On February 27th, the Baseball Hall of Fame will announce the voting results of the 84 members 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.
"Red Sox Nation: In your opinion, who's the best player not in the HOF?
Bill James: Ron Santo"
10/27/04 Interview with Bill James on RedSoxNation.Net, 1
Ron Santo has a meritorious case for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. There are currently thirteen third basemen2 in the Hall of Fame: Frank "Home Run" Baker, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Jimmy Collins, Ray Dandridge, Judy Johnson, George Kell, Freddy Lindstrom, Eddie Mathews, Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt, Pie Traynor and Jud Wilson (who was inducted in 2006). When compared to the ten major league third basemen currently in the Hall of Fame (leaving aside, for purposes of this discussion, the three Negro League players, Johnson, Dandridge and Wilson), Santo's offensive numbers fit squarely in the middle of that group. The offensive numbers demonstrate that Santo was better than five of the major league third basemen currently in the Hall of Fame. The numbers indicate that Schmidt, Mathews, Brett, Baker and Boggs (in roughly that order) were better than Santo. Santo has a clear edge on everyone else.
During his career Ron Santo was a nine-time All-Star. He finished in the top ten in MVP voting four times. He had the fifth highest RBI total of all major league players during the 1960s (topped only by Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Harmon Killebrew and Frank Robinson). During that period no player in the National League drew more walks. 3 He won five consecutive Gold Gloves at third base, and led NL third basemen in putouts, assists, chances and double plays in many seasons. He was among the league leaders in on base percentage and slugging percentage throughout the 1960s; he finished in the top 10 in both categories in his league in every season from 1964 through 1967. He hit more home runs in his career than any third baseman currently in the Hall of Fame other than Mike Schmidt and Eddie Mathews. He combined power and defense to a degree that was unprecedented for third basemen. He coupled that with an ability to draw walks that added value in a manner that has often gone unappreciated.
In his 2001 Historical Baseball Abstract Bill James ranked Santo as the 6th best third baseman of all time; he ranked Robinson 7th. He ranked Traynor as the 15th best third baseman (behind Stan Hack, Darrell Evans, Sal Bando, Ken Boyer, Graig Nettles and Al Rosen), Collins 17th (after Ron Cey), Kell 30th and Lindstrom 43rd.
Santo fits squarely within the middle of the group of third basemen in the Hall of Fame. Santo was arguably the best player at his position in the major leagues for an extended period of time, a dominant hitter and a great defender. He should be in the Hall of Fame.