Ron Santo: Hall of Famer (Finally!)

A look at the Hall of Fame candidacy and career of former Chicago Cub Ron Santo as he enters the Hall of Fame posthumously on Sunday.

Note: John Grochowski wrote a wonderful piece on advanced stats and Santo's place in the Hall of Fame in Tuesday's Chicago Sun-Times

Roberto Clemente. You know the name. If you have any grasp on baseball, or grew up around it with any reverence for the game, you know exactly who he is. He is considered one of the best hitters of all time. It should be noted that in the stories that are told about the history of Wrigley Field, one is that during batting practice one day, Clemente actually hit a ball that missed the scoreboard off to the side.

Nobody has ever hit the scoreboard before. It's clear over 515 feet to dead center field.

It's arguable that Clemente's statistical prime was between the years of 1964 and 1969. He won the MVP award in 1966. His WAR* during those years was 46.0 during those years.

(*WAR is an advanced stat, meaning Wins Above Replacement. It takes the concept that your basic 25th man on a Major League Roster, or player that gets called up and sent down depending on injuries at the Major League Level. These players don't help you and don't hurt you. Their player WAR is 0.0. From that number, a formula is used to determine how many wins you add to your team over the course of a season. WAR is a way to judge offense and defense in both current and historical terms to compare players. For example, since the start of the 2010 season, the leader in WAR is Joey Votto, who in that time has an MVP under his belt and was a leading contender for another one this year before a knee injury sidelined him for three to four weeks.)

According to WAR, Roberto Clemente was the best player in the league during his prime years. But you know who the second best player in Major League Baseball during that time was?

Ron Santo.

His WAR during that time was 45.9. That means he was 1/10 of 1 game less valuable as a ball player than Clemente. Of course, nobody is saying that Santo was ever in the class of Clemente, only that for a statistical period of time, Ron Santo was on that level of play.

This weekend, Ron Santo will enter the Hall of Fame. Posthumously. Unfortunately. Santo dreamed of two things: To make the Hall of Fame, and for the Cubs to win a World Series. He saw neither. Which is too bad.

For many years, Santo was considered to be a level below Hall of Fame status. The reasons were as such: You can't have 4 Hall of Famers on a team that never won a World Series (Banks, Jenkins, Williams all in the Hall), Santo wasn't the best 3rd baseman of his era, Santo wasn't likeable to the media.

Lets break down a couple of those. Lets look at the career WAR of the other players on the Cubs teams during the Santo era that ARE in the Hall of Fame:

  • Ferguson Jenkins Career WAR 50.2
  • Ernie Banks Career WAR 57.2
  • Billy Williams Career WAR 61.1
  • Ron Santo Career WAR  63.6

With the batters, that is Offensive WAR. If you take into account career Defensive WAR, Santo is the only one among the 3 that made the top 10 in Cubs history.

Statistically, when all things are taken into account, Ron Santo might have been the best player on that Cubs team during the era. Ernie Banks will always be considered Mr. Cub. He was only the 8th player(I think) at the time to hit 500 home runs. But there is certainly a reason Santo has a place in every true Cubs fans heart.

As for the other component: Lets look at all the players in the Hall of Fame at 3rd base under the following stats.

Player                             OWAR     DWAR     OPS+        HR     RBI      AVG.

Frank Baker:                    56.9         9.6           135         96      987       .307
Wade Boggs:                   78.4        12.9          131        118     1014     .328
George Brett:                  80,4         1.2           135        317      1596     .305
Jimmy Collins:                  39.1        16.8          113         65       983       .294
George Kell:                     32.2         1.6           112         78       870      .306
Freddie Lindstrom:            25.0         2.6          110        103      779       .311
Eddie Matthews:               89.3         5.4          143         512     1453      .271   
Brooks Robinson:            42.3         38.8         104         268     1357      .267
Mike Schmidt:                  87.6         17.6         147         548     1595      .267
Pie Traynor:                    37.7          2.0          107         58       1273      .320


Ron Santo:                     62.4          8.6           125          342     1331      .277

He is fifth among the 11 players in terms of Offensive WAR, sixth in terms of Defensive WAR, 6th in OPS+(On Base Percentage + Slugging, weighted to reflect stadiums played in, pitchers played against), 3rd in Home Runs, 5th in RBI's, and 8th in .AVG.

It must be taken into account that Baker, Collins, Lindstrom and Traynor played in an era when, not only did advanced stats not exist, the popular dance at the time was the Charleston, and the popular thing to hate on was prohibition.

George Kell is widely considered to be one of the worst inclusions in the history of the Hall of Fame. Brooks Robinson wasn't exactly a world beater offensively.

It's arguable that there are only two great third baseman of all time. Mike Schmidt and Eddie Matthews.

George Brett would rank just below them, mostly because he was atrocious defensively, and defense is still a thing you need to be a baseball player. Brett, Santo, and Brooks Robinson all fall in the second tier of Hall of Fame second basemen.

When you take a long view at the advanced stats, it's very simple to conclude that, not only does Santo deserve to be in now, but Ronnie should have been in years ago. He shouldn't have had to accept this trophy from beyond the grave.

But, like most Cubs fans, I'll take a moment on Sunday, and raise a toast to the man that personified being a Cub better than anyone who ever put on the uniform. He made you care about Cubs baseball long after hope had failed. He identified with the die hard fans that never gave up on their team. 

He was a fan. But he was also a legend. And Sunday, he will take his rightful spot with the rest of baseball's greatest players.


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Brandon Andreasen July 19, 2012 at 02:32 PM
Great point. I have heard stories about that along with his alcohol use during the day. I choose to remember the Santo I met on a couple different occasions when he announced Cubs games up in Milwaukee. After games, you could catch the announcers walking to the elevators. Bob Eucker always came out with armed security guards to keep him from getting accosted by fans. Ron Santo would come out, usually only with Pat Hughes to protect him. At this point, he had lost one leg. But he was always gracious and never denied answering one of my questions or signing an autograph for me. It's unfortunate that outside factors such as that are hurting the Hall of Fame candidacies of many players, while Jim Rice(an another goon to the media) and Ty Cobb(on the Mount Rushmore of goons) are in the Hall.
Jerry July 19, 2012 at 09:28 PM
You are right on the money about other players in the Hall, Ty Cobb being a perfect example. I am glad Santo mellowed in his later years and it truly would have been nice for him to live to see it happen.
Ann Guinand-Cummings July 21, 2012 at 04:37 AM
To late, Santo is dead. To tell ya the truth, I didnt care for him because of his attitude.
Fergie Jenkins July 22, 2012 at 04:10 PM
Ron Santo would have been a first ballot Hall of Famer if he hadn't been a mediocre player on overhyped teams that never won anything. Except for that he was definitely a shoe in.
Brandon Andreasen July 23, 2012 at 04:10 PM
Fergie, i'd like to think I made a series of valid arguments that actually prove that Ron Santo was one of the 10 best third basemen of all time. I didn't use personal opinion in coming to this decision as much as a statistical analysis in comparison to the other players from his position in the Hall of Fame. I'd love for you to prove to me he was a mediocre player for any other reason than "thats your opinion of him." Ron Santo was a beloved member of the Cubs organization and they showed their appreciation for him yesterday by heel clicking as they entered the field in his honor.


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