The Hall of Fame Case for Ron Santo (Part 2 of 3)
On Monday December 8th, the Baseball
Hall of Fame will announce
the voting results of the Veterans Committee.
In a three part series, guest columnist and reader, “Dying Cub Fan”
takes a look at the candidacy of former Cubs third basemen, Ron
Santo. We ran this piece two years ago, but it's lost in Internet limbo
and well, Santo deserves it, so we're running it again. Plus, the voting process has changed this year, as there are only 10 players for the committee to consider, so here's hoping this is the year. You can join the revolution on Facebook as well.
In 1964, third
basemen won the MVP award in both the American League and the
National League. Brooks
Robinson won in the AL, playing for an Oriole team
that won 97 games and finished third, and Ken
Boyer won in the NL, playing for the Cardinals, who
won 93 games and the pennant. The Cubs won 76 games and finished
8th. Santo had a better year than either Robinson or Boyer and
finished 8th in MVP balloting. 6
Santo had more
home runs, a higher on-base percentage and a higher slugging
percentage than either Robinson or Boyer. Santo won the Gold Glove
over Boyer, who had won it the previous five years. Playing for
teams that scored significantly more runs and had higher team on-base
percentages than the Cubs, both Robinson and Boyer had more RBI than
Santo; Robinson led the AL in RBI and Boyer led the NL (Santo
It is widely
acknowledged that the MVP award does not always go the best player in
the league, but it tends to go to players on teams that either win
the pennant or come close. While there have been exceptions, very
good players on mediocre or bad teams tend not to do as well in MVP
voting as similar players on good teams. In the 1960s, no MVP winner
in either league played for a team that won fewer than 90 games.7
The Cubs won 90 games or more once in that entire decade, in 1969
(with 92 wins).
finished in the top ten in MVP voting seven times in his career.
Santo finished in the top ten four times. Some of this disparity can
probably attributed to the fact that Santo’s teams were, by and
large, much worse than Robinson’s. For example, both the Orioles
and Cardinals were significantly better in 1964 than the Cubs were,
at nearly every position one examines other than third base. The
Orioles, aside from Brooks
Robinson, had two other Hall of Famers in Luis
Aparicio and Robin
Roberts, as well as a wealth of very good young
players, including pitchers Milt
Bunker and Dave
Powell, at 22, was probably the best offensive player
that the Orioles had; despite playing only 134 games, he had 39
homers, 99 rbi and an OPS+ of 176. The Cardinals, aside from Boyer,
Brock and Bob
Gibson, both Hall of Famers, and also had Ray
McCarver and Dick
Groat. The Cubs had Santo, Billy
Williams and Ernie
Banks, although Banks was no longer a great player in
1964 (Banks’ OPS+ that year was actually below that of Norm
Siebern, the Orioles’ first baseman). Larry
Jackson did win 23 games for the Cubs that year,
although as a whole the Orioles’ and Cardinals’ pitching was much
better than the Cubs’. Both Boyer and Robinson were fine players,
and I don’t mean to suggest that they were undeserving of their MVP
awards. However, Santo was better than they were in 1964.
1964 was by far
Robinson’s best year. He never came close to being as productive
at the plate again. Santo, on the other hand, followed his 1964
season with three consecutive seasons that were nearly as good as his
1964 season, having OPS+ years of 146 in 1965, 161 in 1966 and 153 in
1967. Robinson never had another year where his OPS+ exceeded 125.
Aside from 1964 and the three seasons cited above, Santo had an OPS+
greater than 125 in 1963, 1968, 1969 and 1972.
Santo was a
significantly better batter than Robinson. He had far more power,
walked a lot more and had a higher career batting average. Santo’s
peak offensive value was considerably higher than Robinson’s, and
Santo’s peak was longer and more sustained. Santo hit far more
home runs in 15 seasons (342) than Robinson did in 23 (268). Santo
could also be counted on to drive in more runs in a given season, to
hit for a higher batting average, to walk far more often and to score
statistics support the conclusion that Robinson was better than
Santo.8 Robinson committed fewer errors and was involved
in many more double plays. Although their career range factors are
quite similar, Robinson had more years with high range factors than
Santo (although Santo’s peak years in terms of range factor, 3.56
in 1966 and 3.60 in 1967, exceeded Robinson’s highs of 3.49 in 1967
and 3.43 in 1974 by a wide margin). Robinson won 16 Gold Gloves;
Santo won five. However, Gold Glove voting is probably not a
definitive measure of fielding prowess; in all probability it is less
reliable than MVP voting for making definitive assessments about a
player’s worth. Many players have won more than one Gold Glove9,
and there seems to have been a tendency for voters to award them
based on past reputation. While I don’t doubt that Robinson was an
excellent defensive third baseman late into his career, I have some
trouble believing he deserved at least the Gold Gloves he won in the
1970s, when younger players such as Don Money, Graig Nettles and
Aurelio Rodriguez could not pry the award out of his hands until the
Orioles finally realized that his bat precluded him from continuing
as a regular following the 1975 season.10 However,
Robinson was generally regarded as perhaps the best defensive third
baseman of all time.
Robinson was a
better defensive third baseman than Santo, and was perhaps the best
of all time defensively. However, I have trouble seeing how
Robinson’s defensive superiority can offset Santo’s clear and
substantial advantages on the offensive side, particularly in light
of the fact that Santo was a very good defensive third baseman.11
two players who played second base in the Hall of Fame: Bill
Mazeroski (career OPS+ of 84) and Nellie
Fox (career OPS+ of 94). Mazeroski won 8 gold gloves;
Fox won 3. Fox led the league in hits 4 times, led the league in
triples once and won an MVP award; Mazeroski never won an MVP and
never led the league in any offensive category, other than one year
when he led the league in intentional walks. Fox scored 100 runs or
better 4 times and finished in the top ten in the league in runs
scored seven times; Mazeroski never scored more than 71 runs in a
season and never finished in the top ten. Mazeroski’s career OBP
was .299; Fox’s was .348. Mazeroski is regarded as perhaps the
finest double play man of all time, but can anyone make a reasonable
argument that he was a better player than Fox? Both were relatively
light hitters (Fox hit .288 lifetime, Mazeroski hit .260 and their
career slugging percentages are quite close, even though Mazeroski
hit 100 more home runs), although Fox was clearly a more productive
example from players who played shortstop: Cal
Ripken had a career OPS+ of 112 while Ozzie
Smith had a career OPS+ of 87. Ozzie Smith clearly
had much more range than Ripken and is generally acclaimed as one of
the best defensive shortstops ever (winning thirteen Gold Gloves), a
claim never made about Ripken (although he did win two Gold Gloves).
Which one was the better player? How much does Smith’s defensive
superiority offset Ripken’s clear offensive superiority? I would
think that most major league managers and GMs, if they had to choose,
would take Ripken over Smith and Fox over Mazeroski without losing
too much sleep over it, preferring a good defender with good
offensive value over a superlative defender with marginal offensive
value. Santo’s career OPS+ was 125, Robinson’s 104. Do
Robinson’s defensive advantages outweigh Santo’s offensive
advantages? For me, I don’t see how they can; the offensive
deficit is too large. Even factoring in his 1964 MVP year, Robinson
was a fair offensive player (and, at times, actually a below-average
one), a .270 hitter with some power who did not walk often. Santo was
considerably better at the plate. I don’t see the defense making
up the difference.
teams did far better than Santo’s, winning five division titles,
four pennants (including one in 1966, before there was a division
split) and two World Series. All told, Robinson played in 9
postseason series. Robinson was World Series MVP in 1970; in that
series, he made several legendary defensive plays. There is no
question that this should be given some weight, and should factor in
Robinson’s favor. The question is, how much? Brooks Robinson was
unquestionably an integral part of the Orioles’ success. However,
the Orioles did not win a pennant until they acquired Frank
Robinson in 1966, and did not win another during
Brooks’ career after they traded Frank away after the 1971 season.
The Orioles in the late 60s and early 70s won for a lot of reasons:
great pitching (they led the league in team ERA in 1969, 1970 and
1971), great offense (they had team OPS+ numbers of 122 in 1966, 119
in 1969, 114 in 1970 and 122 in 1971 and led the league in runs
scored in each of those years except 1969, when they finished
second), great defense and great managing. Brooks Robinson’s OPS+
numbers in the four years Baltimore won the pennant (1966, 1969, 1970
and 1971) were below the Orioles’ team OPS+ numbers in each year
except 1966, when his OPS+ was 124 and the team’s was 122. In 1969
he batted .234 with an OPS+ of 92. At least three or four Oriole
players in each of those years were more valuable offensively than
Brooks Robinson. Aside from Frank Robinson, those Oriole teams had
superb leadoff hitters in Curt
Blefary and Don
Buford and significant power from Boog
Blair and Davey
Johnson also contributed more offensively than Brooks
There are a lot
of players who played on pennant winners and World Series champions
who are not in the Hall of Fame. Although playing on a winner should
be given some weight, the fact that someone played on a winner is not
sufficient, in and of itself, to put someone in the Hall of Fame.
For example, there were many fine players on the 1950s Yankees, such
McDougald, who are not in and should not be in.
Similarly, performance in a World Series or playoff series should be
given some weight, but no one will put Joe
Agee or Graig
Nettles in the Hall of Fame simply because of
outstanding defensive play in a World Series. I would agree that in
an otherwise marginal case, factors such as play for a pennant winner
or post-season performance can make a difference in determining
whether someone should make the Hall of Fame, but I don’t think
either Robinson or Santo is an otherwise marginal case. Santo never
played for a division winner or pennant winner, but, again, how much
of that is his fault? As for giving Robinson an “edge” over
Santo, I don’t see how a great performance in one World Series can
tip the scales in Robinson’s favor when Santo’s entire career was
better. If you give credit for Robinson hitting .429 in the 1970
World Series, shouldn’t you also take away credit for his hitting
.053 in the 1969 World Series, which the Orioles lost? How much
credit do you give to Robinson based on the fact he played on a great
team? While the Cubs had improved from 1964 and were competitive in
the late ’60s and early ’70s, the Orioles were markedly better
than the Cubs at that time (the Orioles averaged 106 wins a year from
1969 through 1971). I do not see Robinson’s presence on these
teams making up the difference that Santo’s offensive numbers give
None of this is
meant in disrespect of Brooks Robinson. Bill James in 2001 ranked him
as the 91st best player of all time, and he is deservedly in the Hall
of Fame. However, Santo was a better player.
In his 1994 book
on the Hall of Fame, Bill James pointed out that throughout baseball
history, Hall of Famers have accounted for approximately 10% of all
at bats. He demonstrated that this was true not only when examining
baseball history as a whole, but also when examining individual years
and decades, with the notable exception being the period from
1925-35, with the percentage of Hall of Fame at bats being over 20%
in each year during that period except one and being as high as 24%
in 1929. James argues from these numbers that the players in those
years are “disproportionately represented in the Hall of Fame,
overrepresented by about 100 percent. There are about twice as many
players from that generation in the Hall of Fame as there are from
any other.”12 Part of this is probably due to the
unusually high batting statistics from that era. However, as
discussed briefly above, many of those numbers were not that
remarkable in the context in which they occurred. Lindstrom
neither of whom was an elite offensive player when compared to his
contemporaries, are from that era. Traynor was elected by the BBWAA
in 1948. Lindstrom was selected by the Veteran’s Committee during
the 1970s, and has proved to be a highly controversial choice, one
that bas been cited as evidence of incompetence and cronyism by the
Veteran’s Committee during those years.13 As was shown
above, neither Lindstrom or Traynor stood out amongst their
contemporaries the way Santo did.
under which Lindstrom and Traynor played were very different from
those in place during Santo’s career. First, the level of play was
more competitive in 1968 than it was in 1930. For one thing, in
1930, major league baseball was still whites only; in the 60s there
were many very talented African-American and Latin ballplayers in the
National League. Also, many of the hitting-friendly ballparks in
existence in 1930, such as Ebbets Field, the Baker Bowl in
Philadelphia and Sportsman’s Park, were no longer in the National
League, replaced by parks that were much more favorable to pitchers,
such as Dodger Stadium, the Astrodome, Candlestick Park and Busch
Stadium, with deeper fences and more foul territory. Gloves were
better in the 1960s. Night baseball did not exist in 1930. Relief
pitchers were not used as effectively in 1930 as they came to be used
later. As described above, the mid- to late-sixties also featured an
enlarged strike zone and elevated mounds. Lindstrom and Traynor did
not compete in the environment Santo did; in their era, hits and runs
were far more plentiful and worth less. The inflated batting
statistics of that era, and their superficial appeal, have led to
overrepresentation of players from that era in the Hall of Fame.
It is far easier
to say that Santo fits within the top 10% of players playing
regularly (to whom the number of total at bats in any period can be
attributed) during his years in the game than it is to argue that
Traynor or Lindstrom belongs in the top 10% during their time.
Having said that, Traynor’s case for being in the Hall of Fame is a
decent one even though Santo’s offensive numbers (other than
batting average) relative to his contemporaries were better.
Lindstrom’s case is much less strong. Although Lindstrom had a few
good years, he simply did not have enough of them and, even in his
best years, was not at the level of Santo’s best years.
Bill James on
Fred Lindstrom: “As an offensive player he was by no means one of
the top players of his time, and as a defensive player he was so
outstanding that he was shifted to the outfield in mid-career. His
selection to the Hall of Fame, while it ignores players like Ken
Boyer, Ron Santo, Ed Yost and Stan Hack, was a bad joke.” (1988
Historical Baseball Abstract, p. 368). Lindstrom was only a
regular for seven seasons. He did not play after he was 30, and did
not play as a regular after he was 27.
A great deal of
the appeal of Traynor and Lindstrom to Hall of Fame selectors would
seem to have come from their batting averages. Traynor and Lindstrom
each had a higher career batting average than Santo. Traynor hit
.320 for his career. During his career, the league batting average
was .295, meaning that his career average was 8.47% higher than the
league average. Lindstrom hit .311 for his career. During his
career, the league batting average was .290, making his career
average 7.24% higher than the league average. Santo hit .277 for his
career. During Santo’s career, the league batting average was
.268, giving him a career average that was 3.36% higher than the
league average. A player who had a batting average that was 8.47% or
7.24% better than a league average of .268 would hit .290 or .287,
respectively. A player who had a batting average that was 3.36%
higher than a league batting average of .295 or .290 would hit .305
or .300, respectively. Of course, it would be wrong to assert that,
had Traynor or Lindstrom played in the 1960s, or had Santo played in
the ’20s and ’30s, such averages represent how they would have
performed, because we cannot know that. However, as noted above, a
key measure of a player is the player’s performance relative to his
peers at the time he played. While there are those who would argue
that a .320 career batting average is impressive under any
circumstances, it clearly does not represent the same level of
achievement in the era that Traynor played as it would have in the
era that Santo played. Furthermore, although Traynor and Lindstrom
were better relative to their contemporaries in terms of batting
average than Santo was relative to his contemporaries, when on base
percentage and power are factored in, Santo has a distinct advantage,
as the OPS+ numbers above show.
Dick Allen, who also played third base that year, also had a better
year at the plate than Robinson or Boyer, with an OPS+ of 162 in his
an article by Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus.
Here I insert the obligatory caveat concerning defensive statistics:
that they may well be driven by factors that are not measurable and
that are beyond the control of the player. For example, an
infielder’s range factor may vary due to whether he plays on a team
with a ground ball pitching staff, and the number of double plays of
an infielder may vary due to the skill of teammates.
By contrast, when Santo won his first Gold Glove in 1964, he beat out
Ken Boyer, who had won the five previous Gold Gloves at third base in
the NL and who was, as noted above, awarded the 1964 NL MVP. That
Santo knocked off a defending repeat winner is perhaps a particular
validation of his worth as a fielder in 1964.
Santo shares the NL records for third basemen for having led the
league in putouts and assists 7 times each. Santo shares the major
league record for having led the league in double plays 6 times and
having led the league in chances 9 times.
The Politics of Glory at 251-52. A similar bias has been
identified in James Vail’s book, The Road to Cooperstown: A
Critical History of Baseball’s Hall of Fame Selection Process,
McFarland (2001), in which the author examined the statistics of
players who met the Hall of Fame’s ten-year service requirement and
who had been elected. Players from the 1920-45 era currently comprise
about 33% of all Hall of Fame members.
Lindstrom was selected when Bill Terry and Waite Hoyt, two former
teammates, were on the Veteran’s Committee. See The Road to
Cooperstown at 107. See also The Politics of Glory
at 162-171. During the time Bill Terry and Frank Frisch served on
the Veteran’s Committee in the late 60s and early 70s, several
players were elected whose Hall of Fame credentials were extremely
weak, but who had played with Frisch or Terry on the Giants or the
JD's take was just trying to get in a lefty to better deal with mostly lefty Dodgers lineup.
Maybe he was trying to spare him another brutal road start? NY, Colorado...
joe got a pitcher up for hammel at nearly the 1st sign of trouble in the 3rd...pulled after 2.1
not injured and though it wasn't his day so far he wasn't looking like a pure disaster.
really short leash on him. zastryznzryzryny in.
Classic Scully - great stuff.
Thank God we'll still have Hawk next season. (cricket cricket cricket)
Here's Scully's call on Bryant's 10th-inning homer:
"And it's a long fly ball, a mean fly ball, and a gone fly ball."
When the Cubs were the old, hundred-year Cubs, one bad hop did not undo their opponents.
If only he was clutcher. More clutcher.
cubs win...bryant with 7HR in his last 8 games.
bryant 2nd HR of the night for a 2 run lead in the 10th? sure, why not. awesome.
gawd...jansen's thrown 5 pitches in the past 5 minutes.
wild pitch (and a K, boo) with heyward advancing! 1 out, heyward on 3rd.
HEYWARD SCORES ON A 2nd WILD PITCH! TIE!
leadoff double (heyward!) top of the 9th...RALLY!
carlos ruiz is still coming up to "in the air tonight" by phil 'are you kidding me' collins in LA.
many years ago before phil collins it was a soulja boy song.
dude has odd taste in music. at least it's not yanni...i guess.
Funniest skybox ever
Schwarber is worse right?