Monday, November 7, 2011

Is this the year for Santo?

Posted By on 11.07.11 at 01:00 PM

With all the brouhaha at Wrigley Field over the Cubs' new management, it snuck up on many fans that Ron Santo is once again up for consideration for the Baseball Hall of Fame, selected by the infamous Veterans Committee. With the triennial process this year set to elect players and other figures from baseball's so-called Golden Era (1947-'72) Santo was put on the ballot last week along with nine others. While there are some ringers (Charlie Finley has even less chance of being elected than union leader Marvin Miller in the annual category for baseball execs), it's a competitive field. Gil Hodges has long been championed by the New York media, both as manager of the 1969 Miracle Mets and for his stellar playing career with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Former Twins Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat will have their defenders. Yet Santo has been widely considered the best player not in the Hall of Fame for years, at least since Bill James gave him that honor in his Cooperstown book Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?. Rob Neyer expressed the same just this year after the unveiling of the Santo statue at Wrigley.

Santo was standing on the verge of being elected when Bill Mazeroski was chosen by the geriatric Veterans Committee in 2001. Critics cried cronyism, citing Maz's relatively bad batting stats, ignoring that he played in a pitcher's era, hit the only World Series game seven walk-off homer, and had off-the-charts defensive stats for a second baseman, especially in double plays. Maz belonged in the Hall of Fame, and so does Santo, a far better offensive player in the same era, as well as a multiple Gold Glove winner.

Yet the outcry led to the Veterans Committee being "reformed" and composed of all living Hall of Famers, including media, and the result was years when they voted no one else in. Media were excluded in 2007, and still ex-players snubbed Santo. That led to new reforms that found the Veterans Committee presently constituted by eight Hall of Famers, five former execs, and three members of the media. Chicago is well-represented by Santo teammate Billy Williams, former White Sox general manager Roland Hemond, and Chicago Tribune baseball writer Dave Van Dyck. That also bodes well for popular Sox great Minnie Minoso, another cause celebre of James, who pointed to how, unlike second-tier color-barrier breakers like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Ernie Banks, all of whom played almost their entire careers in the majors after starting out in the Negro Leagues, the older Minoso split his time between the two. Minoso is already among the Sox's leaders in many career categories, and extrapolated over a full big-league life span he'd have Hall of Fame credentials.

How many will the Veterans Committee let in this year? They can't say no one again, but they could make up for lost time by electing two or more. A three-quarters majority of 12 of the 16 votes is required for election. The newly re-formed Veterans Committee will deliberate at baseball's winter meetings next month, with results announced January 9. Not to put a curse on Santo, but I'll borrow his pet line "This is the year!" to insist he'll make it this time. Isn't it only too Cubbie that it would come just over a year after his death, after he was teased with the honor for so long during his lifetime?

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