Sitting with Ron Santo in his broadcast booth at HoHoKam Park before a Cubs spring training game a few years ago, swapping stories about mutual friend and ageless fan Sara Davis, the conversation turned to the Hall of Fame.
Santo’s smile soon vanished as he asked: “Do you think I’m ever going to get in?”
“Yeah, Ron, I do,” I said. “Someday.”
Santo grimaced and said quietly: “Geez, I don’t know.”
Santo needed to be reminded that his chances were hurt because his Cubs never played in the postseason. Fair or not, that was a fact of life in this screwy voting process. Santo’s expression became more pained as he said: “I know. I know.”
Santo would tell everyone that having his No. 10 retired and hanging on a pin-striped flag at Wrigley Field was his real Hall of Fame. No one ever believed him. Santo knew he was a Hall of Famer, he just didn’t understand why the rest of the world didn’t agree. After all, his record speaks for itself.
And finally, the voters listened. For a man who got just 3.9 percent of the votes – 75 percent is needed to make it – his first time on the ballot in 1980, Santo got 15 of the 16 votes from the Hall’s Golden Era Committee in results announced Monday.
He’s a Hall of Famer. Doesn’t matter if it’s on his first try or his 50th, Ron Santo is a Hall of Famer.
What took so long is anyone’s guess. There have been rumblings that the former players on what used to be called the veterans committee either didn’t like Santo because of his heel-clicking, showboating ways or that they wanted to keep their fraternity the most exclusive in sports.
Either way, the veterans – long after the writers failed in two different stints until 1998 – consistently got it wrong. Until now.
“Everyone on our committee could not see how he did not get in with the writers,” said Golden Era Committee member Brooks Robinson, a Santo contemporary and one of the other 12 third basemen in the Hall of Fame. “This is really the best way to do it – the way we did it here.”
There had been talk over the last decade that Santo would sneak into Cooperstown through the broadcaster’s wing, seeing as how he spent 21 seasons as the Cubs’ radio rooter. But that wasn’t the route for Ronnie.
He needed to be there as a player. He earned that privilege.
And no one would have enjoyed the Cooperstown scene more than Santo. When the Hall of Famers gather in upstate New York every July for the annual induction ceremony, it’s like a playground for the old guys.
They sip drinks and tell embellished stories at the Otesaga Resort. They gather on the eve of the induction ceremony for a red-carpet gala inside the museum. They bounce around town and feel like in-their-prime superstars again.
Ron Santo craved for just one day of that fun.
He won’t get to stand on the stage at the Clark Sports Center and make his speech. He won’t get to hear the cheers from the Cubs fans who always flood the tiny town when anyone who once wore a C on their caps gets honored by the Hall. He won’t get to see his plaque hanging in the gallery.
Wife Vicki will make that speech next July. The plaque will still go up. Cubs fans will get their chance to bounce their cheers off the hills surrounding the Clark Sports Center.
Sadly, Ron Santo won’t be there to see it or hear it.
He earned his way into the Hall of Fame nearly a half-century ago, but he stopped believing in his chances just a few years before he died Dec. 3, 2010.