"My initial emotion was that we dared to dream this," Santo's widow, Vicki, said during a conference call after the announcement. "This was so important to Ron. When [former Cubs teammate] Billy Williams got on the phone and said, 'We finally got it done,' I started to cry. It's just a thrilling, thrilling day for us. If Ron was still here he'd be sitting on the sofa pumping his fists in the air saying, 'Yes, yes.'"
Santo will be inducted during next year's ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 22 with anyone selected from the current Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot. Vicki said she will give the acceptance speech.
Pitcher Jim Kaat finished second with 10 votes, followed by Hodges and Minnie Minoso with nine each and Tony Oliva with eight. Buzzie Bavasi, Ken Boyer, Charlie Finley, Allie Reynolds and Luis Tiant each received fewer than three votes.
"This is a great day for baseball and for Cubs fans everywhere," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "I am thrilled that the memory of my dear friend Ron Santo will be preserved forever in the halls of Cooperstown. As a star player and a beloved broadcaster, Ron was a staple of the Cubs experience every single day for decades, representing all the goodwill of both the franchise and the game he loved.
"I always admired Ron's courage and loyalty, and I miss him very much. Today, I am so proud to know that his contributions to baseball will receive the highest honor. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I congratulate Ron's wife Vicki, their four children and their grandchildren."
Santo becomes the fourth member of the Cubs teams from the 1960s and '70s to enter the Hall, joining teammates Williams, Ernie Banks and Ferguson Jenkins. Williams, along with third-base contemporary Brooks Robinson, was a member of the committee that elected Santo.
Robinson was elected to the Hall in 1983. Santo was the 15th third baseman and first since Wade Boggs was inducted in 2005 along with Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg.
Including closer Bruce Sutter, who was elected in 2006, Santo will be the third player with Cubs ties to be inducted into the Hall in the past eight years.
"I always thought he was a terrific player, both offensively and defensively and deserved to be in," Robinson, a career Oriole, said about Santo. "It's just sad that he wasn't alive to see it."
Also to be announced during the Winter Meetings are the winners of the 2012 J.G. Taylor Spink Award on Tuesday and the Ford C. Frick Award on Wednesday. The Spink is awarded by the Baseball Writers' Association of America to a baseball writer for long and meritorious service from that group. The Frick Award annually honors a baseball broadcaster for his excellence.
The annual BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot was sent out this past week and includes Reds shortstop Barry Larkin, Tigers, Twins and Blue Jays pitcher Jack Morris and a host of players whose names are appearing on it for the first time. Larkin is on the ballot for the third time and seemingly has the best shot at being elected. Last year, he garnered 62.1 percent of the vote.
The BBWAA ballot winners will be announced at 2 p.m. ET on Jan. 9 by Hall president Jeff Idelson. MLB.com will air an MLB Network simulcast of the announcement.
The Golden Era Committee gathered on Sunday to discuss the candidates and participated in a blind ballot. Each member of the committee could vote for no more than four of the prospective 10 candidates. Santo's election wasn't even revealed to committee members until an hour prior to the 10 a.m. CT announcement.
Santo was only the third player voted in by various variations of the Veterans Committee since Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski in 2001. The other was Joe Gordon, a second baseman for the Yankees and Indians, who was elected in 2008.
It ended a more than 30-year quest for Santo, who retired in 1974 and went on the ballot voted by eligible members of the BBWAA five years later.
Santo reached a peak of 43.1 percent of the BBWAA electorate in 1998, his final year on that ballot. As he publicly battled diabetes and later cancer, being passed over by the Veterans became a matter of controversy.
"It's a travesty," Santo said after he failed by nine votes on a 2008 ballot of a post-1943 committee that elected Gordon.
But all those ill feelings apparently had dissolved after Monday's vote.
"It should have happened earlier," Vicki Santo said on Monday. "But it worked out the way it was supposed to."
This was the Golden Era Committee's first crack at it this year with a pre-integration, pre-1946 group to hold its first election next year. The post-expansion committee voted in general manager Pat Gillick last year. The three smaller committees cycle every three years. Finalists each year are selected by a BBWAA-appointed Historical Overview Committee. To be eligible this year, candidates must have played at least 10 Major League seasons, not appear on MLB's ineligible list and have been retired for 21 or more seasons.
Managers, umpires and executives must have spent at least 10 years in baseball and be retired for consideration.
Members of the Golden Era Committee included Hall of Famers Robinson, Williams, Gillick, Hank Aaron, Al Kaline, Ralph Kiner, Tommy Lasorda, Juan Marichal, Major League executives Paul Beeston, Bill DeWitt, Roland Hemond, Gene Michael and Al Rosen; and veteran media members Dick Kaegel, Jack O'Connell and Dave Van Dyck.
By all accounts, the debate that ended with Santo's election was unemotional and thorough.
"We were friends for so long, and not only friends but teammates," Williams said. "To get this kind of news of your teammate, it's something you look forward to and all of a sudden it happened. I was so proud when the voting came out. I know he's happy, and his family is happy. The one thing is, I'm sorry he's not here to enjoy it."