Friday, December 3, 2010

EXTRA: Will Hall now rush for Santo?

I was never much of a Ron Santo fan. As a broadcaster, I thought he was amateurish. As a ballplayer, I thought he fell just short of the standards worthy of induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

But now that Santo, 70, has died (Thursday night, from complications related to the diabetes that he coped with throughout his life), I’m wondering how much the Hall of Fame types are going to feel the need to do something “special” for the one-time heel-clicking Cubs third baseman.

THIS IS A case where I would prefer to see the Hall remain stubborn and continue to keep Santo out, mainly because I would think it to be incredibly cheap if they were to suddenly decide to induct him for his playing career now that he’s dead – when they had countless opportunities to honor him while he was still living.

If anything, Santo was the type with the gregarious-enough personality that he would have made his induction ceremony a fun experience – and one worth remembering (compared to many of the retired ballplayers whose ineloquence comes through clearly as they try to thank a whole batch of people to whom they owe their “success”).

Now, it would be maudlin, if not downright depressing, to see an induction ceremony turned into an informal memorial service for Santo. It’s not like death somehow adds any numbers to his career statistics, or suddenly makes him that much better than the Boyer brothers (Clete of the New York Yankees/Ken of the St. Louis Cardinals, who were the preeminent third basemen when Santo was in his athletic prime).

This is a case where the late Bill Veeck’s sentiment is completely appropriate – he being the former owner of the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns who told his family to reject the Hall of Fame if they tried to honor him after his 1986 death.

OF COURSE, WHEN the Hall honored him five years later, it ultimately was accepted. The same is likely for Santo – who never got enough support from the baseball writers who vote on such matters, and also kept falling short by the Veterans Committee, which consists of former ballplayers who kept judging him as lacking in sufficient quality for the honor.

That same Veterans Committee is scheduled to consider Santo, along with other ballplayers from the 1960s, again next cycle (this cycle, they’re doing ballplayers from the 1970s and early 1980s).

So it could very well be a summer day in August 2012 when the Santo family winds up accepting a Hall designation in his honor.

In terms of age, I came along into following baseball at the tail end of his career – which his biggest fans claim would have continued to be spectacular had his body not been weakened by the continual stress and strain of dealing with diabetes. His handling of his condition while continuing to live a full life was much more honorable and inspirational than anything he did on a ball field.

SO PERHAPS THE fact that my first-hand memories of Santo involve his stint in a Chicago White Sox uniform (5 home runs, 41 runs batted in and a .299 on base/slugging percentage for the 1974 season) taint my perspective somewhat.

But to my mind, the only thing cheaper than Santo’s South Side stint would be suddenly trying to honor him in Cooperstown, when they had all their chances in recent decades to do so while he was still alive.