As we celebrate the life and times of the late Ron Santo, we also remember he never received the honor of election to baseball's Hall of Fame, an honor he richly deserved.
Some tears mixed with a lot of laughs amid the storytelling of a busy Friday morning re-capping Ron Santo's full life that ended hours earlier.
Everything was positive-themed until the concept of the failure of the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee, including many of Santo's former teammates and opponents, to induct him into Cooperstown over the past seven years was reviewed.
That's the unfinished business of the Ron Santo story. How a great all-around third baseman, one compared to a Brooks Robinson who himself has endorsed Santo's Hall of Fame candidacy, could not be enshrined has never been answered to anyone's satisfaction.
Actually, Santo would win any contest for public office in a landslide if he garnered as many as his Hall of Fame votes. But, like a lot of other baseball rules and dictums that don't make sense and don't apply to the modern world, the haughty Hall rules call for 75 percent plurality for enshrinement. That's a tough level to achieve. Still, Santo's old teammates don't comprehend why the minority of nay-sayer voters who already have gotten their Cooperstown rings don't get it.
"I don’t understand the 36 percent who didn’t vote for him," said ex-shortstop Don Kessinger, who played alongside Santo for nine seasons from 1965-73.
I've long suspected the Hall of Famers who have not gone into the Santo camp originate from two sources. The first are American Leaguers who spent their entire careers in the "junior circuit" (hello Carl Yastrzemski and Rod Carew) and thus never saw Santo play other than in All-Star Games. The second, and most insidious, bunch are those who may have resentment from Santo's post-game heel-clicking celebrations in 1969 along with his stance as a pro-P.K. Wrigley guy during the dawn of the Players Association.
Years ago, the late Don Cardwell, a Santo teammate himself from 1960-62 who was a fifth starter on the '69 Mets, admitted there was resentment of Santo for the heel clicking among the New Yorkers. Remember, this was an age where batters didn't stop and admire their home runs at the plate, took curtain calls after those blasts or trot "flap down" around the bases. The old baseball etiquette of not showing up the opposition held firm while society changed outside the game.
Santo's airborne ballet was innocent and not directed at vanquished Cubs opponents, though.
"I’d be sad to think the heel-clicking deal had anything to do with it," Kessinger said. "Ron Santo never did the heel-clicking thing to put a team down. He did out of the exuberance of the team winning."
Around the same time, the Marvin Miller-led Players Association tried to flex its muscles for the first time to begin gaining player's rights and start chipping away at the long-entrenched Reserve Clause. Santo, the highest-paid Cub of the late 1960s, made statements lauding old man Wrigley for treating his players well, by the standards of the day, at contract time. So his loyalty to management may have been misinterpreted.
The bottom line is that Santo is not in this world to enjoy an eventual enshrinement. He'll receive "heavy consideration," said Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins, the next time the Veterans Committee meets. Jenkins, Billy Williams and others will again lobby for him. But this time, it will be too little, too late. Posthumous induction just doesn't cut it.
"He’s one guy that it absolutely would have meant the world to," Kessinger said. "It was a major deal to Ronnie."
I'll never forget that late-winter day in Scottsdale in 2003. The first Veterans Committee vote exclusively by all living Hall of Famers was about to be announced. Santo felt he was a near-lock. Media were invited to his off-season home. They swarmed over the grounds and in the living room as TV cameras set up by the swimming pool prepared to relay the good news.
It never came. The feeling of emptiness swiftly swept over Santo's home. And amid a story of courage and triumph over adversity, as Santo soldiered on in the broadcast booth despite the creeping ravages of his Type 1 diabetes, the sense of unfulfillment never went away. When the Cubs retired Santo's No. 10 later in 2003, mindful he had just been diagnosed with bladder cancer, the ol' third baseman proclaimed that the Wrigley Field ceremony was his personal Hall of Fame.
But it still was an inadequate substitute for the real thing. The ultimate game of failure adds another notch to its long list of wrongs that need to be righted. It's the one negative of Ron Santo's life, but unfortunately a really big one.