From 2005: Santo's Hall pass denied

Tribune staff reporter

Despite all the hardship and heartbreak he has endured, Ron Santo considers himself one of the luckiest people alive.

Whenever things looked cloudy, Santo knew he could count on his family and friends.

So when the legendary Cubs third baseman received the news Wednesday that he had been denied entrance into the Baseball Hall of Fame for the 17th time since his retirement, Santo once again turned to his loved ones for much-needed comfort and support.

"It was a very tough day," Santo said from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. "I'm feeling better now, but it was tough. I'm fortunate to have a wonderful family that puts everything into perspective."

Though Santo finished in a first-place tie with Gil Hodges in Veterans Committee voting, he fell eight votes shy of the 60 needed to fulfill his longtime dream, with only 65 percent of the total.

For the second time since 2003, when the procedure was changed to allow the 83 living members of the Hall of Fame to choose from a list of 25 eligible veterans, no one received the 75 percent necessary for inclusion from the 80 voters who cast ballots.

Santo is encouraged slightly because he moved up in the voting after falling 15 short in '03. The next balloting is to take place in 2007.

"It did make me feel good that I did get an increase in the votes," he said. "But nobody getting in really bothers me. Really, I'm not going to worry about it anymore. Where I am today isn't because I'm in the Hall of Fame or not. It's because of how I treat the fans and all people."

Santo seemingly had solid backing, with former teammates Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins and Ernie Banks among his vocal supporters, along with old friends like Johnny Bench. Santo declined to criticize the voting process.

Jenkins found the results curious.

"The Hall of Fame has to take a long, hard look at what's going on," he said. "If you put all those Hall of Famers in one room, you'd probably find out who's voting for whom."

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry and Williams were among those who immediately called Santo to let him know they were thinking of him. Santo said Williams was "heartbroken" by the results.

"That means more to me than anything—he was really ready to celebrate," Santo said.

Cubs great Ryne Sandberg, who will be inducted into Cooperstown this summer, said "everyone feels for" Santo and called him "an inspiration to everyone who comes to the park."

Cubs manager Dusty Baker said it was "a sad day" for everyone and that the entire organization was "pulling for him big-time."

Santo was admittedly a nervous wreck in the 24 hours leading up to the announcement, just as he had been in 2003. This time, however, he invited only his family to his home to await the noon phone call after a barrage of media outlets were allowed to record his emotional letdown two years ago.

"It was just my family, and thank God they were here," he said. "I got right back on track. I realize what a wonderful life I've had and how fortunate I am to have family and friends like I have."

Santo had a restless night Tuesday, wondering whether the 17th time would be the charm.

"I went to bed and woke up at 2:30, went back to sleep at 5 and woke up at 9 and waited for the call," he said. "One thing I can say is the next time I won't be sitting at home waiting for the phone."

Santo laughed, then turned serious again.

"What I do want to say is that I know that in the fans' hearts I am a Hall of Famer, and that means more to me than anything else," he said. "And I know my [retired] number will be there at Wrigley Field for a long, long time."

With the voting behind him, Santo said he was looking ahead to the 2005 season. The Cubs begin Cactus League play Thursday in Phoenix, where Santo will be back in the WGN-AM booth alongside partner Pat Hughes.

"Tomorrow is a whole new day because the seasons starts," Santo said. "Believe me, the only thing I'm looking for now is a World Series and a cure for juvenile diabetes."

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