Apparently, it's a really bad idea to be a man over the age of 65 and be up for an honor this week.
While still smarting that 74-year old Peter O'Toole did not win an Oscar for the eighth consecutive time Sunday, I heard Tuesday afternoon that Ron Santo was denied entrance into the Baseball Hall of Fame for the one billionth time. Or so it seems. Santo spent fifteen years on the regular ballot, and I'd wager he's been up for consideration by the Veterans Committee many times since, so I don't think that it is a stretch to say that Santo is now at least oh-for-twenty. (UPDATE: Santo is now 0 for 18; I looked it up)
I went ballistic over this two years ago and vowed not to return to the lovely enclave of Cooperstown, New York until Santo was voted in. As it turns out, I didn't have much of a chance to go there anyway, but I'll make the same vow: it'll be a cold day in Aruba before I visit the baseball HOF again, because I am just about convinced that Ron Santo will never get in.
Here's what I don't get: no position is more thinly represented in the Hall of Fame than third baseman; I believe that there are only thirteen. I can name a few off the top of my head, players that deserve to be there-Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt, Eddie Matthews.
All of them were phenomenal players. The Hall of Fame is full of them. And none of them holds a candle to the type of man that Ron Santo is. This goes well beyond playing statistics, though if you compare the average season of third baseman enshrined, Santo's numbers compare favorably. One of the "strikes" against him is that he doesn't have one of those magic numbers in his stats: 3000 hits, 500 home runs.
And (of course) since he was a Cub for 13 years and played his entire 14 year career in Chicago, he never won a World Series.
Santo only played fourteen years. He was out of the game shortly after he turned 35. Brooks Robinson played for 23 years. Mike Schmidt played until he was 40. Santo walked away because he knew his skills were diminishing and that he'd be a liability instead of an asset on any ball club. Who does that today? How many players hang on for years because they still think they can play? Look at Barry Bonds-the guy can barely run anymore and should have hung it up last year, but he's only 22 home runs away from breaking Hank Aaron's all time record. He might reach that this year. If not, I'm sure we'll see him next year.
There was a time when Bonds would have hit 22 home runs by the end of May.
Ron Santo has done something that as far as I am aware of only one other player has done in the Major Leagues: played as a juvenile diabetic. I am sure I could be wrong, but the only other person I have ever heard of having diabetes and playing baseball was a pitcher named Bill Gullickson in the late 70s and early 80s. Santo's body started betraying him when he was a teenager yet he managed to put up strong offensive and defensive number for most of his career. When his body said "enough" he walked away.
Of course had he stayed in the game and found an American League team that would let him DH for a couple of seasons, he probably would have collected enough hits, home runs and RBI to get into the Hall of Fame.
He gets penalized for doing the right thing.
Santo has had both of his legs amputated just below the knee. He's had heart problems and bouts with cancer. He's 67 and he has already outlived his expectancy.
What are the veterans thinking?
There's precedent for putting players who had their careers cut short by injury in the Hall of Fame. Kirby Puckett played ten seasons before he was forced to retire with glaucoma. He was elected to the Hall of Fame on his first try (and deservedly so). Sandy Koufax pitched less than eight years before arthritis forced him from the game before he was 30. He's in the Hall of Fame.
Kirby Puckett died last year. Could you imagine the outcry if he had been denied entrance to the Hall of Fame before his death?
I am not advocating that Ron Santo be elected to the Hall of Fame solely because he played as a diabetic and is a multiple amputee; the guy has the numbers to be in. What I cannot understand is how the veterans can keep denying him. He's going to get in eventually. If he dies before then, it'll be a damn shame. He should have been in twenty years ago.
What a week this could have been: Peter O'Toole finally wins an Oscar at 74 and Ron Santo finally gets into the Hall of Fame at 67.
Instead all we get is a reminder that the(ir) clock is ticking.