By: Eric Melch
Major League Baseball must have sent the NBA quite the Christmas card this holiday season, as the NBA has dominated headlines, and David Stern continues to demonstrate how a corrupt and decrepit commissioner with ownership of one of his own teams can play puppeteer with the rest of the league. Between the countdown to an NBA Christmas and the sagas of Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, baseball has been able to sneak and slither it’s way through some of the most revolting times in recent years.
If you could argue which baseball story seemed to generate the most national interest, it would be that of Albert Pujols and his monster contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. But right around the time that we were all able to calculate that Prince Albert will be making roughly $68,000 a day under his new deal, scandal struck America’s heartland, as Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun (aka the Hebrewer) was found to have tested positive for performance enhancing drugs fresh off of his MVP season.
Braun possibly testing positive for steroid usage would be an unbelievably damaging hit for Major League Baseball, which seemed to finally be crawling out of the darkness it had cast upon it during the late ‘90s and early 2000’s. Baseball has also created controversy by adding another wildcard team to the playoff picture, a change that doesn’t sit well with many fans of America’s pastime.
But despite all of the listed transgressions, would you believe me if I told you they all palled in comparison to one of the most despicable injustices dealt out by major league baseball, one on the level of not allowing their all time hits leader Pete Rose into the Hall of Fame.
A story that quietly crept through the media within the past two weeks was that of long time Chicago Cubs third basemen and radio broadcaster, Ron Santo. Santo had been denied the Hall of Fame numerous times over the past two decades, and he unfortunately passed away just recently (Dec. 3rd, 2010). Instead of giving Santo his dues while he was alive and vivacious, Major League Baseball bestowed him the honor post mortem (Dec. 5th, 2011, that’s right, literally a year a two days later), a slap in the face to baseball purists, Cubs fans, and all of those who ever loved the game of baseball alike.
For those of you readers who bleed Cubby Blue and would tune your radios to WGN on summer evenings, Ron Santo lit up your home, or your car, or your office during the broadcast. He was a homer to the nth degree, but nobody seemed to care all that much. His passion for the game and his team was infectious, and even if you were a White Sox fan, there was no doubting that Santo truly loved the game of baseball.
One of the most memorable Ron Santo stories I have (and granted I’m only 22 years old, so I don’t have too many) came at one of my good friends homes in Twin Lakes, WI. Twin Lakes is just north of the Wisconsin/Illinois boarder, and many of it’s residents came from Chicago at some point,and as a lake community, we had plenty of Chicagoans make the Mecca up to Wisconsin during the summer months (if you’ve ever
been to Lake Geneva, you know what I mean). My buddy Logan and his parents were die-hard Cubs fan, and one harmless afternoon we were watching a Cubs game on TV with his father. The game was tight, and going into the bottom of the ninth inning, the Cubs were poised to strike and steal a late game “W”.
The Cubs got their chance, and even before the winning run was rounding third, my friend’s father was up, muted the TV, and switched on the radio, already set to WGN radio.
“Let’s here how Ronny reacts to this one!”
And over the airwaves came the ecstatic cheering of the one and only Mr. Ron Santo. He lived and died with each pitch ever thrown out at Wrigley Field, and even after numerous medical set backs, his spirit was never dampened. He was the true embodiment of what it means to be a Chicago Cubs fan, and on a much larger scale, he was the love of baseball personified.
Now granted, being one of the greatest baseball guys to ever live isn’t necessarily enough to warrant an entry into Cooperstown, but lets take a look at Santo’s career numbers.
Career BA: .277, OBP: .362, SLG: .464, 342 HR, over 1,300 RBI (which I still count as a relevant stat, so all of you sabermetic people can forget about it).
Notable Awards: ROY (1960), Top 10 in MVP voting (’63, ’64, ’67, ’69), an All-Star nine of his fourteen seasons, a five time Gold Glove Award winner, was in the Top 10 for Homeruns every season between 1963-1969, and was also the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award winner in 1973.
The Hall of Fame is notoriously tough on career third basemen; with only 10 other’s admitted within the halls of Cooperstown. When stacked up against all of the other men who tended the hot corner, Santo stacks up quite well.
-His .277 average is better than Eddie Matthews, Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt.
-His .362 OBP is exactly the same as HOF’er Pie Traynor.
-Santo’s 342 career HR’s is 3rd on the list of 11, only behind Schmidt (548) and Matthews (512).
-And his career RBI numbers are better than half of the previous third basemen in the Hall as well.
Looking at his statistical output, it’s hard to argue that Santo didn’t deserve a plaque in the Hall, which makes his recent admittance after years of being turned away even more difficult to swallow. Cubs fans have had many reasons to flock to upstate New York recently, as other Lovable Losers have made their way into the Hall. But for every Ryne Sandberg and Andre Dawson, ask any Cub fan and they would have killed to see Santo make his way to the podium, and deliver a speech that would surely have not left a dry eye in the house, nor would there be any shortage of laughter. Perhaps no other Cub in history deserved to have one day were he was the center of attention, to have his accomplishments celebrated, and his contributions to the game and his team, both on and off the field, honored.
To many including my father, a life long Cubs fan, Santo has long be a symbol of baseball purity. A man who dedicated his life to the game, not for the money (his starting salary as a rookie in 1960 was just over $20K), but for the pure love and passion for the game. He was a symbol for all that is good with the game, and was and still is the prototype for a true “boy of summer”. Ron Santo is finally in the Hall of Fame, but it was done with the least amount of class and integrity I’ve ever seen displayed by Major League Baseball. Baseball may be changing, but it will never be the same to those who ever welcomed the raspy, elated voice of Ron Santo into their homes, and into their hearts forever.
For those of you who never had the pleasure of Ron Santo in your home, here’s a nice, light example of how great a guy he was:
Eric Melch is a senior at the University of Minnesota, majoring in Sports Management; he is the Sports Editor of Secret Laboratory. Originally from Chicago, Illinois, Eric grew up near Madison, Wisconsin, spending his entire life in Big 10 country. His love of literature and sports has naturally led him to write about his passion, something he has done for the past six years and most recently at The Two Point Diversion. Eric currently works as a promotions assistant with Gopher Sports Marketing, and hopes to continue his career in college athletics.
E-mail Mr. Melch at email@example.com.