A Year Later, A Wrong is Made Right
Ron Santo is finally a Hall of Fame member. Today, the Veteran's Committee elected Santo (with 15 out of a possible 16 votes in favor), and the longtime Cubs third baseman ended up where he belongs.
This is a mistake that has been ongoing since Santo was first eligible. His production on the field cemented his case as one of baseball's immortals, and his contributions off the field made his induction a foregone conclusion for everyone except the Hall of Fame voters.
While the Veteran's Committee has finally given Santo his due, it was done posthumously, which makes it seem like a sympathy vote, rather than a bona fide selection. Sometimes it takes a death for some to see the truth, and while it's two decades too late, it was the right decision.
It should not take someone's passing to bring up the discussion over an athlete's Hall of Fame resume.
That's what Ron Santo encountered, and it should be likened to what musicians encounter after their death. While Santo's election should've happened years ago, his death finally made voters realize that they had committed an egregious oversight and fixed it when they could.
Ron Santo also has another group to thank, besides guilty-conscience voters: sabermetricians.
Had Ron Santo been born at a later date, he would've been voted in immediately after the grace period ended for election to the Hall of Fame. If Santo had been able to give his induction speech, he would most certainly thank sabermetricians for getting him in.
Putting aside the fact that Santo had nine All-Star appearances and five Gold Gloves, his advanced statistics are astounding when compared to current players.
Ron Santo's career WAR was 66.4, good enough for 105th all time. Judging him solely offensively, his WAR was 69th all time. Santo is 107th in career total bases, and in 1967 had a defensive WAR of 2.0.
With 235 (including Santo) players in the Hall of Fame, why did it take so long for a player in the top half of advanced statistics to get in?
Ron Santo was a delight to listen to as the Chicago Cubs radio man, a position he took in 1990. Voters took into account his passion for Cubs baseball, which sometimes included groans on air about what was transpiring during that day's game.
As the "single biggest Cubs fan of all time," Santo deserved induction long before his broadcasting career ended in 2010, shortly before his death. He embodied the essence of Chicago Cubs baseball, and made games, win or lose, enjoyable.
Ron Santo struggled with Type 1 Diabetes up until his passing in 2010. He didn't reveal his condition publicly until 1971. In 1974, Santo began his relationship with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Santo raised nearly $60 million for JDRF from 1974 until his passing, and was named the JDRF "Person of the Year" in 2002. While his accomplishments on the field were stellar, his support of this movement off the field is another reason he finally received his due from the voters.
Now Maddux is the Only Retired Number Not in the Hall
Since the Cubs started as charter members of the National League in 1876, only six numbers have been retired: Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Greg Maddux, Billy Williams, Ryne Sandberg and Fergie Jenkins. Maddux is the only one not in the Hall of Fame because he retired in 2008 and is not eligible.
That's the biggest issue that most will have with Santo's long overdue election; if the Chicago Cubs, one of baseball's oldest franchises, deemed Santo to be so important to their history as to retire his number, why did the voters think otherwise?
Ron Santo was the Chicago Cubs. July 2012 will be a joyous yet somber time for those who trumpeted Santo's election. It's been overdue, and unfortunately took his death to convince those with the power to elect him to baseball's highest honor.