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One of these days Ron Santo will make it to the Hall of Fame. Then we can all take a deep breath and figure out why the world plotted so insidiously to thwart him.
Until then, we must rely on the media/barstool cottage industry built around the "why-do-they-hate-our-beloved-Ron?" manifesto.
We have the usual suspects.
Idiot voters? Some of that. Misunderstanding of refined historical analysis that discounts his considerable achievements? Sure. Ron isn't as beloved outside of Chicago as he is in the neighborhood? True. The Hall of Fame voting system is just screwy? Probably.
But now that he has been rebuffed by his playing peers for a spot in Cooperstown, maybe it's time for a less teary-eyed view.
Famed baseball analyst Bill James has given Santo his imprimatur but oddly forgot some of his own insight about such matters. The reasons some players don't make the Hall transcend numbers and result from a cascade of psychological forces.
Sadly enough, Santo may be on the outside of Cooperstown as a punishment in general for being a Cub, and more specifically, for being a Cub in 1969.
For those of you who don't remember (But, WAIT, Cubs fans are doomed to always remember everything), the Cubs should have won the pennant that year and led by 8 1/2 games in mid-August. Then they came mortifyingly unglued, and fate let the Mets pull Excalibur from the stone.
It was amazingly awful for the Cubs. Every decade or so in the pre-Division Playoff era, the Cubs were good enough to juke their fans into realistic hope. Those Diaspora years made the pain of reality even more unbearable, except, of course, for those us who were not Cubs fans and delighted in the pain of others.
Indeed, 1969 was about as tragic and unrequited a season as the Cubs ever experienced, despite the superficial gleam of great statistics. For those of us who were not Cubs fans, it was like a trackside luxury box seat at a train crash. You hated yourself for liking the experience.
And finishing 22 games over .500 only made the pain more excruciating for the Cubs. Santo had 123 RBI that year. The Cubs had two 20-game winners. Those should all have been good omens. They weren't.
But here's what I remember about that season and more particularly about the breath of Santo's career,
No matter what Santo accomplished, it was never enough to make the Cubs a winner and history has decided to punish him and them for that lack. Anyway, the Hall ultimately rewards winners and needs a better reason than glossy statistics to honor losers. History is merely the way we remember what happened. It's not necessarily THE TRUTH. And history remembers Santo in a slightly different way than do Cubs fans.
Hall of Fame voters inducted Santo contemporaries Billy Williams and Ernie Banks for good numbers, and they grudgingly let Fergie Jenkins have a seat at the table, too. After all, you have to honor a good pitcher who singlehandedly withstood the worst agonies only his own teammates could inflict on him.
But Santo? Sorry. Generosity only goes so far. And apparently there's no statute of limitations for 1969. Santo's still doing time for it.
There's a logic to the rejection. How many valid Hall of Famers can a truly terrible team have? If they were all worthy Famers, why was the team so often so hideously miserable?
As the peer vote suggests and contemporaries testify, Santo was always regarded as a very good player in his own era, but never a great one. Sorry if the truth hurts. (That was the first decade of my totally obsessed baseball awareness/immersion. I always thought of Santo as the guy who hit 3-run homers in the eighth inning to make the losing 10-6 score seem closer than it was).
And what I remember of Santo's career may be what his peers most clearly recall now, too. And they should know. Santo did not make a bad team better enough to transcend its historic, meteoric awfulness. In the end, maybe there is a true Cub-borne voodoo that derives less from what the Cubs do or fail to do, than from simply being a Cub.
Unfortunately for Santo, those voters who hold his Hall of Fame fate now will have lived through those years as he did. So they are unlikely to forget or to judge him differently than they already have.
There's always some hope. In Santo's case, perhaps history's harsh judgment will be reconsidered and remedied by kinder souls. I'm sort of hoping so.
Even those of us who are not Cubs fans grow weary of schadenfreude.
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