Cooperstown Confidential: Why isn’t Santo in the Hall of Fame?

By now you’ve likely read about the “Golden Era” ballot being considered by the Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee. The list includes some intriguing names, such as player/manager Gil Hodges, Negro Leaguer/major leaguer Minnie Minoso, and the colorful and infuriating Charlie Finley. But once again, the headliner on the ballot is the late Ron Santo, who remains the most deserving third baseman of those who are not already in the Hall of Fame.


Santo did many things well. He reached base (.362 career on-base percentage), hit with power (342 home runs) during a pitchers’ era, and defended his position with a high degree of skill (five Gold Gloves). Given his all-round brilliance, most objective analysts have called him a logical, perhaps even obvious choice for the Hall of Fame.

We all know the reasons to put Santo in Cooperstown. So let’s look at it from the other perspective. What is keeping him out of the Hall of Fame? Why has Santo been denied entrance to Cooperstown since his first year of eligibility in 1979, some 32 years ago?

Based on research and interviews I’ve done over the years, several factors may be at work here. Let’s consider the following theories. These five factors might all be playing a role. Perhaps they can help us solve the mystery of why Santo has never been able to gain the 75 per cent consensus needed to win election to the Hall of Fame.

Santo never played a postseason game in his life. Though it has sometimes been cited in Santo’s case, this complaint doesn’t hold much water under logical scrutiny. The lack of postseason exposure can affect a player’s chances of being elected, but it should never be the overriding factor in keeping someone out of the Hall of Fame. Players can control only so much; they cannot make non-contenders into pennant-winners.

It’s a particularly weak argument in Santo’s case, given that so many of his Cubs teams were poor to mediocre during the 1960s. Let’s also remember that three of Santo’s longtime teammates in Chicago—Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ferguson Jenkins—all made the Hall of Fame despite having the same amount of postseason experience with the Cubs as Santo—zero. Of the three, only Williams appeared in postseason play for another team, and that amounted to three consecutive losses with the Oakland A’s in 1975. So if Banks, Williams and Jenkins won election in spite of their team’s failures, then why not Santo too? Still, the criticism persists.

Santo lacked a “signature” to his game. This may be a bigger factor than postseason inexperience. Let’s look at some of the third basemen in the Hall. Brooks Robinson‘s his signature was his highlight- reel performance in the 1970 World Series against the Reds. Mike Schmidt‘s was his home runs and his power production. For Wade Boggs and George Brett, it was their batting championships and their inclusion in the 3,000-hit club.

In contrast, Santo did not stand out in any one area. His lifetime batting average of .277 was nothing spectacular. He did not hit 500 home runs or win nearly as many Gold Gloves as Robinson. Santo’s ability to draw 90 to 95 walks a season, along with his nearly 1-to-1 ratio of walks to strikeouts, has not resonated with the old-line voters. The writers want players to have some kind of sexiness to their careers, and they feel that has been missing with Santo.

Santo was a product of Wrigley Field. Some of Santo’s critics have pointed to a disparity between his home and road offensive numbers. Of his 342 home runs, 216 came at home, only 126 in road ballparks. He slugged .522 at home and .406 on the road. While the contrast is rather startling, it does not necessarily put Santo in a bad light compared to other Hall of Famers. Hank Greenberg, Mel Ott and Frank Robinson, among others, also had large power production disparities in their home/road splits.

Frankly, this criticism of Santo strikes me as nitpicking. It also should be counterbalanced against the context of the mid-to-late 1960s, an era that was dominated by pitching and not hitting. The bottom line is this: The totality of a player’s career should matter more than fractional splits.

Santo angered some of his teammates. Beyond statistics, Hall of Fame voters love story lines that involve clubhouse dynamics. Santo’s intense personality resulted in conflicts with some of his Cubs teammates. He simply hated to lose, a quality that led to a few postgame pop-offs with the press. After Don Young, an inexperienced center fielder, made two errors in a July 1969 loss to the Mets, Santo criticized his teammate through the media. According to some, Santo’s biting comments destroyed Young’s confidence, thereby stunting his development.

Santo also had two severe personality clashes with teammates, one that was famous and the other more obscure. The lesser-known squabble involved Rico Carty, who played for the Cubs briefly in 1973. Terming Santo a selfish player who had little interest in team goals, Carty predicted the Cubs would never win a division title or league pennant until they rid themselves of their longtime third baseman. And then, after being traded to the cross-town White Sox, Santo locked horns with Dick Allen. Santo criticized Allen for being lazy; Allen responded by calling Santo egotistical and presumptuous. Safe to say, it was a stormy season on the south side of Chicago in 1974.

Santo was a hot dog and a showboat. This might be the biggest factor working against Santo’s election. During the 1969 season, Santo jumped into the air and clicked his heels after a number of Cubs victories. He started the ritual on June 22, after Jim Hickman hit a walkoff home run to beat the expansion Montreal Expos. Santo jumped into the air three times, clicking his heels on each occasion. The next day, Leo Durocher asked Santo to click his heels after every home victory at Wrigley Field. Santo did so through early September, when the Cubs fell from first place.

This habit became a point of contention with some members of the media and Cubs opponents, particularly the rival Mets. During the 1960s and early ’70s, players were expected to conduct themselves in businesslike fashion, even after wins. There were no bunny hops after walkoff home runs, no shaving cream pies thrown into the face of that day’s hero. Santo’s “heel clicks” might have been considered acceptable in today’s flashier game, but not in 1969. In some ways, Santo never really lived down those heel clicks, especially after the Cubs collapsed in August and September and eventually lost the pennant to the Mets.

Taken in total, these five reasons might help to explain why Santo remains on the outside of the Hall of Fame. But when looked at individually, these reasons strike me as relatively insignificant, and in some cases petty. None of them seem like completely legitimate reasons to keep one of the 10 best third basemen of all time out of Cooperstown.

On Dec. 5, the voters will have a chance to put those issues aside, and make Ron Santo the newest member of the Hall of Fame.

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  1. tc said...

    Being a White Sox fan, I always disliked Santo as a person but admired his skill. I know this is heresy, but I never found Brooks Robinson to be that big of an impact player, his famous glove be damned and Santo, offensively, which is what generally gets players into the HOF, was someone you liked at the plate when you needed help. But the East coast writers loved Brooks and he made some plays in the World Series and they gave him a catchy nickname. I’d take Santo on my team even given his personality. IF you measure a player against his position, if Robinson gets in with with his .267 avg, .322 obp, .401 slg and .723 ops, then Santo is in as well. One last thing about the vacuum cleaner. He fielded 9165 chances in his 20 year career. SS Ozzie Smith handled 12,905 in a similar time frame. What this reinforces is that a third baseman handles overall fewer chances in the infield and is thus that much less important as a defensive value. A good argument can be made that 3b is even less valuable than a first baseman. So Brooks defensive contributions, in my opinion, are considerably overrated, and Santo, as much as I dislike him, deserves to be in.

  2. David said...

    For a long time, I’ve had a conspiracy theory that the Hall keeps Ron Santo as a “first man out.”  In other words, if you can make the argument that a player was better than Ron Santo, he gets in (unless he’s Dick Allen, but that’s a different animal).  In other words, Santo becomes a “line in the sand,” so to speak, or a barometer for Hall worthiness.  Now, I think there have been players elected recently who are far worse than Santo, but some people would probably make the argument that Rice was better than Santo (even though they’d be wrong).  But it just seems so fishy to me that they’d keep Santo out, that I can’t really see how he’s not in unless it’s intentional.  So that’s my two cents.

  3. tc said...

    Going along with my comparison to Robinson, my impression was that he was a “professional”, low key, modest, soft spoken, certainly no clicking heels and abusing other players. Santo, from what I can tell, was pretty much the opposite and even though I support his entry, I have to hold my nose while doing it. In the end, I think that is the primary reason for the past voting. A younger group of voters who never saw him play will look at the stats, compare to other 3rd basemen and vote him in.

  4. Bruce Markusen said...

    I probably should mention that I think Santo will finally get in this year. It’s based partly on conversations I hear at the Hall and partly a gut feeling. I think Hodges might make it, too.

  5. Charles Eskew said...

    I enjoyed the article. It, for me was very enlightening. Being a Cubs fan since about 1970, when I was 5, I never knew of his selfish attitude and outbursts against fellow teammates. That, to me, even to this day, is unacceptable. Playing in the majors is a privilege that has to earned. I was the guy who complained about Ron Santo not making it, year after year. I am sorry he passed but,Hall of fame? Posthumously-maybe. With his attitude in the clubhouse, he was not much more then a fan favorite.

  6. tc said...

    I don’t understand why Gil Hodges would deserve to be in the HOF. Compared to other 1st basemen he doesn’t appear to stack up so well, a nice player, but HOF? I think this is another case of the East coast establishment loving him because of his days with the Mets and their glorification of him with their powerful media. Santo makes it because compared to other players at his position he rates well. I don’t see that with Hodges. By the way, @ Charles Eskew, Ty Cobb was by most accounts one of the most objectionable humans to ever play any sport but he was a consensus HOF’er. If we judged athletes by likable personalities all of the HOF’s would have room to spare.

  7. Bruce Markusen said...

    tc, I’e long touted Hodges as a combination candidate, combining his playing and managing careers. In considering a person’s case for the HOFers are allowed, even encouraged, to consider a candidate’s entire career.

    Hodges was a phenomenal manager. He took a dreadful Mets team that had won under 70 games in 1967 and two years later, had them winning the World Series. He also kept the Mets over .500 each of the next two seasons, despite a severe lack of offensive talent.

    As a player alone, I would agree with you that Hodges falls short. But combine his managerial success, and I think he is good enough.

  8. Lew Insler said...

    I am a NY fan through and through and I have always felt that Santo belongs in the hall. Same for Hodges; especially combining playing and managing careers, though his career numbers compare favorably with Cepeda and Perez, though admittedly helped by Ebbets Field.While I’m at it, how can Blyleven make it but not Tommy John and Jim Kaat?

  9. AndrewJ said...

    I think this is another case of the East coast establishment loving him because of his days with the Mets and their glorification of him with their powerful media.

    If that pull is so great, why then does the HOF have precisely one prominent Met enshrined after 50 years? And why has no Met ever won an MVP?

  10. Paul E said...

    I believe Allen and Santo didn’t hit it off in 1974 because, according to Allen, Santo ripped into a young Jorge Orta in front of the whole team over a mental error in the field. Orta was only in his second big league season and Allen “reprimanded” Santo to take it easy on the kid….That being said, I take Santo over Brooks since Santo took a walk, hit with power, ran better than Robinson (####, everybody did), and had a +glove at 3B. Is all of Robinson’s fielding skill enough to cover the differences in these two? I doubt it

    Re Allen, how many major leaguers eligible for the HoF have a 156 OPS+ in over 7000 PA and are not in the HoF?

  11. David said...

    I guess I see the Tommy-John-and-Jim-Kaat-are-just-as-deserving-as-Bert-Blyleven argument as using pretty much only pitcher wins as a barometer for the Hall of Fame.  Of course, if we used only one specific measurewith any two players, we would get similar results.  For both Willie McCovey and Ted Williams, one of their primary jobs was to hit home runs.  They both have 521 (and so does Frank Thomas, by the way).  That does not mean they are “equal” candidates for the Hall.  And this doesn’t even get into the argument about how statistically misleading pitcher wins are in evaluating an individual player.

    As for the Brooks-Robinson-Ron-Santo issue, certainly, there can be some weight placed on contemporaries.  However, how many contemporaries saw all of the games that Robinson and Santo played?  Zero.  There isn’t one person in human history who’s a reliable “witness,” because they’re opinions will be based on such small sample sizes (maybe a few dozen games for each).  You know what?  One of the most powerful hitters I’ve ever seen was Raul Casanova.  He was not a good MLB player, but in 2001, I personally saw him hit 5 HRs in 5 different games.  The reason I know he wasn’t a great player is entirely based on statistical analysis, because my experience completely contradicts it.  That’s why people use statistics in baseball:  you just can’t watch ever single game for every single team, year after year after year.  It’s not possible.

    Finally, everyone knows that awards voting, in particular the MVP, is skewed heavily toward players on winning teams.  Sure, we can name exceptions (most of whom played for the Cubs, interestingly enough), but the fact remains that Ron Santo played for bad teams, while Brooks Robinson played for good teams.  OF COURSE Robinson did better in MVP voting.  People will perceive the exact same performance differently depending on how well the people around a player perform.  That’s the biggest reason we see such a gap in their voting, in my opinion.

  12. tc said...

    Bruce, Hodges has one title to his name as manager and some other good seasons. How many managers can you think of with those credentials?
    His playing career, if you think about competing 1st basemen, is merely good. How many good players became managers with one title? Most recently, Ozzie Guillen fits the mold. Greatness is supposed to be the measure for the HOF. And I agree with Lew Insler, once you let Blyleven in a whole lot of other players look possible. I think Hodges is an emotional vote. Another generation who is not aware of his history would not consider him. Sorry to disagree, although I’m sure you’re right, he will get in.

  13. Bobby L. said...

    Other than the “Don Young incident,”  which was started by Leo Durocher – that’s right – I don’t know of all of these teammates Santo pissed off.  Most of his other teammates loved him and his attitude – he wanted to win.  Rico Carty and his tuberculosis – who was he in 1973, but a nobody.  The Cubs were in the midst of breaking up the team then and they only got a whole lot worse.  Dick Allen was lazy, great individual player, but bad team attitude.  Even us Sox fans know that.  By the way, had you been of age to watch the guy play on the old WGN (which only Chicagoans saw), Santo was far superior to other players at the time.  He was clearly one of the best players in the majors then.  It was obvious his illness had gotten to him when he went to the Sox.

  14. Rick S. said...

    I find it interesting (and irritating) when today’s “seamheads” talk about players from past eras of baseball purely using stats. Yes Santo’s offensive numbers are favorably comparable to Brooks Robinson’s. However, there is no comparison in how they were viewed by their contemporaries. Robinson was an AL MVP(1964), an All-Star Game MVP(1966), and a World Series MVP(1970). He played in eighteen all-star games and won sixteen Gold Gloves. He went into the HoF easily on the first ballot. To the players, fans, and baseball writers who actually watched Robinson and Santo play there clearly was a consensus that Brooks Robinson was, by far, the superior player.

    Robinson’s offensive stats are not that impressive at first glance, but you need to factor in the park effects and the fact that pitching dominated the American League in the ‘60’s and early ‘70’s. Considering the era and the impact Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium (vs. Wrigley Field) had on batting statistics Robinson’s numbers look better. In fact in June 1999, USA Today’s Baseball Weekly presented it’s “Top 100 Players of the 20th Century” as determined by SABR. Robinson was ranked #32. His defensive numbers speak for themselves.

    In addition Robinson won the Commisioner’s Trophy (now the Roberto Clemente Award) for exemplifying the game of baseball in 1972, and the Joe Cronin Award in 1977 for significant achievement in the American League. If that doesn’t constitute an “impact player” than I don’t understand what the term “impact player” means.

    I personally think Santo was a Hall of Fame caliber player, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets in eventually. I just don’t think it’s right to argue he was equal to Brooks Robinson.

  15. Bruce Markusen said...

    Paul, had not heard the story about Orta and Santo. I’ll have to look into that a little further.

    I’d love to see Dick Allen in the HOF. I was surprised he did not make the final ballot this time around.

  16. Bob Rittner said...

    For those who wonder about Blyleven being in the HOF while T. John and Kaat aren’t, have you read the excellent and long running discussion of the issue of Blyleven’s candidacy at Baseball Analysts? I think Lederer and friends make a strong case, irrefutable in my mind, that Bert is not just a HOFer but among the elite members.

    I am not saying Kaat and John do not have cases, although I am dubious, but if you are going to compare their careers to similarly deserving HOFers, there are many others far more relevant than Blyleven who is significantly better than they.

    As for the comparison of Brooks and Santo, if you think that contemporary opinion is a deciding factor in determining eligibility for the HOF you have a case that Brooks is clearly more deserving. I think there can be a case made for that sort of argument.

    But I think a superior argument is that contemporary opinion is often ill-informed, even mistaken, and many factors other than actual value affect it. What is needed to make the decision is the moderating effect of time that allows for more impartial analysis. And if that approach is legitimate, it is possible that Santo was as good or better a player and at least equally deserving of enshrinement.

  17. Rick S. said...

    Why penalize Brooks Robinson for playing on winning teams? That argument doesn’t make sense. He played in 97% of the Orioles games from 1960 to 1975, he would not have been in the lineup if he wasn’t contributing to the Orioles winning. The Orioles won in large part because Robinson was such a reliable, and productive, player for so long. If the object of the game is to win, and we’re choosing up sides, I’m taking Robinson every time.

  18. David said...

    No one’s punishing Brooks Robinson for playing on winning teams.  It’s just that baseball is a team sport.  If Babe Ruth played with 8 Little Leaguers against the worst team in baseball in 1921, they’d lose every game, but Babe Ruth would still be the best player.  When comparing individuals, team success doesn’t matter, or else Bernie Williams was a better player than Ty Cobb, and Ernie Banks was no Edgar Renteria.  Frankly, if I’m picking an all-time team, give me Cobb and Banks over Williams and Renteria, in spite of their teams winning fewer titles.

    Secondly, no one made the accusation that Robinson wasn’t helping the O’s win games.  OF COURSE he was.  No one said he wasn’t.  And you’re right:  if a player cost a team wins every year, there’s no way he’d be in the lineup every day for 16 years.  Robinson was a fantastic baseball player.  You’re making an absurd argument, that if one player is better than another, then the worse player is worthless.  That’s just not true.  In fact, from 1960-1975, or even the players’ whole careers, I would probably take Robinson over Santo, as well (though it’s pretty close, and I don’t know that there’s a wrong choice, necessarily).  But if we narrow the frame, to say 1964-1969, I would take Santo.

    Look, Brooks Robinson may have been a better player than Ron Santo, particularly over a long career.  But at his peak, Santo was a better player than Robinson at his peak.

  19. tc said...

    Regarding the infamous Don Young incident, it doesn’t really matter whether Leo the Lip greased the skids for Young, Santo more than willingly piled on. And whether Rico Carty was insignificant, the mistreatment or perceived mistreatment of a fellow teammate hardly helped Santo’s rep. And while Santo may have wanted to win badly, so did Brooks Robinson and he somehow avoided being thought of as a jerk.This does not go to his HOF merits. It’s hard to say why someone would rather have Brooks over Ron from a skill point of view. Brooks was a better fielder, but not by a lot, and Ron dusts Brooks on offense. Comparing ball parks and leagues would only mean something if Brooks were close to Santo statistically, and he wasn’t. And if Rick S. is implying that Santo was not a reliable performer for a very long time, he hasn’t looked at the record. And as for being a “seamhead”, I was at almost every home game the Cubs had in ‘69 because I was an usher, also worked most of the Sox games that summer as well but the less said about that the better, and while I appreciated Santo’s talent, I disliked his bush league behavior and I still say that is what kept him out of the Hall for so long. But he’ll get in and he should.

  20. John W. Shreve said...

    I’d rather have Santo than Brooksie also.  Not only is the “pitchers’ era” factor often over-
    looked, but the NL was far more thoroughly integrated racially than the AL making the level of competition higher.
        Regarding SSs vs 3bs, I know SSs are more important, but if a ball gets through a 3b down the line, it’s more likely to be good for extra bases than anything that gets by a SS.

  21. BobDD said...

    That was my era as a fan and I think it was more than Brooks Robinson comparison that hurt; Santo was also after a run of Gold Glove and 100 RBI seasons by Ken Boyer who was a more popular figure.  Not good reasons because Santo was better than Boyer and Robinson, but at that time he was considered in that mold and then the Wrigley home field factor came in and gave just enough suspicion to make voters wait on him.  It is a scandal that actual voters think Brooks was better, but then that’s the skill level we are dealing with and why the Hall does not get the best players.  I can see the case for Brooks Robinson to be in the hall based on “fame” and fielding excellence, but anyone who would choose Brooks before Ron Santo in a Strat or APBA league is someone who’s nickname would be “loser”.

    Will he eventualy get in?  Oh yeah, I expect so.  But why are we calling Santo the best player not in the Hall when Allen is on the outside too?  And let’s just mention Joe Jackson and Pete Rose while we’re at it too.

  22. tc said...

    100% with you BobDD. Unless they have proven Pete Rose gambled in his playing days (they didn’t find that, did they?)he belongs in the Hall. I loved Dick Allen when he was with the Sox, I’ve never seen anyone hit a ball harder, but he’s another one damaged by his rep. He also had, as I remember, an early and uninspiring finish to his career. Brooks was a very good player and when you think about actually managing a real team it would be an interesting decision between him and Santo, Brooks being from all accounts a positive influence in the club house, a place where a lot of championships are won and lost. But Santo belongs and as I said, it would be a tough decision.

  23. Paul E said...

    Bruce: Saw this Carlos May interview…

    ML: 1972 saw the arrival of Dick Allen and a magical season took place. Let’s start by asking what Dick was like as a player and a teammate?

    CM: “We knew each other from spring training and from my brother. He was the best player that I ever saw. I tried to emulate him the way he set pitchers up, the way he ran the bases. He’d be out at the park at 6 am in spring training hitting. He knew the game and he was a leader… guys didn’t sluff off when he was around. In the years that I played with him I saw him get angry twice and they were both because of things that he thought weren’t right as far as playing the game.”

    “The first time I think we were in Cleveland, and Pat Kelly was having a bad day. He struck out three times. The next time up he hit a foul pop that the 3rd baseman was chasing and Pat was yelling, ‘catch it, catch it…’ He was mad and he didn’t want to strike out a fourth time. When he got back to the dugout Dick let him have it. He called him a lot of things and I remember him saying that what Pat did, ‘was not professional.”

    “The other time was when we got Ron Santo. He was our DH that year. (Author’s Note: 1974) We were in Chicago and it was cold and wet. Dick was hitting 3rd, Bill (Melton) 4th, and Santo 5th. Ron was back in the clubhouse, I don’t know if he was getting loose or doing something but Dick made an out and went back to the dugout. As Dick was sitting down, Ron came out of the tunnel and asked him what the pitcher was throwing. Dick exploded and basically said if he wanted to know what the pitcher was throwing he should have his ass on the bench watching with the rest of us.” Dick was very big when it came to the team and that everyone should be doing everything they can to win games.”

  24. Paul E said...

      A site called “White Sox Interactive”…I attempted to send the web-address – was rejected as possible spam…

    Right click to cut and paste the initial question in the interview above in my posting onto Google search and it should redirect you

  25. tc said...

    Thanks, Paul, I just read the interview. Carlos was one of my heroes and the interview reminded me so much about those days. By the way, I was at the ball park for Allens pinch homer, it was one of those great moments I’ll always remember.

  26. Paul E said...

      I know I read the Santo/Allen/Orta story in Allen’s biography, “Crash: The Life and Times of Dick Allen” by Tim Whitaker (ca 1987)…I’ll dig deeper and get a page # and exact quotes.

      The 4-K game for Kelly was with the ‘72 Sox on the brink of elimination; 4 games down with only 7 to play in a strike shortened season (9/26/72)

  27. butch said...

    Once again Bruce great article!! Brooks was the greatest 3rd baseman I ever saw!! but Santo was to the N.L. What Brooks was to the A.L. mid ‘60’s to 1973 for Santo (early 1960’s It was Ken Boyer as the best!!) and Brooks it was 1960 to 1975 for Brooks peak years!! Just Like Babe Ruth gave the A.L. HR dominance Hack Wilson put the N.L. on par with HR’s and both are in the Hall!! same should be for Brooks and Santo for 3B comparisons. Also I think Minnie Minoso should be in the Hall as should be Rocky Colavito!! Minnie was a 5 tool player and Rocky had a Great Throwing Arm as well as 374 HR’s with over 40 Hr’s 3 times!! over 30 HR’s 4 times!! over 100 RBI’s 6 times!! Minnie batted .298 hit 186 HR’s stole 205 bases and won 3 Gold Gloves!! and alot of HBP’s I Welcome Comments.

  28. Zubin said...

    I agree that Santo should be in the hof, but I think you glossed over the primary reason he isn’t in—his home/road splits.  Looking at those splits I am not sure he is much different from Boyer.

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