A true Hall of Fame career for Santo

For years, Ron Santo's Hall of Fame candidacy should have been an open-and-shut case.

But thanks to the negligence years ago of the baseball writers and more recently of the Veterans Committee, Santo's situation has been more of an open-and-shutout case.

Santo never had much of a chance with the writers, but he came tantalizingly close to enshrinement in recent years by the Veterans Committee.

Now, it's too late for Santo to enjoy a Hall of Fame honor if it should come his way. The former Cubs third baseman died Thursday, leaving behind a .277 lifetime batting average, 342 home runs and 1,331 RBI.

For those of you who like more advanced stats, Santo had a lifetime on-base percentage of .362 and a slugging percentage of .464 for an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .826.

He put up OPS-plus (taking into account the league average and ballpark factors) of 164, 161 and 153 during his 15-year career, 14 of them with the Cubs.

Stats guru Bill James has written from time to time that Santo is the best player not be elected to the Hall of Fame.

“Players who were nowhere near as good as Ron Santo were elected to the Hall of Fame in the 1960s, players who were nowhere near as good as Ron Santo were elected to the Hall of Fame in the 1970s (lots of them), players who were nowhere near as good as Ron Santo were elected into the Hall of Fame in the 1980s, and players who were nowhere near as good as Ron Santo were elected to the Hall of Fame in the 1990s,” James wrote. “Ron Santo towers far above the real standard for the Hall of Fame.”

Excluding Negro League players and such players as Cal Ripken, who began as a third baseman before moving to shortstop, there are 10 major-league third basemen in the Hall of Fame: Frank “Home Run” Baker, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Jimmy Collins, George Kell, Freddie Lindstrom, Eddie Mathews, Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt and Pie Traynor.

Only Schmidt and Mathews have more home runs than Santo among Hall of Fame third basemen. Robinson was the pre-eminent defensive third baseman of his day. He also was a mainstay of championship teams in Baltimore and got loads of national exposure. There's no objection here to his being in the Hall, but he had a hitting line of .267/.325/.401 with 268 homers.

There's also no objection here to Brett and Boggs being in the Hall. But Kell, a Veterans Committee selection, had a hitting line of .306/.368/.414 with 78 home runs.

Santo's offensive numbers top Kell's, overall, especially in power. On top of it, Santo (with a nod toward the Cardinals' Ken Boyer) was the top defensive third baseman of his day in the National League, winning five Gold Gloves. He also made nine NL all-star teams.

We've all heard the arguments against Santo: He never played in the postseason; the Cubs of his day already have Hall of Famers in Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins, in addition to manager Leo Durocher (who gained most of his notoriety in New York).

Santo also may have rubbed some members of the Veterans Committee the wrong way with a perceived arrogance on the field. And I'm sure the New York Mets and the media in the Big Apple didn't like him kicking his heels after Cubs victories in 1969, when the Mets overtook the Cubs and won the NL East.

Like him or not, Santo was the captain of his ballclub and the cleanup hitter in a lineup that featured Williams and Banks.

“He's a Hall of Famer in every way,” said Cubs TV announcer Len Kasper, who is as in tune with advanced stats as any media member in the country. “He will get in, deserves to get in, and I wish he had been in and had been able to enjoy it while he was still with us.”

The Veterans Committee could have taken care of this problem several years ago and voted Santo in. But it seemed they didn't want any more players in their exclusive club, and some may have held grudges against Santo.

No, Santo won't be around to enjoy election and enshrinement if and when it does happen, but there's no reason to keep his children and grandchildren from enjoying it.