Better Late Than Never
Ron Santo is in the Hall of Fame.
Cubs fans have waited decades to hear that news. Ron and his family waited for over thirty agonizing years. And this summer when he is finally enshrined in Cooperstown in his rightful place among baseball’s best, the guest of honor–the one person the honor meant the most to–won’t be in attendance.
That Santo joins the Hall of Fame posthumously is beyond a shame–it’s borderline criminal. For the last several years, it seemed inevitable Ron would someday make it to Cooperstown. In fact the MLB continued to reshape the election process to keep the door open for guys like Santo (the hyper-exclusive Veteran’s Committee notwithstanding). So you’ll forgive me if my joy over his election is tempered with more than a little anger that it took Ron’s death to finally push him over the Hall of Fame threshold. Why is Santo more worthy in death than he was in life? That’s a question I’d like to put to several Hall of Fame voters, Jack Bauer-style.
Some people attribute Santo’s exclusion to the fact that he never played for a championship team. Others think it was his heel clicking that drove sportswriters and later his peers to leave him out of the Hall. And certainly many on the Veteran’s Committee sat on their hands and adopted the passive-aggressive mindset that if he hadn’t been voted in before now, why should he go in at all?
For a long time now I’ve looked forward to Ron’s HOF induction speech. I even thought it would be a good opportunity to make the trek to Cooperstown and be on hand for the celebration. And privately, I hoped he would use the stage and the occasion to take to task the members of the media and the Veteran’s Committee who had kept him out for so long. I wanted him to point out their hypocrisy and pomposity–to call them out in front of baseball fans everywhere.
Of course that would never happen. That wasn’t Ron’s style. In fact, despite how hurt he was by his routine exclusion, he rarely griped about it, and never made himself out to be a victim. He would have been too overjoyed to make a list of his enemies or call out those who had done him wrong. He wouldn’t have brought up the obvious fact that his numbers haven’t changed since his retirement, or that the shifting subjective standard is laughable and embarrassing. He wouldn’t have punched Joe Morgan square in the face.
He would have been gracious, respectful, thankful, and humble–all the things he was in life.
He would probably tell stories that would make us laugh, and some that would make us cry. He’d talk about his two families–the one he had at home, and the one he had with the Cubs and their fans. He’d talk about the Cubs winning the World Series, and how this could be the year (even though it probably won’t be). He’d share credit with his teammates and friends, and recognize how they helped make him a better player and person. He’d make a joke about Pat Hughes’ sweaters, and he might even spill a beverage on himself before it was over. He wouldn’t care that it took more than thirty years to get there–he’d graciously say it was better late than never.
I’m trying not to be angry or bitter that it took so long, and that Ron never got to enjoy the greatest honor a baseball player can receive. Instead I’m trying simply to be happy for him and his family. It’s not my natural disposition–I’m just not that classy.
It would be easier if I was more like Ron Santo.