Hometown bias aside, Ron Santo’s exclusion from the National Baseball Hall of Fame is one of the biggest absurdities in the sport. Playing in what was largely a pitcher’s era, Santo posted above-average numbers for a decade, with Gold-Glove defense to-boot, so why does Ron Santo’s bust not grace the hallowed Hall of Fame?
Ron Santo certainly has hall-worthy numbers; he ranks second among Chicago Cub position players in career Wins Above Replacement with 80, second to Cap Anson (81) and 17 WAR more than Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg. From 1963-1972 he averaged 6.3 WAR, including a peak from 1964 to 1967 when averaged 8.5 WAR per season.
Never-mind that he ranks eighth on the all-time third basemen list, Santo held a career during what was considered the Golden Age of third basemen. Perhaps overshadowed by legends Brooks Robinson, Eddie Mathews, and Harmon Killebrew, Santo was a consistent superstar on Cubs teams that sported stars and scrubs teams for much of his career, which led to lackluster team performances year in and year out.
Cubbie teams in the late sixties featured mainstays such as Randy Hundley, Billy WIlliams, Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, and of course, Ron Santo. You would figure such a team led by those players would provide several division titles, but to say their supporting cast was poor would be a complement.
The Cubs never once made the playoffs in Ron Santo’s career.
Surely, this has had some weight as to how Santo’s career has been viewed. Santo’s Hall of Fame support has picked up steam with the rise of sabermetrics, but old-school writers look at awards and base-line counting statistics (career hits, RBI, home runs), which could ultimately be the reason Santo hasn’t been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Santo doesn’t have great baseball card statistics (2254 hits, 342 HR, .277 AVG), but there is reason to believe that if he could have had a shiny MVP award on his resume, he would certainly be already in the Hall.
That award should have been doled out to Santo in 1967. The perfect storm of a World Series-winning St. Louis Cardinals team and the Cubs’ year-to-year futility resulted in significant voters bias to vote on the “winning” St. Louis players such as Orlando Cepeda (7.6 WAR) and Tim McCarver (6.6 WAR) over Santo, who posted 10.2 WAR that year.
Ron Santo’s 1967 season was only second to Hall of Fame Red Sox left fielder Carl Yastrzemski in total WAR, and nearly two full wins more than Pittsburgh Pirate Hall of Fame right fielder Roberto Clemente.
Santo was never again able to post a season such as 1967, however he put up several above-average seasons into his early 30‘s. Santo was eventually traded to the White Sox, where he posted a -0.9 WAR as a designated hitter, and retired at the age of 34, essentially ruining his legacy, and putting a sour taste in Hall voters.
A casualty of diabetes, Ron Santo lost his life this past December.
If Santo had claimed that MVP award in 1967, he surely would have made his way into the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, winning as a team has a great deal of weight in Hall of Fame voting.
Finally, I’ll leave you with a nifty little graph comparing Santo with one of the game’s “greatest winners,” and a Hall of Fame lock.
Rest in peace Ronny.