If you haven’t read Sunday’s post yet, please do so. And a huge thank you to those of you who have responded and contributed.
Let the record be very clear: I hate the Chicago Cubs. Hate them. They make my soul burn in anger with the fire of a thousand suns. I have no love or affinity toward the city of Chicago, and that insipid team is one of the principle reasons why. (The other main reason is because, as one native born to that great and delightfully crusty city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, it is a matter of moral imperative for me to think Chicago vastly overrated. That, and because it is.)
We are also approaching the time of year when I make my annual Baseball Hall of Fame rant against the self-important gatekeepers. Consider this an appetizer.
Justice has been handed down two-fold in the past 36 hours for the state of Illinois. The corrupt former governor, Rod Blagojevich, was sentenced to 14 years in jail for his part in a pay-for-senatorial-play for a certain sitting president’s old seat.
And last night, longtime Chicago Cubs’ third baseman Ron Santo was elected almost unanimously into Baseball’s Hall of Fame by the Golden Age Committee.
Most people my age who grew up in the Upper Midwest would recognize Santo as the perpetually-sloshed, linguistically-challenged Cubs radio color commentator. Most baseball fans in my father’s generation would recognize him as the 1a third baseman of his generation (with Brooks Robinson being the 1.) For 15 seasons, Santo, a native of the Pacific Northwest, became the adopted favorite son of Chicago. His offensive statistics were better than Robinson’s, his defense about on par–which is saying something, since Robinson is considered one of the best defensive players to ever take to the diamond.
When Santo first became eligible for the Hall by the BBWAA in 1980, he only garnered four per cent of the vote. He topped out at 43% in 1998, in his last year of general eligibility.
Robinson went into the Hall in 1983, on his first try. It took Santo 31 years. Could be worse, Joe Jackson is still waiting. As is Buck O’Neil. Or Pete Rose. Both of the former are my personal causes celebre, and I’ve been of the persuasion that Santo deserves the Robinson treatment for quite some time. As is well-documented, the writers’ association is generally comprised of idiots; knowledgeable and passionate baseball people, but idiots nonetheless.
The real twisting of the knife here is that Santo is going into Cooperstown a year too late.
Certainly, better late than never, but the truth of the matter is that he was needlessly forced to wait, and for what reason? Because his numbers weren’t as gaudy as the 1970s and 80s mashers? Robinson’s numbers at the plate are decent, but no one mistook Robinson for Eddie Mathews. Because he was on some crummy teams? Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ferguson Jenkins were all on those teams, too, and their plaques are well-dusted in the Hall of Fame. Later Cubs Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg were inducted into the Hall, and let’s not forget that they were on some dismal teams and didn’t have to keel over before they got their [gold? tan? what color is that, anyway?] blazers.
Let’s also not forget that Santo played 15 seasons with diabetes, often through severe discomfort and pain. Ross Youngs, my favorite biographical argument against the garbage that is often tossed out as to why certain players are denied access to immortality, is in there, even though he only played ten really good seasons and died of a kidney disorder during his career. Sure, he was elected by the Veterans Committee, but he’s there, nevertheless. Let’s also consider the fact that Santo became a tireless advocate for diabetes research and a pillar of the community, much like O’Neil did for Kansas City (whose presence, like Santo’s, still leaves a gaping hole in the cultural fabric.)
And if Bill Mazeroski is in the Hall, even though his only real contribution to the game’s lore was a game-winning home run, then whose mother’s grave did Ron Santo poop on in order to be cut off?
And, if all that weren’t enough, there are only 12 third baseman in the Hall of Fame. At this point, the electability issue stops looking like careful scrutiny and more like something punitive and unjust.
In short, the wait for Ron Santo is inexcusable.
From the espn.com story of Santo’s induction: “It’s pretty amazing this all happened one year to the day that he died,” Santo’s wife Vicki said. “I guess you could say that it should have been earlier, but all he said was I hope I get in in my lifetime.”
Though gracious about it, one could feel the anguish in Santo, year after year, winter after winter. He was never relatively vocal about it, as Rich Gossage or Bert Blyleven were prior to their [respectively, also overdue] inductions. There was always the spring for him, him and the Cubs faithful, for whom hope springs anew every time the stove gets hot. (Even if it’s in vain. You wouldn’t think I’d forget where my loyalties are, would you?)
And now, fittingly, the man in eternity finally gets to play in Elysium.