Arvia: Yes, voters, there is a Santo clause
PHIL ARVIA email@example.com | (708) 633-5949 December 16, 2011 8:08PM
Ron Santo doing his trademark heel-click.
Updated: January 19, 2012 10:58AM
Friday afternoon, colleagues managed to discuss my Hall of Fame ballot for nearly three minutes before questioning my sanity.
“You can’t vote for Edgar Martinez,” one said, “and not vote for Tim Raines.”
Actually, I can — and, last year, did.
But last year was last year. This year is this year. And boy, oh boy, wait till next year.
(That’s going to be fun. Craig Biggio? Check. Barry Bonds? Uncheck. Roger Clemens? Uncheck. Sammy Sosa? Uncheck.)
This year is the year of Ron Santo, who was never on a ballot sent to me but at long last was tabbed for National Baseball Hall of Fame induction.
By my count, Santo is 1-for-20 in Hall elections. For those scoring at home, that’s a .050 batting average.
That significantly sub-Mendozian number owes not to Santo’s considerable skill afield. Rather, it speaks to the silliness inherent in all halls of fame and their electorates, especially the National Baseball Hall of Fame and its voters.
In 1980, his first time on a Hall of Fame ballot, Santo — his nine all-star berths, five Gold Gloves and eight straight seasons of at least 94 RBI in a lousy offensive era notwithstanding — was named on less than four percent of the ballots cast by voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
He was dropped from the ballot.
The rules changed. He was reinstated in 1985.
He went 14 more elections never doing better than 43 percent (far short of the necessary 75 percent). He was out of chances.
Next, his candidacy went to the consideration of the so-called veterans committee, known then by a much longer official title and now split into three different subcommittees. Consisting mostly of members of the Hall of Fame, Santo was again judged lacking. Four times.
The rules changed. He got in.
At no point in the last 31 years did Ron Santo improve as a baseball player. But his chances were improved as the voting process was tweaked and tweaked again.
Folks, this is baseball. It shouldn’t be so hard.
But we make it so.
All of us, that is, except the hard-liners. Their standard, “If you have to ask whether he’s a Hall of Famer, he isn’t,” would ensure a Cooperstown open only to the greatest of the great.
But those of us who would be more inclusive have to negotiate the cut line. That’s how you end up in arguments about the merits of the second-best leadoff hitter of his era against the best DH ever.
In the spirit of Santo’s election, I’ll reverse on Raines this year. Santo played a beautiful game beautifully and with good humor; so did Raines.
There might be some who would say the hall is diminished by the presence of the second-most proficient base-stealer of all time. I’ll not place myself among them this year.
And while I’m feeling extra inclusive, why not include the classy Alan Trammell (seven .300 seasons, four Gold Gloves)?
(Never mind the echo in my head that says “You can’t vote for Alan Trammell and not vote for Larry Walker.”)
So, then, here’s the rest of my ballot, holdovers all, alphabetically:
Jeff Bagwell: Has an MVP, a Gold Glove, a .297 lifetime average and ranks in the top 50 all-time in slugging and on-base percentage, homers, walks and RBI.
Barry Larkin: There are 21 Hall of Fame shortstops, and I’d rather have Larkin than most of them.
Jack Morris: Averaged 17.3 wins per season from 1979 to ’88, was the winningest pitcher in the 1980s and went 4-2 with a 2.96 ERA in the World Series.
Lee Smith: When he retired in 1997, he was the all-time saves leader.