Friday, May 28, 2010

Ron Santo and the Hall

The stated motto of the Baseball Hall of Fame is: "Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations." So right away, I think I should acknowledge the caveat that the Hall of Fame is not necessarily nor primarily a reward to players who accumulate the greatest assemblage of statistics. The hall does not just honor excellence, it also attempts to catalog the story of the sport and to transmit that story to later generations. That's why -- despite his amazing ability -- "Shoeless" Joe Jackson is not in the hall. He was a cheater, so his story undoes his excellent statistics (Jackson, before getting banned, was on pace to join the ranks of Ruth, Aaron, and Mantle).

However, as I've discussed before, the statistics are part of that story and are the measurement of excellence. So let's examine the venerable Ron Santo:

Today, Fangraphs added historical WAR to their databases. WAR, or wins above replacement, is an all-inclusive statistic that evaluates both hitting and defense (and pitching, if applicable) and determines how much a player is worth to his team.

Here is how Ron Santo's WAR compares to some other Hall of Famers:

Source Fangraphs.

The above players include: third baseman Wade Boggs, second baseman Ryne Sandberg, and outfielder Andre Dawson. The graph shows the cumulative WAR of each of these players as they got older. Ron Santo's pretty green line, we should note, sits consistently higher than each of these players.

Oh yeah, and Ron Santo had diabetes. And not Jay Cutler diabetes, Santo had 1980s diabetes. Cutler, the Bears' quarterback, can check his blood-sugar level in between each series. In the 1980s, it was not impossible to check blood-sugar levels, but -- if memory serves me well -- medical science had not even understood the importance of such a thing.

In other words, the now-legless Ron Santo would trot out every day, regardless of how tired and week he felt -- and was -- yet still made other Hall of Famers his prison wife.

By age 34, Santo was traded across the city to the White Sox where a combination of: (1) age, (2) diabetes, and (3) low BABIP prematurely ended his great career.

In short, Ron Santo was and has been: (1) an above average fielder, (2) an incredible hitter, (3) a man he endured great physical (and therefore mental) struggles during his career, and (3) a moderately annoying and easily frustrated radio analyst.

Ron Santo was the Cubs starting third basemen for 13 years in the 1960s and 70s -- a period when he was one of three, at most, good players on Chicago's most popular team -- and has since become known to future generations through his radio-broadcast moans and sighs. If these two elements do not satisfy the maxims of "Preserving History" and "Connecting Generations," then surely the overwhelming strength of his statistics and the circumstances of his success push him into an elite category of players.

In summation: I would rather have Cubs Ryne Sandberg and Andre Dawson BE REMOVED FROM THE HALL OF FAME than Ron Santo endure just one more close-but-not-enough Hall of Fame election year. He deserves the honor far more than many other players.


UPDATE: Below, Shawn went through each Hall of Fame third basemen. It kind of looks like ol' Ronny is the 2nd or 3rd best hot-corner man of the bunch:



3 comments:

  1. Great stuff, Brad.

    Here are a few more comparing Santo to every hall of fame 3rd baseman:

    http://www.fangraphs.com/graphs/1011447_1000453_1001124_1001400_ograph_%20_5_29_2010.png

    http://www.fangraphs.com/graphs/1011447_1002455_1006783_1007631_ograph_%20_5_29_2010.png

    http://www.fangraphs.com/graphs/1011447_1008236_1011055_1011586_ograph_%20_5_29_2010.png

    http://www.fangraphs.com/graphs/1011447_1013165___ograph_%20_5_29_2010.png

    Santo compares favorably to all of these men. The only one that clearly surpasses Santo is Eddie Mathews, who is easily the greatest 3rd baseman of all time. The best comparable is probably George Brett.

    There is simply no good rationale for keeping Santo out of the hall. None.

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  2. Wow. Good work, Shawn. Seeing those really gets my blood boiling.

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  3. Great work guys! This should be required reading for the HOF voters. This definitely strengthens the argument that Santo should be in.

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