Ron Santo got screwed again by his peers last week. The Veterans Committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame selected Joe Gordon as its only inductee this season. Gordon, an admittedly great second baseman who was the 1942 Most Valuable Player for the Cleveland Indians (in a year when Ted Williams won the triple crown), snuck in as part of the election based on players whose careers began before 1943. The smaller voting body of Hall of Famers familiar with the era produced 10 votes out of 12 for Gordon. By contrast, Santo got 39 votes from the larger body of 64 previously elected Hall of Famers from his era who were voting, but that did not meet the 75 percent (48, for the math-challenged out there) required for induction.
Not to diminish Gordon; the more the merrier, as far as I’m concerned for the Hall of Fame (up to a point). Yet, to use the old this-guy-versus-that-guy methodology, the choice between Gordon and Santo — considered the best player not in the Hall of Fame for years by Bill James and other baseball number crunchers — isn’t even close. Santo ranks 87th among the top 100 players of all time in Bill James’s New Historical Baseball Abstract. Gordon doesn’t make the list. Gordon ranks 16th among all second baseman in James’s book; Santo was sixth among third baseman, the position most under-represented in the Hall of Fame because, as James has explained, voters have traditionally not appreciated how third base is both a power-hitting and defensive position. (This does not have to be explained to anyone who saw the difference Joe Crede made in the 2005 post-season.) According to the methodology used by Pete Palmer and Gary Gillette in The Baseball Encyclopedia, Santo produced more wins for his team, the Cubs, than any other player in the National League in 1964, 1966, and 1967, an era that included Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Bob Gibson; Gordon never led his league. Hall of Fame voters have voted in hack outfielders — like, for instance, Hack Wilson — but neglected Gold Glove third basemen like Santo, while praising fielding-first middle infielders like Ozzie Smith and Bill Mazeroski, whose (absolutely legitimate) election to the Hall of Fame led to the rules to be changed so that only Hall of Famers, not a panel of experts, could decide.
Here’s the thing, however: To date, since the rules were changed in 1999, the Veterans Committee of Hall of Famers has elected only one new addition to the Hall of Fame: Joe Gordon. And that after much chiding. And why should they? If you were in a club that prized exclusivity, would you vote anyone in — at all? The fewer you recognize, the greater you become.
So let’s be honest. The Veterans Committee is fucked — as it has been for years. It never would have voted in Mazeroski, as it never would have unearthed a deserving, but long-forgotten figure like George Davis, of the 1906 “Hitless Wonders” White Sox World Series winners, whose candidacy was championed most of all by James. Unfortunately, James’s arguments haven’t worked as well for Santo. He will be in the Hall of Fame someday, when the powers that be at last come to the realization that he belongs. The only question is whether Santo will be there for the induction.