he did win the Gold Glove award five times. And as a hitter, there was no comparison. Santo finished his career with a .277 average, belted 342 homers and drove in 1,331 runs.
Baseball historian Bill James rated him the sixth-best third baseman of all time, yet at one time, he was actually off the ballot in his first 15 years of eligibility because he didn't garner even five percent of the writers vote.
Was it bias because his Cubs teams never won, or because three other players from a team that never won were already in the Hall? That will never be known.
What is known is what a disgrace it was when his fellow living Hall of Famers never gave him the required 75 percent of the votes to get him in.
Whether it was wanting to keep it exclusive and not let anyone in, or something personal against Santo, we'll never know. But I do know that Santo never received what he deserved during this process.
It took a new format of 16 voters to finally get him in. He needed 12 votes for election and received 15 from the Golden Era Committee, so justice was finally served, but it's a little too late for him to enjoy.
Robinson happened to be on that committee, and I'm sure he voted for him, because he always said it was an injustice that he was never voted in.
It's great for Ron Santo fans everywhere, and he had millions of them. Even those that never saw him play loved him from his broadcasts of Cubs games with Pat Hughes.
Santo was a far better ballplayer than an announcer, but his passion and love for the Cubs is what made him beloved by so many.
His family might be happy today knowing that he finally received what he deserved years ago, but for many Cubs fans, it's more of a sad day than a happy one.
My best friend is a die-hard Cub fan, and Santo was his favorite player. He called me as soon as he heard the news. I was just about to call him.
He wanted to be happy he was finally elected, but the melancholy sound of his voice gave away his true feelings. His wish was for Santo to be alive and to pick up the phone and hear the words, "Ron, good news for you, you have just been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame."
His legs were gone for many years from his diabetes, but I have a feeling he might have clicked his heels, just like he did back in 1969, clicking all the way to the clubhouse after the Cubs won a game.
Saturday was the one-year anniversary of his passing, and that's what makes this even harder to take.
Santo was like so many of the fans of the team he played for, trying to live long enough for that one moment of enjoyment they had waited their whole life for, but his time, like theirs, expired.
Here's hoping he got the news in the bleachers in the sky and can finally have peace knowing what his fans knew all along: that he was one of the best to ever play the game.
Now, everyone else knows it, too.
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