Billy Williams waited six years. Nellie Fox, up there in Valhalla, is still waiting. In 1985, he received 74.68 percent of the vote. It should have been rounded out to the required 75 percent, but the directors of the Hall of Fame, in a burst of stupidity concealed beneath the umbrella of purity, locked Little Nell out, claiming he missed by 32-hundredths of a percent.
Luis Aparicio, possibly the best shortstop of the 20th Century, almost didn`t make the ballot. Some members of the screening committee scratched him, deemed him not worthy of consideration. Two years later Aparicio received only 12 percent of the vote, barely enough to maintain his eligibility.
The list of the 1989 candidates was announced Wednesday in New York and it occurred to me anew that for the last quarter of a century, with the exception of Ernie Banks (elected in 1977), Chicago players have had to struggle for Hall of Fame recognition. Cooperstown has been cruel to them.
Of the new eligibles, three are likely to be anointed in their first time at-bat: Johnny Bench of Cincinnati, the reigning catcher of his time;
Carl Yastrzemski, superstar outfielder with the Boston Red Sox; and pitcher
Gaylord Perry, a 300-game winner. Ferguson Jenkins of the Cubs, a seven-time 20-game winner, also is eligible for the first time and worthy of immediate canonization.
Ordinarily I don`t pump for Chicago players. It doesn`t seem proper. I have preferred to assume it should not be necessary to bang the drum, that the 400-plus voters (10-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America) constitute an educated and capable electorate.
Then I think of Ron Santo and realize some campaigning is necessary.
A hero Cub in the `60s and `70s, Santo was the best all-around third baseman of his time. Baltimore`s Brooks Robinson was, of course, the best fielding third baseman, but Santo was a much stronger hitter. And he was almost B. Robby`s equal in the field.
Santo, nonetheless, was virtually ignored in 1980, his first year on the ballot. It is scandalous to recall that he received only 15 of the 385 votes cast, 4 percent. According to the rules, players with less than 5 percent are automatically dropped from the ballot. From 1981 to `84, Santo was a nonperson, not welcome in Cooperstown.
The death of Ken Boyer, a star third baseman with the Cardinals, triggered a re-examination of the system. Boyer, too, had been a victim of the 5-percent rule. Bob Broeg, a St. Louis baseball writer, led a movement to reinstate Boyer, insisting Boyer was entitled to another chance.
Boyer`s name was restored but with the provision that other worthies, who also had been thrown on the discard pile, would simultaneously be reinstated. Santo was among the players in this group, risen from Boyer`s grave. But Santo was to suffer another indignity. The secretary of the BBWAA apparently had forgotten Santo`s first name and listed him as Roy, not Ron. Santo drew 13 percent of the vote in `85. His percentage has been increasing steadily. He was on 108 of the 427 ballots in the last election, 25 percent.
Probably because he was such a strong hitter, Santo, who for many years was the Cub captain, never received much acclaim for his defensive ability. Through hard work and nothing else (he was originally a catcher), he made himself an acceptable third baseman and soon thereafter was the best defensive third baseman in the National League.
As most fans realize, fielding averages are deceptive. The lumbering galoot who can`t move off a silver dollar (once it was a dime, but adjustments must be made for inflation) has an enormous statistical advantage. Errors are not charged for slow fielding; the leadfoot escapes because he doesn`t reach the ball. The best index of a defensive player`s effectiveness is not fewest errors, but chances accepted.
Brooks Robinson, who played eight more years than Santo, is the all- time career leader in chances with 9,165, including errors. But a closer examination reveals that Santo, who had a 15-year major-league career, was the busier third baseman. Santo averaged 457 chances a season compared to B. Robby`s 399. Santo averaged more assists, 305 to 270, and more putouts, 130 to 117.
And Santo, of course, was the much stronger hitter with a career total of 342 home runs and 1,331 runs batted in, an average of almost 90 RBIs a season. His power stats (slugging average, home runs and RBIs) compare with those of Billy Williams and Banks, his Cub teammates whose plaques hang in Cooperstown.
``If I`m in, Ronnie should be in, too,`` Billy Williams said the summer before last, a few moments after he was enshrined.
My sentiments, exactly.