FINALLY: Thoughts on Santo’s Induction into Hall of Fame

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(Courtesy of The Wrigley Blog)

For more than 30 years, Chicago Cubs fans and baseball fans alike have been wondering when the day would finally come that Ron Santo would get his just rewards for his 14-year career and be granted entrance into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Finally, almost a year to the day after he died in December 2010, Santo was elected to the Hall by the Veteran’s Committee. He received 15 of 16 votes, and as expected, reaction from around Cubdom was swift.

“Though it is bittersweet that Ron is not here to enjoy this day, we are comforted by the pride members of the Santo family have for their husband, father and grandfather,” Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said in a statement. “As an athlete, he was our All-Star.  As a radio analyst, he carried our passion. For those battling illness or disease, he remains an inspiration.  And for all of us who had the honor of calling him our friend, he is forever beloved. ”

Though Ron’s family has said all of the right things, and Cubdom should rightfully be celebrating the induction of a man regarded as a hero by legions of Chicagoans, Ricketts hit the nail on the head when he called the news “bittersweet.” After all, it was this same Veteran’s Committee, as well as the Baseball Writers Association of America, that kept Santo from the Hall during his lifetime. No one has ever been able to successfully explain to me, or to any other proponent of Santo’s induction (including baseball buffs such as Keith Olbermann) why he should not have been enshrined years ago.

This man was one of the top players of his era, standing alongside the greats like Hank Aaron, Billy Williams, and Frank Robinson in categories like home runs, runs, RBI, and hits. In fact, Santo is one of four players who ranked in the top 10 in all of those categories between the years of 1960-1974. All three of those players are in the Hall of Fame, and yet Santo was left on the outside looking in every time the ballots were turned in.

Outside of his hitting, Santo made an incredible impact with his glove as well. He had a run of five consecutive Gold Gloves between 1964-1968, and he held the records for career assists and total chances for nearly 15 years before they were broken by Mike Schmidt. He also set a MLB record for consecutive games played at third base by starting 364 straight games at the hot corner.

Despite all of these accomplishments, Santo still wasn’t considered worthy by Hall voters until it was too late, and that is a scathing indictment of the ineptitude of the men responsible for ensuring that baseball’s greats are adequately honored. For his part, Santo always tried to maintain a positive attitude about the Hall, and he took great joy in the fact that Cubs fans so passionately argued for him.

This classy approach makes it all the more damning that the Hall hadn’t included him yet. No one would blame the Santo family if they declined the invitation to go to Cooperstown in July for the induction, simply because their patriarch wouldn’t be there to share in the celebration that he should have been a part of.

And yet, they will put their best foot forward, and they will honor Ron’s legacy of happiness and humility, and that’s a lesson we can all share in. Yes, we may be upset that Ron was elected a year too late, but the reality is that he wouldn’t want us to be angry, and besides, joy is a lot more fulfilling of an emotion than anger is, and that’s what Ron would want us to focus on.

Ultimately, the Chicago Cubs meant more to him than the immortality of Cooperstown did, and that’s the big thing we can take away from this whole situation. Congratulations to Ron and the entire Santo family. Hopefully they will savor this victory, and they will hopefully revel in the vindication and recognition that Mr. Santo so richly deserved.

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