This year's Veterans Committee ballot is called the "Golden Era" ballot, which will consider candidates from the 1947-1972 era. Now, I think "Golden Era" is a misleading label for an era that actually saw stagnant attendance -- in 1947, the average attendance per game was 15,989, while by 1972 it had dropped to 14,507 -- but that's another column.
The 16-member committee will vote on 10 candidates, with 12 votes needed for enshrinement. If you remember, last year's Veterans Committee elected only executive Pat Gillick from the post-1972 era, with union leader Marvin Miller falling one vote short of election,
I think the Golden Era ballot actually has a few stronger candidates, especially if you believe in a big Hall. I advocate the following two candidates for the Hall of Fame.
Ron Santo, 3B, 1960-1974
Stats: .277/.362/.464, 342 HRs, 1,331 RBIs, 2,254 hits, 5 Gold Gloves, 9-time All-Star
Much has been written about Santo, whose vote total on the BBWAA ballot peaked at 43.1 percent in 1998, his final year of eligibility. The best way to assert his candidacy is perhaps just to list the greatest third basemen of all time. Here's the Baseball-Reference.com top 10, sorted by Wins Above Replacement:
Mike Schmidt: 108.3 WAR
Eddie Mathews: 98.3
Wade Boggs: 89.0
George Brett: 85.0
Chipper Jones: 83.0
Brooks Robinson: 69.1
Scott Rolen: 66.7
Ron Santo: 66.4
Home Run Baker: 63.7
Graig Nettles: 61.6
I'm picking and choosing here, but Santo has more hits than Schmidt, more home runs than Brett, Boggs or Robinson, more RBIs than Boggs, more walks than Brett, a higher batting average than Schmidt, Mathews or Robinson. He's clearly the best eligible third baseman not in the Hall of Fame, and there are several who rank below him in career WAR who are in the Hall, including Baker, Pie Traynor, George Kell, Freddie Lindstrom and Jimmy Collins.
I think one argument used against Santo is that he'd be the fourth Cubs player from his era to make the Hall, joining Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins. How can a team have four Hall of Famers but never win anything? Well, quite easily when you have a lot of bad teammates. It's also important to note that the players' peaks didn't overlap. Banks was a phenomenal player when he won two MVP awards playing shortstop in the 1950s, but after he hurt his knee and moved to first base, he wasn't much of a player the second half of his career; from 1962 to 1971 he posted a .306 on-base percentage and just 8.7 WAR. He wasn't contributing much by the time Jenkins began peaking in 1967.
Plus, you have to ask yourself: Why the other three but not Santo? Here are the career WAR for the four:
Jenkins: 81.3 WAR (made it third year)
Santo: 66.4 WAR
Banks: 64.4 WAR (made it first year)
Williams: 57.2 WAR (made it sixth year)
OK, Jenkins and Banks make sense. But why Williams and not Santo? His career hitting stats are a little better, but he was a mediocre left fielder while Santo was a Gold Glove third baseman. Williams was certainly more liked than Santo and that eventually meant something to the voters. He hung on a few years longer to add to his counting totals. While Santo was the best third baseman in the National League in the 1960s, some of his skills weren't obvious -- he led the league four times in walks and was a solid defensive third baseman, things voters weren't necessarily factoring in while assessing his value. Baseball-Reference rates Santo as one of the top 10 position players in the NL seven times, including No. 1 in 1967 and No. 2 in 1965 and 1966.
I don't know if Santo will get in -- he wasn't particularly liked by his peers either, and some of them will be on the committee (including Williams, which could certainly help Santo). To me, the bottom line is Ron Santo won't be lowering the standards of the Hall of Fame, but raising them; he's the best player at his position not already in, and arguably the best eligible player at any position not already in. Sadly, he passed away last December, and won't get to enjoy the moment if he's finally elected.
Minnie Minoso, OF, 1949-1964
Stats: .298/.389/.459, 186 HRs, 1,023 RBIs, 1,136 runs, 1,963 hits, 9-time All-Star
Minoso's first full season in the majors came in 1951, when he was 25 years old. He hit .326, scored 112 runs, led the league in triples and stolen bases and finished fourth in the MVP vote. From 1951 until 1962 (when he fractured his skull and wrist running into a wall, and later fractured his forearm when hit by a pitch) Minoso had the seventh-highest WAR among all major league position players, trailing only Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Eddie Mathews, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks. In other words, for an 11-year span, he was one of the best players in baseball.
Minoso did everything well: He hit for average, drew walks, had speed, hit for some power, was durable and was regarded as a good outfielder (the Gold Glove award wasn't created until he was 31, but he won three). The writers of his time knew he was an excellent player -- he finished fourth in the MVP voting four times, an impressive achievement considering he never played for a pennant winner.
Of course, his career numbers may not look impressive, but remember: His career didn't start until he was 25 because of the color barrier. He was the first black player for the White Sox. Considering he was already a star as a rookie, what if he had reached the majors when he was 21? Now you're adding another 700 hits or so, 400 runs and 350 RBIs to his career totals and 15 seasons as one of the best players in baseball. It seems to me more than unfair to discount Minoso's totals simply because he got a late start in the major leagues due to racial circumstances.
Minoso is 85 years old and still going strong. Put the man in Cooperstown. He deserves it.
Coming up on Saturday: I'll check out the other eight candidates on the ballot.