Ron Santo elected to Hall of Fame

Updated: December 6, 2011, 5:26 PM ET
By Bruce Levine | ESPNChicago.com

It took 32 years, but Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo was elected posthumously to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Monday with 93.8 percent of the vote from the Golden Era committee.

Nominees needed at least 75 percent of the vote to be elected (12 or more). Santo was the only player chosen for the Hall of Fame, receiving 15 of 16 votes. Jim Kaat received 10 votes, while Gil Hodges and Minnie Minoso received nine each.

Santo never came close to election during his 15 times on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot, peaking at 43 percent -- far short of the needed 75 percent in his last year of eligibility in 1998.

Santo will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 22, along with any players elected by members of the BBWAA on Jan. 9. Bernie Williams joins Jack Morris, Barry Larkin and others on that ballot.

"This is a great day for baseball and for Cubs fans everywhere," MLB commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. "I am thrilled that the memory of my dear friend Ron Santo will be preserved forever in the halls of Cooperstown. As a star player and a beloved broadcaster, Ron was a staple of the Cubs' experience every single day for decades, representing all the goodwill of both the franchise and the game he loved.

"I always admired Ron's courage and loyalty, and I miss him very much. Today, I am so proud to know that his contributions to baseball will receive the highest honor. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I congratulate Ron's wife Vicki, their four children and their grandchildren."

Upon his induction, Santo will be the 47th Hall of Famer to have played for the Cubs. He died at age 70 on Dec. 3, 2010, from complications due to bladder cancer and pneumonia.

"It's pretty amazing this all happened one year to the day that he died," Santo's wife Vicki said. "I guess you could say that it should have been earlier, but all he said was I hope I get in in my lifetime."

Santo spent 15 years in the majors and another 21 as a broadcaster on Cubs radio. The long wait for induction had been maddening for Santo and his family. He was passed over by the veterans committee in 2003, 2005 and 2008. After that committee, comprised of current Hall of Famers, failed to elect anyone for eight consecutive years, the Hall of Fame changed the election rules.

The Golden Era committee was comprised of 16 individuals, including Hall of Fame players, baseball executives and veteran baseball reporters.

The fiery Santo becomes the 11th third baseman in history to be elected to the Hall of Fame, joining Wade Boggs (2005), George Brett (1999), Mike Schmidt (1995), George Kell (1983), Eddie Mathews (1978), Brooks Robinson (1983), Freddie Lindstrom (1976), Home Run Baker (1955), Pie Traynor (1948) and Jimmy Collins (1945).

Fourteen of Santo's 15 seasons in the majors were spent with the Cubs. In the winter of 1973, he was traded to the White Sox where he spent his final season on the South Side. In 2003, the Cubs retired his No. 10 jersey and after his death they dedicated a statue in his memory outside the ballpark on Aug. 10, 2011.

Santo's career numbers have always been impressive. He hit .277 with 342 home runs and 1,331 RBIs and his 337 Cub home runs rank him fourth in team history.

[+] EnlargeRon Santo
Mark Rucker/Getty ImagesRon Santo's 337 home runs rank him fourth in Cubs history.

The Cubs icon was the top defensive third baseman of his era after Baltimore's Brooks Robinson. Santo still holds numerous defensive records and he led the National League in assists from 1962-68. A five-time Gold Glove winner, he was also named to nine All-Star teams.

Despite battling diabetes in an era where medication for his disease hadn't yet become effective, Santo played in 1,536 games during the decade from 1960-69 -- the third most games played by any major leaguer in that time span.

"Everyone has their own idea about what a Hall of Famer is," said Robinson, a member of the Golden Era committee. "And even with all the Hall of Famers themselves there is a difference of opinion. But I always thought Santo should be in the Hall of Fame. I've been pulling for him for a long time."

The Cubs never made the postseason during Santo's career. The Cubs captain played in 2,243 games, the fifth most in baseball history without making the postseason. Three of Santo's teammates from that era were previously elected to the Hall of Fame -- Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins.

"Some people brought out a lot other than numbers for Ron Santo, talked about what he did for the community," said Williams, a member of the voting panel. "The numbers are there. ... I think they looked at it with a different view, saying this guy should be in the Hall of Fame."

"He was a very proud individual, and he would be overwhelmed with this honor," Jenkins said. "The only disappointing part is he's not going to be around to enjoy it. But he would be extremely proud of the fact that his family will see the Santo name in the Hall of Fame during their lives."

A Seattle native, Santo signed with the Cubs at age 18 in 1958, making it to the major leagues two years later.

After retiring from the game, Santo began a successful business career, owning truck stops and restaurants until he became the color commentator on Cubs radio broadcasts in 1990. He also was a tireless fundraiser, helping raise an estimated $40 million for juvenile diabetes research during his lifetime.

Santo spent 21 years in the broadcast booth. During that time the Cubs played 3,333 games, going to the postseason four times with an overall record of 6-15. They were swept in 1998, 2007 and 2008.

"It was always his dream to get into the Hall of Fame," Vicki Santo said. "People should look at Ron and say 'He never gave up.' That was always his message and he never did give up."

Bruce Levine covers baseball for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Bruce Levine | email

Chicago baseball beat reporter
Bruce Levine has covered sports in Chicago for over 28 years and hosts "Talkin' Baseball," heard Saturday mornings on ESPN 1000.