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Hal Bodley

Santo's place in Hall a long time coming

Bodley: Santo's Hall call long overdue

Santo's place in Hall a long time coming
DALLAS -- Ron Santo was elected to the Hall of Fame on Monday, and the overriding question is: "Why did it take so long?"

Santo, who died a year ago, didn't make it in 15 years of voting by the baseball writers and came up short in three elections by various forms of the Veterans Committee.

So Santo, who kept saying he didn't want to be elected posthumously, finally makes it.

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I've never been able to understand the mentality of Hall of Fame voters (and I'm one).

In 1998, Santo's last year on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot, he wasn't considered a Hall of Famer. He got just 43.1 percent of the vote with 75 percent needed for election. That, incidentally, was his highest percentage in his 15 years on the ballot.

And in three votes by the Veterans Committees, the Cooperstown door remained shut.

But now, after all those years of torture, Ron Santo is a Hall of Famer, and, sadly, he isn't here to celebrate. He died Dec. 3, 2010.

I'm happy for Vicki, his widow, and all the Chicago Cubs fans who have felt the snub was as much against them as Santo.

Yet if Ron Santo wasn't a Hall of Famer in the BBWAA elections and the others, why is he suddenly a Hall of Famer today?

That question will never be satisfactorily answered for me.

Santo batted .277 with 342 homers, 1,331 runs batted in, five consecutive Gold Gloves at third base, and was a nine-time All-Star during his 15-year career.

Those numbers haven't changed one iota from the first day of his Hall of Fame eligibility until Monday.

But now he's a Hall of Famer.

And I'll throw this out: If Santo is a Hall of Famer, shouldn't Gil Hodges be one, too? Ditto Minnie Minoso and Jim Kaat. Those three got considerable votes from the 16-member Veterans Committee that considered 10 candidates from the Golden Era (1947-72). But they fell short.

They're not Hall of Famers today, but have a good chance to be in future years.

Commissioner Bud Selig, in hearing Monday of Santo's election, said: "This is a great day for baseball and for Cubs fans everywhere. I am thrilled that the memory of my dear friend Ron Santo will be preserved forever in the halls of Cooperstown."

Selig's words eloquently sum up Santo's election.

His numbers were borderline as Hall of Fame credentials go, but there is no doubt the entire Ron Santo package is what got him elected.

"I think some people [committee members] brought a lot -- other than numbers around Ron Santo [to the discussion]," said Hall of Famer Billy Williams, a former Santo teammate and Veterans Committee member. "Everybody saw the numbers -- the home runs, the Gold Gloves. But I think they looked at him with a different view."

Following Santo's playing career, he spent 20 years (1990-2010) as a Cubs broadcaster.

"When Billy [Williams] got on the phone and said, 'Vicki, we finally got it done,' I started to cry," Vicki Santo said during a conference call. "It's been so important to Chicago, and Ron's fans in Chicago. It's a thrilling honor for us. What would Ron say? I could see him sitting on the sofa here, pumping his fist in the air and saying, 'Yes, yes.'"

Hall of Famer Juan Marichal, a committee member, said sometimes it takes a long time for good things to happen.

"Why did it take so long?" he asked. "That's a good question, and I don't know. He should have been there a long time ago. It's just too bad that he got in after he passed away.

"I'm very sad he didn't get to see this victory. He gave 100 percent on the field and 100 percent off the field. That's what he did. He dedicated his life and time to the game."

"I'm just a believer in what's meant to be," said Vicki Santo. "I believe he was meant to be in the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, it didn't happen in his lifetime. But this is going to continue his legacy, who he was, and what he meant to baseball. I think it's going to be a tremendous event in Chicago, how he preserved."

Marichal, who pitched for the Giants, called Santo one of the most difficult batters he faced.

"He was tough, tough," Marichal said. "He was the type of hitter who came to the plate with the intention of getting on base. The numbers don't lie. He was so aggressive. When you play the game like that, you're going to be a good player. I wish I could have had him on my side. You had to make the right pitch to get him out.

"He won a lot of games with his bat, his glove and his legs. He was a tough ballplayer. He was one of the players I hated to see come up in a crucial situation."

Williams said he thought Santo knew he would eventually be elected.

"After hearing the news, he'd say, 'Geez, I waited a long time, but now I'm just going to enjoy it,'" Williams said. "He'd probably have a glass of red wine."

A most fitting endorsement came from Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson, one of the best third basemen ever.

"He certainly belongs in the Hall of Fame," said the former Orioles great, a member of the committee. "I thought he was a fantastic third baseman. It was nice to see Santo get in."

Ron Santo will be inducted on July 22, and it's a sure bet someone will ask during the ceremony, "Why did it take so long?"

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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