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Baseball Hall of Fame Getting Too Crowded

It’s no fun playing the role of buzz kill.

But the question begs: with Ron Santo the fourth player from the 1960s Cubs (Billy Williams, Ernie Banks and Ferguson Jenkins are the others), a team that never went to a World Series, to be awarded enshrinement in Cooperstown, does that mean Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez should join Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera – the two only sure-fire Yankees Hall of Famers from their 1990s teams – in Cooperstown in a few years’ time?

I hope not.

While it was a pleasure watching Williams and Martinez on those great Yankee teams, and both were nearly as beloved in New York as Santo was in Chicago, they fall into the category of the B-plus player. As was Santo.

Upon closer inspection, the offensive numbers for Williams and Martinez compare favorably, and even better in some cases, with Santo, especially considering Santo had more at bats:

                                AB      AVG.    HR       RBI     OBP    SLG    OPS

Ron Santo                 8143   .277    342     1331   .362    .464    .826                              

Bernie Williams         7869   .297    287     1257   .381    .477    .858

Tino Martinez            7111   .271    339     1271   .344    .471    .815

Of course I could have chosen one of 50 players with similar stats who aren’t in the Hall of Fame. This is not to diminish Santo’s superb play or to dim the enthusiasm of so many Wind City faithful who felt a surge of righteous “it’s about time” feelings upon hearing the news of his election. This was a man who suffered terribly with physical ailments yet remained a Chicago sports icon up to the end. A loyal son of the Second City.

But what’s so bad with being a beloved legend just in your own city?

Deep affection for a local hero shouldn’t determine what is supposed to be a relatively objective judge of a sporting career. I wrote a couple of weeks ago that Yankees shortstop Phil Rizzuto, forever cherished in New York, didn’t deserve enshrinement in Cooperstown. He just wasn’t that superior a player. He got into the Hall of Fame because he became a legend as a Yankees broadcaster for his lovable (or detestable, depending on one’s viewpoint), partisan rooting of his Yankees.

I also wrote that if Santo and Gil Hodges were under consideration, then Dick Allen, a far more spectacular and impactful player even with his a too-brief career, was more deserving using both statistical and anecdotal evidence.

There’s no doubt in my mind that if Dick Allen had remained with the Phillies for all of his career and had the goodwill of the citizens of that city (which is nearly impossible for any mere mortal) then there would be a call for Allen to be enshrined.

And I’m confident that if the top National League pitchers from that era were queried as to who was a scarier hitter to face they’d name Allen every time over Santo.

The point is there are now far too many players in the Hall, or up for consideration for the Hall, that don’t immediately connote greatness.

The Hall should be for only those that elicit a universal, “oh yeah, he was one of the greats” – and not, “what a solid, clutch player and a good guy.” Sure, once in a while there should be heated discussion regarding a borderline player but there are just too many “close but no cigar” players that are nominated now.

And one can blame Bill James and the rest of the humorless sabermetric crowd for the overabundance of the B-plus players that we’ll see nominated in the coming decades. There’s so much nuanced data at our disposal that one can use these new stats to elevate a player and prove that so-and-so is indeed deserving of Hall status.

I find it similar to the notion of every kid getting a trophy for showing up nowadays. If there continue to be so many near-great players honored, then Cooperstown should be honest and call it the Hall of the Good, the Very Good and the Great. 

So congratulations to Ron Santo’s family who finally see their relative get the honor that so man Chicagoans wished for. If there was a Hall of Fame for loyalty, civic goodwill, and character he would have been enshrined decades ago.

But in a few years when so many other players either slightly better or slightly worse than Santo are also elected, it won’t seem as high an honor.

Because, after all, the Hall is now on the dreaded slippery slope as what was previously reserved seating for the select few is now becoming general admission for many.

Time to restrict the guest list again. It’s getting too crowded in here.

Award-winning columnist Tim Joyce provides regular commentary for RealClearSports on Sundays and Tuesdays. Email: joyce.timothy@gmail.com

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