The Washington Times - September 24, 2008, 12:03AM

By NICK LECO
September 24, 2008

For a person who was once told that his life expectancy was going to be no more than 25 years and who later had both his legs amputated, a 15-year career in the major leagues is nothing short of extraordinary. That is exactly what Ron Santo has gone through, and accomplished, in his life. Despite being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 18, Santo went on to have an excellent career with the Cubs. While the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) failed to elect Santo to the National Baseball Hall of Fame during his 15 years of eligibility, he came within seven votes of being elected by the Veterans Committee in 2005 and fell just five votes short in 2007. Santo’s name will once again appear on the Veterans Committee ballot in 2009. The question is, does he deserve to get in? This week, National Pastime takes a look at Santo’s Hall of Fame resume.

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RON SANTO -
CAREER STATISTICS

Games: 2,243
At Bats: 8,143
Hits: 2,254
Runs: 1,138
Doubles: 365
Home Runs: 345
RBI: 1,331
Average: .277
On-Base: .362
Teams: Cubs (1960-1973), White Sox (1974)

PROS

Santo was arguably the best all-around third baseman in the game during his playing days. In fact, when he retired in 1974, it could be argued that he was the second- or third-best third baseman ever, behind Eddie Mathews and maybe Brooks Robinson - both Hall of Famers. A nine-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glover, Santo’s combination of power and defensive ability was virtually unmatched among third baseman of his era.

In 1960, Santo placed fourth in National League Rookie of the Year voting despite playing in only 95 games. He went on to post 13 consecutive double-digit home run seasons and earned MVP votes seven times during that span, placing in the top 10 four times. His best finish (fourth) came in 1967, when he batted .300 with 31 home runs, 98 RBI, 176 hits and 107 runs scored.

Santo had four seasons of 30-plus home runs and 11 of 20 or more. He topped the 100-RBI mark four times and consistently placed in the top 10 in the power categories during his career. Even while dealing with diabetes, Santo was extremely durable and played in 154 games or more in 11 different seasons. His outstanding plate discipline usually led to a robust on-base percentage, and he twice led the league in that category. He also led the league in walks four times and times on base three times.

While guys like Mike Schmidt, George Brett and Wade Boggs have redefined the third base position since Santo retired, he still ranks among the all-time best at the position. In fact, in a recent analysis of all-time third basemen by noted statistical guru Bill James, Santo was ranked sixth. Santo finished his career with more home runs than all Hall of Fame third basemen except Schmidt and Matthews. He ranks behind only Schmidt, Mathews, Brett and Robinson in career RBI by a third baseman, and Brett and Robinson both had nearly 2,000 more at bats than Santo during their careers.

CONS

While Santo was considered one of the best players in the National League during the 1960s, his Hall of Fame chances are hurt by the fact that his Cubs teams were consistently bad during that span. The Cubs’ ineptitude clearly hurt his MVP chances, as every NL MVP winner that decade played on a team that won more than 90 games. During his time with the Cubs, they won more than 90 games just once, in 1969. Thus, Santo never played in the postseason or even took part in any serious pennant race.

Santo career numbers are impressive, but would have been even better if not for the fact that he played in an era dominated by pitching. Despite playing in hitter-friendly Wrigley Field, Santo - one of the games premier power hitters - never had that one signature season of 40-plus home runs or 120-plus RBI that you usually find on Hall of Fame players’ resumes. This certainly did not appeal to BBWAA voters, who have become accustomed to those kinds of numbers.

Santo’s career also came to a rather abrupt end. After a solid 1973 season in which he hit 20 homers for the Cubs, Santo managed only five in 117 games for the White Sox in 1974 and retired at the end of the season. The sudden end of Santo’s career kept him from reaching some of the requisite statistics for Hall of Fame hitters, such as 400 home runs or a hit total in the vicinity of 3,000.

THE VERDICT

Santo is one of the most underrated third basemen in the history of the game. His accomplishments put him up there with the best player to ever man the hot corner. When you consider that he achieved all that he did while dealing with a debilitating disease such like diabetes, his career is even more remarkable. There is no question that he deserves to be recognized for his accomplishments. Santo will get his due next year, as he will be voted in through the Veterans Committee. The honor is long overdue, because Santos is, and always has been, a legitimate Hall of Fame third baseman.

Nick Leco’s Cooperstown Bound? column runs every Wednesday here on National Pastime.

Photo by Getty Images

Be sure to check out our previous Cooperstown Bound? columns: Roberto Alomar, Jack Morris, Omar Vizquel, Don Mattingly, Curt Schilling, Andre Dawson, Kenny Lofton, Fred McGriff, Alan Trammell, Mark McGwire, Bert Blyleven, Lee Smith, Mike Mussina, Jim Rice, Andres Galarraga, Jim Kaat, Dave Concepcion.