As has been said, justice delayed is justice denied, and it is unlikely Ron Santo, the All-Star Cubs third baseman, will get his due this week. Later, but not now. This is his 15th and final year on the Baseball writers' Hall of Fame ballot, and unless there is an unexpected stampede on his behalf, he won't receive the 75 percent approval required for enshrinement.
Santo has all the necessary credentials, but nevertheless, he has not come close to election. Last year he received 39 percent of the votes, his best showing ever. The year before it was 37 percent, the year before that it was 30, and the year before it was 33 percent.
He has a little more going for him this time. Only 28 players are on the ballot, the smallest number ever. And because this is his final year for consideration by the baseball writers, there is the possibility some of them will wake up in an effort to correct past mistakes.
"I always vote for him," said Jack O'Connell of the Hartford Courant, secretary of the Baseball Writers Association of America. "I'm sure he'll get more votes than in any other year."
O'Connell will announce the voting results Monday evening.
If Santo doesn't make it, his agony will be prolonged. But after a three-year moratorium, his candidacy will be revived in 2001 and judged by a Veterans Committee. It's my opinion he will be elected in the first or second year of eligibility.
This 15-man committee, which includes this writer as well as former players, will have a greater appreciation for Santo's accomplishments, which include nine All-Star teams, four .300 seasons, 11 seasons with 20 or more home runs, leading the major leagues in chances accepted by a third baseman the most seasons with nine, and most times leading the NL in putouts and assists. On top of this, he had 342 home runs and 1,331 RBIs.
The biggest gap in Santo's credentials--and it isn't his fault--is that he never played in a World Series, where he would have received national exposure. Nationally, but not locally, he was overshadowed by Ernie Banks and Billy Williams.
Statistically, he often has been compared to Baltimore's Brooks Robinson, and this also has been a disadvantage. Robinson had to be the best defensive third baseman in history.
Santo was the best fielding third baseman in the National League at a time when the league had several outstanding third basemen. Also, what never can be measured was his remarkable competitive spirit. On balance, he was as good an all-around player as Billy Williams, who won his ticket to Cooperstown in his sixth year of eligibility. Williams was the better hitter but only slightly better than average, if that, in the field.
Each voting member of the baseball writers is entitled to no more than 10 selections. In addition to Santo, I voted for pitchers Don Sutton and Bruce Sutter. I must admit I've been remiss. It's the first time I've voted for Sutter. My other choices are sluggers Tony Perez and Jim Rice.
Sutton, who won 324 games, received 73.2 percent of the vote last year. The knock on him is that he only had one 20-victory season and that he was never the dominant pitcher of his time. So what? His victory total is more than enough to qualify. Sutter, with 300 saves, was the best reliever of his day. As for Perez and Rice, they rank among the most dangerous hitters of all time.
Many baseball writers believe the Hall of Fame is already overpopulated, that with each passing year more undeserving players are elected. I don't completely disagree, but it's something we have to live with. With some exceptions, the Hall has been diluted ever since the first election in 1936 when Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson were enshrined.