Hall of injustice

Thirty-two heartbreaking and unnecessary years. That's how long it took for Ron Santo to be elected -- finally -- to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Santo had toupees older than that. He might not have been a first-ballot candidate, but he sure as hell shouldn't have been a 20th-ballot inductee.

Santo and Cooperstown were meant for each other. Anyone who can read the back of his bubblegum card knows that. Or should have known that.

His numbers, his defensive play, his accomplishments during his 15-year career were as long as those 1970s, "Rockford Files''-era sideburns he wore back in the day. And he did it all while quietly battling diabetes, a disease that would ultimately ravage his body, amputated limb by amputated limb, failed organ by failed organ.

The fact that it took since 1980 for Santo to be voted into the Hall is a cruel joke. His Chicago Cubs and White Sox career was always bronze plaque worthy, but the voters and, later, the ridiculously penal Veterans Committee were either too ignorant or too arrogant to recognize the full worth of the third baseman's statistics.

Santo died Dec. 3, 2010, almost exactly a year to the day of the Hall of Fame announcement. During the Monday teleconference with reporters, his wife Vicki was much more gracious than I would have been.

"My initial emotion is, 'We dared to dream,''' Vicki said.

My initial emotion was, "Thanks for nothing.''

Had I been Santo's widow, I would have acknowledged the work of the Golden Era Committee, which righted a glaring Cooperstown wrong. And then I would have blasted a process that was so arbitrary and, especially in the case of the Veterans Committee, so exclusionary to the point of being absurd.

Santo is only the 12th major league third baseman to reach the Hall of Fame. Think about that for a moment. There have been 17,733 big league ballplayers, but only 12 third basemen are Hall of Famers?

Why Santo's statistics are more relevant today than they were in 1980, when he received only 3.9 percent support from the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (his first year of eligibility on those BBWAA ballots), or 43.1 percent in 1998 (his final year of eligibility) makes no sense. And why he wasn't elected by assorted configurations of the Veterans Committee four separate times is even more unforgivable.

I knew Santo well enough to recognize the hurt in his voice when he was continually passed over for the Hall. He did what he could to mask the disappointment. By the end of a conversation with him, he was usually the one consoling you instead of the other way around.

Selfishly, I would have loved to have heard Vicki Santo say, "What took so long?'' And then, after the nervous laughter had subsided, say, "You can keep your induction ceremony. If Ronnie wasn't good enough for you when he was still alive, then he isn't good enough for you now.''

End of teleconference.

Admittedly, that's a bit on the petty side. But there's no excuse for it taking 32 years and a combined 20 ballots to find space for Santo's plaque. His career didn't deserve to be double parked for so long.

Of course, nobody would have appreciated the honor more than Santo. Nobody would have beamed more like a little kid on Christmas than Santo. Nobody would have given a more heartfelt induction speech than Santo.

Imagine on July 22, 2012, the day of the induction ceremony, Santo walking on those two prosthetic legs toward the podium microphone. There wouldn't have been a dry eye in the house -- not out of sympathy, but out of admiration. And by the time Santo was done with his speech, there wouldn't have been an unused laugh line on anybody's face, either. He would have been that poignant, that passionate and that funny.

It isn't just a shame that Santo never received the call from the Hall himself. It's a baseball injustice.

That 32-year wait deprived him (and us) of those induction ceremony moments. Whomever gives that speech -- Vicki, one of his sons, his longtime WGN radio partner Pat Hughes, his friend and former Cubs teammate Randy Hundley, his favorite Cubs son Kerry Wood -- will no doubt do a wonderful job. But, sigh, it won't be Santo.

So go ahead, click your heels in celebration of Santo's election. But deep down we know it (and the voters who overlooked him in the past know it) that this shouldn't have been a posthumous award.

We'll hoist a cold one for him in July, but no matter what it will still feel like a party without the guest of honor.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.