Bears Hall Of Famer
Why Ron Santo Should Be in the Hall
http://bats.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/11/why-ron-santo-should-be-in-the-hall/Ron Santo, the best third baseman of his era and among the 10 best ever, belongs in the Hall of Fame. It’s that simple.
For the last decade, third base has been one of baseball’s glamour positions: Chipper Jones, Alex Rodriguez, David Wright, Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman, Scott Rolen, Adrian Beltre all bring an impressive mix of hitting and fielding tools. But that kind of depth at the hot corner is rare. The 1980s had Mike Schmidt, George Brett and Wade Boggs, but in most eras it is obvious who the best third sacker in the game is.
For a decade beginning in 1963, the obvious choice was Ron Santo.
Eddie Mathews was aging and Harmon Killebrew and Dick Allen didn’t play that much third base, even when they were stationed (or stationary) there. Brooks Robinson was the greatest fielding third baseman ever, but Santo was a five-time Gold Glover in his own right and a definitively superior hitter. (Ken Boyer was very good but behind Santo as a hitter and Robinson as a fielder.)
Robinson hit at least 25 homers just once, drove in more than 90 runs four times, scored at least 90 once, batted .300 twice, had an on-base percentage over .350 just once and a slugging percentage over .450 just two times. Sure, it was an era dominated by pitching, and offensive numbers plummeted. Santo was probably reminded of the trend every time his Cubs faced Sandy Koufax or Bob Gibson. Yet he produced at remarkable levels, given the era. At least 25 homers? Santo did it eight straight years, surpassing 30 four straight times, and driving in 94 to 123 runs in each of those seasons. He also scored 90 runs or more five times, in part because he could hit, surpassing .300 four times, but also because of his impressive plate discipline — his O.B.P. was above .375 six times.
While Robinson was rarely among the league leaders in offensive categories, Santo had seven straight years ranked in the top 10 in home runs and R.B.I. In that span, he was in the top 10 in on-base percentage six times, finishing first twice. (He led the league in walks four times and was second once in a five-year span.) And, again, he was an elite fielder —in the modern sabermetric of Total Zone Runs, he (retroactively) ranked first three times and was in the top five seven times.
This is to take nothing away from Robinson, whose first-ballot entry to the Hall raised no eyebrows. But it underscores how underrated Santo has been.
The Hall has far too few third basemen. But even if there were players lined up out the door, Santo has earned his place. After Schmidt, common wisdom holds that — in varying order depending on the debater — the best ever have been Brett, Boggs, Mathews, Robinson, Frank “Home Run” Baker and Chipper Jones. (Alex Rodriguez had too many of his best years as a shortstop, and the other 21st-century stars are too young to judge yet.) While it’s impossible to compare Sant with Negro League stars like Ray Dandridge, Judy Johnson and Jud Wilson, Santo ranks as high as, if not higher than, the other Hall third basemen: Pie Traynor, George Kell, Freddie Lindstrom, and Jimmy Collins.
In other words, Santo ranks anywhere from 8th to 10th in baseball history at third base. At first base, the equivalent might be Willie McCovey or Eddie Murray, at second base maybe it’s Frankie Frisch, at catcher it might be Gary Carter. In other words, the 8th-, 9th- or the 10th-best player of all time at any position has always gotten into the Hall without having to wait for the Veterans Committee.
It’s too bad that the baseball writers and the Veterans Committee couldn’t figure out Santo’s worth before his death last year. Still, righting the wrong now would give his family and long-suffering Cub fans a reason to click their heels in celebration.