Never too late: Cubs great Ron Santo finally elected to Hall of Fame

Big League Stew

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DALLAS — The Hall of Fame is forever, and Ron Santo deserves to be there. Santo's election to Cooperstown, which was announced Monday at the Hilton Anatole, came a year and two days after his death. Obviously too late for him to enjoy this day — and too late for us to enjoy (or endure or both) what would have been one hell of an acceptance speech next summer.

Regardless, a 16-person "Golden Era" committee of former players, executives and media gave Santo 15 votes (three more than were required) for entrance to the Hall. It was his 19th attempt since 1980. That Santo's ultimate election was nearly unanimous after such a long struggle is funny — it actually boggles the mind — but no more than his failure to get in all of these years. Maybe the electorate finally realized that, if the Hall of Fame is supposed to be for the best players, then it has been lying to us.

Baltimore Orioles legend Brooks Robinson, one of 11 third basemen in the Hall, has voted for Santo before and was on the committee that elected him this time. He recognized the elephant in the room: "It's sad that it was a little too late for him to enjoy it," Robinson said. {YSP:MORE}

Others behind the scenes have been saying that a post-mortem election makes this a bittersweet moment, or even pointless, for everybody. After all, birthday parties are pretty empty without the guest of honor being there. So, it's easy to lean towards the bitter. Some are even angry that Santo's not here to enjoy it.

And I've heard some cynically suggest that Santo's death needed to happen before he was elected, that he got in out of shame or sympathy. And that the "Golden Era" committee — which included teammate Billy Williams and other supposedly sympathetic characters — was altered to help engineer Santo's election. Santo has been a leading candidate in recent years, yet recent veterans committees have had a hard time electing anybody lately. What use is a committee if it meets every year or every two years and doesn't accomplish something?

But you know what? It doesn't matter. If that's what it took, the ends justify the means.

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"This is the fairest process we've had," Robinson said. "But I know that he's just as good as anyone who's ever played over there."

Perfectly said.

Besides, something like this is never really too late. It's justice. Because he belongs. He belonged in 1980, his first year on the baseball writers' ballot. He belonged each of the 19 times that he was up for election by the writers and some form of a veteran's committee.

In his book "Whatever Happened To the Hall of Fame?" writer Bill James concluded that Santo was much closer to an average Hall of Famer than a borderline one. Third base has been under-represented as a position in Cooperstown and Santo was the best third baseman not elected. Pair his defensive accomplishments and reputation with offensive statistics that are better than they appear because of the pitching-dominated era in which he played and you've got a Hall of Famer.

The only negative about Ron Santo finally being elected to the Hall of Fame is that he's not alive to enjoy it. Those of us still around, who care, should rejoice.

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