Little joy in Wrigleyville with Ron Santo induction

Today’s newspaper column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

Little joy in Wrigleyville with Ron Santo induction


Dec. 10, 2011

Like he was with so many things, when it came to the topic of Hall of Fame snubs, Mike Royko was right on the nose.

Back on March 12, 1997, in one of the final columns he wrote before his death, the legendary Chicago columnist hit a grand slam when he made like a newspaper Nostradamus and predicted the future of former Cub third baseman Ron Santo.

For the piece, Royko led off with an interesting take on how former White Sox star – and longtime Cooperstown reject – Nellie Fox was finally going in to the Hall of Fame in ’97, but actually out of the limelight since people couldn’t gripe about his omission any longer. Royko then correctly guessed Santo would be the sport’s next high-profile HOF shun.

“… And he will be a fine choice since he is still a relatively young man and should have many good years of being snubbed ahead of him,” Royko wrote of Santo. “What a lucky guy. Once it starts, he can look forward to an annual ego boost from reading about all the home runs he swatted, the many runs he drove in and the fearless way he guarded the hot corner.

“Some of the more insightful baseball scholars might even make note of how many tons of home plate dirt he scooped into his hands and forearms. Or the time he heroically slugged an abusive fan, a hit for which he received the praise of a Chicago judge who hadn’t even been bribed.

“And there will be angry commentary about Santo being deprived of his rightful immortality because of the stupidity of East Coast baseball writers who would surely vote him in the sacred hall if he had been a New York Yankee instead of a lowly Chicago Cub.”

Well, today, I’m here a bit angry. But mainly, I’m just disappointed that Santo, who passed away last December at the age of 70, wasn’t around this week to enjoy the news of his long-awaited – and long-deserved – Hall of Fame induction, which was the definition of bittersweet.

I never understood why Santo – who won five Gold Gloves and belted 342 career home runs to go with a bevy of other impressive statistics – was kept out of the Hall of Fame. After all, only 10 third baseman have previously been inducted, and Santo hit more homers than all but two (Eddie Matthews, Mike Schmidt) and had a higher career batting average than three (including Matthews and Schmidt). Santo also did it all while dealing with diabetes.

Cooperstown, which I’ve visited twice, is a wonderful place for baseball fans, but the route to get there is very confusing – and not because the village is so isolated.

There’s no logical reason, for example, why a player has never been unanimously voted in. Oddly, pitcher Tom Seaver, who garnered 98.84 percent of the vote in 1992, was the closest. Hank Aaron, meanwhile, was named on just 406 of 415 ballots (97.83 percent), whereas Babe Ruth appeared on only 215 of 226 in (95.13 percent).

And, really, who didn’t vote for those guys?

I think there should be first-ballot Hall of Famers (the true elites) and then Hall of Famers, who should then be voted in during their second year of eligibility. As Royko pointed out, Santo ironically became more famous by not being inducted year after year. But irony only goes so far.

And it’s a shame that Ron won’t be alive to see himself enshrined, to give that emotional speech and to hear all those cheers.

Without that, there’s little joy in Wrigleyville. Mighty baseball has struck out.