Voters from 1980, you were idiots. And you people didn’t get a lot smarter. Over time Santo received more support, but never enough to get into the Hall. Never close to enough. Needing 75 percent of the BBWAA votes to get in, he topped out at 43.1 percent in 1998, his offensive numbers from the pitching-dominated 1960s obscured by the cartoonish steroid era that was in full bloom in the late 1990s—and his defensive contributions simply ignored, I guess.
Look, there are thousands of words I could write on Santo’s worthiness for Cooperstown, and theories why he hasn’t gotten in. His nine All-Star seasons. His offensive numbers being diluted over time by steroids and the forgotten fact that Santo played during a pitcher’s era, a period marked by a higher mound and bigger strike zone. His signature 1964 season when he led the league in walks, triples and on-base percentage, in addition to hitting .313 (seventh) with 30 home runs (sixth) and 114 RBI (second). He was second in slugging at .564. Oh, and he won the Gold Glove that year. For all of that, this wonderful two-way player finished eighth in the 1964 MVP voting.
...But get this straight: Santo didn’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame because he was dying. He didn’t deserve it because he was a popular Cubs broadcaster for nearly two decades. He didn’t deserve it because he kept his diabetes a secret, playing all those years while monitoring his condition by feel. If he felt weak, he ate a candy bar. Then he played every day, averaging 159 games (with 26 home runs and 100 RBI) from 1961-71.
Santo didn’t deserve the Hall for any of those reasons. He deserved it—he deserves it still—because he retired as one of the best two or three third basemen of all time. Dead or alive, Ron Santo should be in the Hall of Fame. How appalling that death made its final call before Hall voters made theirs.