The Hall of Fame Case for Ron Santo (Part 3 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.
Santo been overlooked?
Santo did not do
well in BBWAA voting when he was eligible for consideration by the
writers. He was considered by the BBWAA 15 times, and his best
showing came in 1998 (his last year on the writers’ ballot), when
he received 204 votes (43.13%, well short of the 75% needed for
election).14 He was removed from the ballot after the
1980 election (the first time he was eligible for BBWAA
consideration) for failing to receive the required 5% vote; he was
reinstated to the ballot in 1985. Under the selection process of the
reconstituted Veteran’s Committee (which has elected no one since
being reconstituted in 2001, following the former Veteran’s
Committee’s pick of Bill
Mazeroski, and which now considers players every two
years), Santo received 56.8% of the vote in 2003 and 65% in 2005,
each time short of the 75% vote needed. The former Veteran’s
Committee did not publish their voting results.
retired, there were three third basemen in the Hall of Fame, Collins,
Traynor and Baker, only one of whom had been elected by the BBWAA
(Traynor in 1948). Since Santo’s retirement, Mathews, Robinson,
Schmidt, Brett and Boggs have been elected by the BBWAA, with each
one other than Mathews having been elected in his first year of
eligibility. The Veteran’s Committee added Lindstrom in 1976 and
Kell in 1983. Hall of Fame voters had ample opportunity to elect
Santo; until Schmidt’s first year of eligibility, he was the best
qualified third baseman on the ballot. As shown above, at the time he
retired he was better than two of the three third basemen then in the
Hall of Fame. He was not as good as Mathews, but Mathews was elected
prior to Santo’s first year on the ballot. He was better than
Robinson, but Robinson sailed through on the first ballot (with a 92%
vote), while Santo was kicked off for not getting 5% in his first
year on the ballot. It is difficult to see why he was overlooked by
In addition to
his more obvious hitting skills, such as home runs and Rbi, Santo had
skills that tend to be underappreciated: plate discipline and
defense. His walk totals and on-base percentages were very high. He
was also the best defender at his infield position in his league for
a period of several years.
The list of Hall
of Fame members for whom extensive credit has been given for
defensive accomplishments appears to be small, particularly outside
of the shortstop and catcher positions. Yet, while Santo was not as
good defensively as either Schmidt or Robinson (and, although it is
difficult to truly compare them based on the eras in which they
played, for the sake of argument we can take Collins and Traynor as
better defensively than Santo, even though each made more errors in
fewer games),15 Santo was a very good defensive player at
a key defensive position, a multiple Gold Glove winner who still
holds National League and Major League fielding records thirty years
after his retirement. In addition to being recognized as the best
defender at a key defensive position in his league for an extended
period, he was clearly better defensively than Boggs, Brett, Mathews
and Lindstrom and would appear to have been better defensively, in
his time, than Baker was in his. It is difficult to say whether he
was better than Kell defensively.
Voters may not
have adjusted Santo’s offensive numbers to account for the
run-starved environment in which they occurred. Santo seems to have
suffered for having played on teams that did not win pennants or
reach the post-season, and in particular seems to have been
associated with the Cubs’ legendary collapse in 1969.16
Unfortunately, that year was his one real try at a championship, and
he and his team fell short.
As for not
playing on a pennant winner, a good case can be made that the Cub
record during his tenure was largely due to factors outside of
Santo’s control. Was it Santo’s fault that the Cubs were as bad
as they were for so much of his career? Santo did not play under a
manager for five of the first six seasons of his career, but instead
played under a “college of coaches” and an “athletic director”:
was it his fault that his team was as mismanaged as it was?17
It was due to Santo and Williams (and not Banks, who was no longer a
great player) that the Cubs finally climbed out of the second
division in 1967; for the first several years of Santo’s career,
the Cubs had few other players who were any good at all.
One of the
arguments I have seen is that the late 60s-early 70s Cubs already
have three Hall of Famers in Ernie
Jenkins and Billy
Williams, and to put Santo in as well would
disproportionately reward a team that did not win. There are several
problems with this argument. One, a very good case can be made that
Santo was better than Williams or Jenkins, and it is very clear that
Santo was much better than Banks during the period that the two
played together (the vast majority of Banks’ worth as a Hall of
Famer having come from his seasons prior to 1964). Also, Jenkins did
not join the Cubs until 1966. Two, it is not all that uncommon for
teams to have multiple Hall of Famers on them and not win. The
Pirates from 1932 through 1935 had four or five Hall of Famers on the
team every year and did not win. After winning a pennant in 1962
(and losing the World Series), from 1963 through 1966, the Giants had
five Hall of Famers each year and did not win. The White Sox from
1933 through 1935 had three Hall of Famers and did not finish above
.500 in any of those years. The New York Giants between 1927 and
1932 had 5 or 6 Hall of Famers on the team each year, but didn’t
win (they did win in 1933 when they had 4, one of whom was not
playing regularly). There are other examples. Finally, the Hall of
Fame is about honoring players, not teams.18 While it is
relevant to evaluate a player based on his team’s success (or lack
thereof), one shouldn’t penalize a player merely for playing on a
team with other Hall of Famers or simply for playing on a bad team.
Santo deserves to have his play evaluated on its own merits.
Santo was known
for being an emotional player, and was also something of a hothead at
times, at one time physically attacking Leo Durocher, apparently
after having been goaded into it. Santo’s unfortunate habit of
sometimes clicking his heels following Cubs’ victories in 1969 was
widely seen as bush league at the time, and has endured in public
perception of him. By contrast, Brooks
Robinson was immensely popular with fans and
sportswriters, which may have had something to do with him being
elected on the first ballot.
Politics of Glory, Bill James said the following:
The Hall of Fame, in a sense, has been caught between hops at third
base. Third base is a half-and-half position -- half of a “slugger’s
position” like first base or left field, but half of a “glove
man’s position” like second or short. A good third baseman is
expected to contribute both ways, more so than a player at any other
position. This, in effect, creates a third set of standards, unique
to the position. The Hall of Fame selection system uses two distinct
sets of de facto standards. Bobby Doerr doesn’t have
numbers that would put him in the Hall of Fame if he was an
outfielder, but he was a second baseman, so he’s in. The same with
Wee Reese and many others.
Conversely, the career batting statistics of Rocky
Colavito would unquestionably qualify him for the Hall
of Fame -- if he had been a shortstop. Joe
Judge’s numbers would be plenty good -- if he was a
Third basemen are neither fish nor fowl; they need a third standard.
The system just isn’t quite subtle enough to form an intermediate
standard, and honor the guys like Santo and Ken
Boyer who played a good third base (Santo won five
Gold Gloves) and also could hit.
Santo seems to
have suffered because voters have not had an appreciation of the
skills involved in playing third base. The three third basemen most
recently inducted (Boggs, Brett and Schmidt) all met one or more of
the classic de facto offensive tests for Hall of Fame
selection (e.g., 3,000 hits, 500 homers, .300 lifetime batting
average, etc.). These tests have not been imposed on shortstops or
second basemen or catchers and had not been theretofore uniformly
imposed on third basemen (Robinson, for example, met none of them).
A third baseman should not need to post those kinds of numbers to get
in if he can otherwise establish elite player status, as Santo did.
compared to other Hall of Fame Members
In 2001, Bill
James ranked Santo as the 87th best player of all time (and Brooks
Robinson 91st).19 There are 195 players in the Hall of
Fame. Thus, if you use James’s analysis, Santo was not just a
better player than half of the third basemen currently in the HOF, he
was a better player than over half of all
players currently in the Hall of Fame. Even if you don’t
buy into James’s analysis, it is fairly easy to make a long list of
players that are in the HOF who were not close to Santo’s level.
Santo was better than, among others, Joe
Hooper and Vic
Willis. And those are the easy cases; James has
ranked him higher than Billy
Brock and Bobby
It is a common
argument that we shouldn’t add players to the Hall of Fame simply
based upon their being better than current Hall of Fame members who
shouldn’t have been elected. Kell and Lindstrom were poor
selections, and if Santo’s case was predicated simply on his being
better than they were, I would agree that he should not go in.
However, he was not just better than they were, he was better than
many other Hall of Famers as well, both third basemen and otherwise.
He would be squarely in the middle of the current Hall of Fame
contingent from third base. Put another way, for someone to argue
that the only players in the Hall that Santo is better than are those
that should not have been elected, that argument would imply that
over half the players in the Hall and half of the third basemen in
the Hall should not have been elected. As Bill James said, “Ron
Santo towers far above the real standard for the real Hall of Fame.”
One problem with
the concept of players who “shouldn’t be in” lies in setting
the standard of who should be in, which is quite difficult to do; the
Hall of Fame voters have been unable to set an identifiable standard
since they first started electing people almost 70 years ago. It is
clear that the standard is not at the Babe
Williams level, which Santo clearly does not meet: if
it were, Hall of Fame membership would consist of about 10 or 15
players. As it is, the standard is lower than that; if you consider
the records of those who are actually in the Hall of Fame, it is much
lower. Santo was better than a number of players currently in the
Hall of Fame, and it isn’t a small number. None of those people is
about to be removed from the Hall of Fame. He was not just better
than Kell and Lindstrom. Santo was better than many of those
elected, and it’s not just the questionable selections; he is not a
marginal case. It is ridiculous to say that Santo shouldn’t go in
because he doesn’t meet a certain standard when a large number
(possibly over half) of the current HOF members don’t meet that
standard either. Although Santo was not as good as Schmidt, Mathews,
Brett, Boggs or Baker, he is comfortably within any objective
rational standard of who should go in.
Criticisms of Santo
several valid criticisms of Santo. He faded very quickly and was out
of baseball soon after his skills started to slip, before his 35th
birthday. As a result he did not suffer through seasons like the
ones Robinson endured at the end of his career, which lowered
Robinson’s career batting average and OPS. Nonetheless, Santo
ranks eighth in terms of number of games played at third base. His
career was considerably longer than the careers of Kell and Baker.
He played a lot more games at third than did George Brett. Also, as
noted above, he had more big years at the plate than did Robinson,
Kell, Traynor, Lindstrom or Collins. Even if he had extended his
career by playing additional subpar seasons past his prime, doing so
would not have taken away the big years that he did have.
considerably better at home than on the road. Santo hit
.296/.383/.522 with 216 home runs at home, and .257/.342/.406 with
126 home runs on the road. Dealing with split information is
somewhat troublesome, since full split information is not available
for players that played prior to the mid-‘50s. Simply doubling
Santo’s road homers and extending his road rate stats for his
career is an unfair adjustment, although some may be tempted to do
this. Even if you made this simplistic adjustment, Santo’s
adjusted OPS would exceed Robinson’s actual OPS.
numbers (which compare a player’s split to major league average by
split), season by season, show that the differential between his home
and away numbers was not as severe during his prime, but got worse as
he aged (1968 being a particularly bad year for him on the road).
During his best years (1964-1967), his home/away splits looked like
1964: OPS H
1.006, A .922 sOPS+ H 184, A 171
1965: OPS H .908. A .846 sOPS+ H
163. A 155
1966: OPS H 1.019, A .878 sOPS+ H 190, A 160
OPS H .977, A .836 sOPS+ H 186, A 157
Santo is far from the only player to have benefitted from a strong
home split. For example, although we lack full split information for
many players, here are the home and away splits for three recent Hall
.306/.402/.503 OPS .904
A: .264/.357/.422 .OPS: 779 (league OPS
during career: .733)
.354/.443/.491 OPS .934
A: .302/.387/.395 OPS .781 (league OPS
during career: .750)
.344/.388/.521 OPS .909
A: .291/.331/.430 OPS .761 (league OPS
during career: .744)
career road OPS was .748 versus a league OPS of .733)
were elected to the Hall of Fame in the past 20 years by the BBWAA
and all had their careers during a time when full split information
was available. Arguably, none of them would have gotten in if people
had done the simplistic analysis of extending his away line for his
full split information is not available for a lot of players, we know
relatively more about home run splits. There are plenty of players in
the Hall of Fame who benefited significantly from a home field
advantage. On the Cubs, this would include Ernie Banks (290 at home,
222 on the road), Billy Williams (245 at home, 181 on the road) and
Sandberg (164 at home, 118 on the road). There are of
course non-Cubs in the Hall of Fame who benefited significantly from
a home field advantage, such as Mel
Ott (who hit 323 homers at home and 188 on the road),
Robinson (321 at home, 265 on the road), Jimmie
Foxx (299 at home, 235 on the road), Hank
Greenberg (205 homers at home, 126 on the road).20
While one could discount Santo’s home run totals a bit because of
this, I view this as a mitigant to his Hall of Fame candidacy, not a
disqualification. You would have to take away a lot before Brett or
Robinson caught him. As noted above, other Hall of Famers have
received similar benefits. Also as noted above, his home run stats
should also be adjusted upwards on account of the era in which he
played. Because the big strike zone era was during his peak, it is
possible that he lost more offense to the effects of that than he
gained from his home advantage.
Santo was one of
the top ten third basemen who have ever played major league baseball.
Santo was the best at his position in the major leagues for an
extended period. His numbers fit him squarely in the middle of those
currently in the Hall of Fame who played third base, which is an
historically underrepresented position. He was a significantly
better batter than half of the current major league third basemen in
the Hall of Fame. His home run and walk stats exceed those of every
third baseman in the Hall of Fame except for Schmidt and Mathews. He
has been ranked by Bill James as among the best 100 baseball players
of all time. He was better than over half of the current members of
the Hall of Fame. He was a good defender and a terrific hitter who
had the misfortune to play on a number of bad teams. His exclusion
to date from the Hall of Fame has been a terrible mistake. He
belongs in the Hall of Fame and should be elected at the next
Note that Traynor’s career fielding percentage at third, .947, was
exactly equal to the league average at third for his career.
Collins’s career fielding percentage at third was .929, while the
league fielding percentage while he played was .907. Santo’s
career fielding percentage was .954, while the league fielding
percentage while he played was .948. Traynor led the NL in putouts
seven times, in assists three times and in double plays four times.
Santo led the NL in putouts seven times, in assists seven times and
in double plays six times. Collins led the league in putouts five
times, in assists four times and in double plays three times.
Traynor’s career range factor was higher than Santo’s, 3.12 to
3.07, against league averages of 2.82 and 2.58, respectively;
Collins’ was 3.61 (against a league average of 3.33, perhaps
reflecting more “small ball”).
Santo did not play well in September 1969, during which time the Cubs
lost 13 games in the standings to the Mets. He hit .240 with one
home run and 11 rbi in 23 games. He was not the only Cub to play
poorly that month. Beckert hit .211, Kessinger hit .192, Hundley hit
.162, Hickman hit .229 and Banks hit .186. Holtzman went 1-5 with a
4.46 ERA. Jenkins’ ERA was 4.68. Only Billy Williams seems to have
played at all well during that fateful month (.278, 6 hr, 13 rbi).
For a good history of the Cubs during Santo’s era, see
The BBWAA rule on voting is simply as follows: “Voting shall be
based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity,
sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which
the player played.”
The Veteran’s Committee rule is similar: “The Committee shall
consider all eligible candidates and voting shall be based upon the
individual’s record, ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character
and contribution to the game.”
There are, of course, other lists. The Sporting News came
out with a top 100 list in 1998 which did not list Santo, Baker,
Lindstrom, Collins or Kell, but which listed Schmidt (28), Mathews
(63), Traynor (70), Robinson (80) and Boggs (95). In 1999, the
Society for American Baseball Research (the “SABR”) released the
results from their “Top 100 Players of the Century Survey” (voted
upon by 865 SABR members), which did not list Santo, Lindstrom,
Baker, Collins or Kell, but listed Schmidt (16), Mathews (31),
Robinson (32), Traynor (70) and Boggs (80). See
Certain split statistics courtesy of
Certain splits also set forth in the 1988 Historical Baseball
Abstract; see also http://www.retrosheet.org/.
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?
rizzo is tired of SD/LA night games...yet another towering one that died on the warning track.
Vin's been around
Monty dropped a two strike curve on AGon
See I told you they were up to no good
My guy Addy
Vin and '84 legends