Santo: Chicago’s truest Cub deserves the Hall of Fame

Published 9:06 pm Monday, December 13, 2010

Many of us, the long-suffering fans of the Chicago Cubs, were extremely saddened to hear the news of the iconic Ron Santo’s passing. What an unfortunate loss to generations of Chicago baseball fans and the game.

The most significant part of this story is that he will never be able to personally experience the glory of being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, which he so richly deserved.

Again, the Hall of Fame has created another debacle that can never be repaired. Posthumous awards are simply indications of oversight by the sport’s decision-making committees who make “bad calls.”

Bill James, the noted baseball historian, rated Santo one of the top five third basemen of all time, yet he never received the most coveted award that he so richly deserved. This is another example of Hall of Fame selection bias and stupidity.

Santo’s statistics support James’ logic for his H.O.F. induction. His .277 career batting average bests third basemen Hall of Fame members Mike Schmidt (.267), Eddie Mathews (.271), Brooks Robinson (.267) and Harmon Killebrew (.257).

Santo’s 342 career home runs were fourth compared to Killebrew (573), Schmidt (548), and Mathews (512).

Only Robinson (.971), George Kell (.969), Wade Boggs (.962), Schmidt (.955) and Mathews (.956) outrank Santo’s .954 fielding percentage among third basemen enshrined.

To coincide with his fielding prowess, Santo won five consecutive Gold Gloves in the 1960s. Only Schmidt with 10 and Robinson with 16 have acquired more Gold Gloves among Hall of famers.

In addition to his 14-year career as a stellar player, Santo served as an avid color commentator for WGN radio’s broadcasts of the Cubs. Hot or cold, winning or losing, he never delineated from his support as the Cubs’ truest diehard fan.

How can baseball potentates be so ignorant? Five gold gloves, nine All-Star appearances, 35-plus years of dedication to the game and team he loved, and he still couldn’t be acknowledged appropriately?

Yes, Santo had his shortcomings. He jumped and clicked his heels after Cub wins in 1969. Some players from other teams did not like that. He may have alienated himself from some fans for his frankness and truism as an announcer. He was sometimes tough on teammates that were careless.

Nevertheless, Ron Santo lived and died Chicago Cub baseball, but accomplished much more than just that.

There is another side to this story. Santo was classified as a Type One diabetic, early in his life. Refusing to accept pity for himself, he concealed his diagnosis from the public eye early into his major league career.

In years following his retirement, he amassed significant financial gain in the business world. Choosing not to rest on his laurels, Santo, instead, focused himself on fundraising for the Junior Diabetic Foundation. “This Old Cub” raised thousands of dollars for research and assistance to the organization to fight a disease that eventually would prove to be terminal to him. Most of the profits from his book “This Old Cub” and the subsequent documentary film went to the cause which he staunchly supported.

Despite losing both legs to diabetic-related amputation and succumbing to bladder cancer, the No. 1 Cub Fan never lost his enthusiasm.

Fans would criticize his frankness in the announcer’s booth; cringe over his lack of articulation as a speaker; and opponents would openly express their dismay for his hard-nosed style of play.

The trouble was that he never disguised himself. He was honest, emotional, and deeply caring about anything that he tried to do.

Some classify an announcer who is openly supportive of their own teams as a “homer.” Well, Ron Santo was a “homer” and he hit a lot of home runs for mankind. Real baseball fans will miss his style, because they just don’t make them liked they used to.

If Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Pete Rose and Rafael Palmeiro ever enter the Baseball Hall of Fame, the decision-making committee needs to take a closer look, maybe in the mirror.

Ron Santo was a man for all seasons and deserves a place above the rest aforementioned.

Steve Morrison is a part-time writer for the Niles Daily Star