Hall of Fame or not, Ron Santo ranks among the all-time great third basemen

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When someone successful and beloved dies there’s a natural tendency to perhaps overstate their greatness and at first glance it may seem as though people are doing that today in touting Ron Santo’s qualifications for the Hall of Fame after the longtime Cubs third baseman and announcer passed away yesterday.

However, in Santo’s case amplifying his greatness is completely justified and unfortunately serves as a reminder that the Hall of Fame voters have erred in leaving him out of Cooperstown for so long.

There are fewer third basemen in the Hall of Fame than any other position. There are several plausible explanations for that fact, but chief among them is that no one seems quite sure how to evaluate their performance.

Offensively they’re often lumped in with first basemen and corner outfielders, which short changes third basemen because they play a far more difficult and less offense-driven position. Yet at the same time third basemen rarely receive the type of defensive accolades reserved for middle infielders, center fielders, and catchers. They are usually caught in the middle, which underrates them on both sides of the ball.

Santo’s career has seemingly been viewed that way. His hitting stats can’t quite compete with contemporary slugging first basemen and corner outfielders like Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Reggie Jackson, Willie Stargell, and Willie McCovey, yet among third basemen in the 1960s and 1970s only Eddie Mathews topped Santo’s production. And while Hall of Fame cases for players at up-the-middle positions are often based largely on defensive reputations, Santo’s five Gold Glove awards are treated almost like an afterthought.

Meanwhile, in the 1960s and 1970s only 10 players accumulated more Wins Above Replacement (WAR) than Santo: Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Joe Morgan, Carl Yastrzemski, Frank Robinson, Pete Rose, Roberto Clemente, Brooks Robinson, Johnny Bench, Reggie Jackson. That’s nine Hall of Famers and the all-time hit king, and two more Hall of Famers (Rod Carew and Willie McCovey) are right behind Santo in the rankings.

Among all the players in baseball history to start at least half their games at third base, Santo ranks seventh all time in Wins Above Replacement behind Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Chipper Jones, and Brooks Robinson. That’s five Hall of Famers and one future Hall of Famer, yet as the No. 7 guy Santo failed to garner even 50 percent of the votes in 15 years on the ballot and died as a non-Hall of Famer four decades after retiring.

Unfortunate as that is, don’t let it keep you from knowing that Ron Santo has always been deserving of a spot in Cooperstown as a nine-time All-Star, one of the best all-around players of the 1960s and 1970s, and one of the 10 greatest third basemen of all time.

Astros greeted with boos in first spring training game

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The Astros and Nationals share a spring training facility, so it was only natural that they would open Grapefruit League play together. The Astros were the home team. Here’s the lineup they rolled out.

Teams typically include at least a few regulars in their spring training lineups as a courtesy to the fans, who are spending money to see big league players play baseball. This is especially the case for home games. However, the Astros have decided to roll out a lineup with a combined 323 MLB plate appearances.

There might be a reason for that. Houston was lustily booed as they took the field. This was after running a video on the scoreboard celebrating their 2019 AL championship.

That’s all with the team that beat them in the World Series (and is widely regarded as baseball’s current heroes for beating the big bad cheating Astros) in the other dugout, of course. Nationals starter Max Scherzer has not thrown at any Houston player, and the game is now in a rain delay. But it seems like the Astros decided to spare their players from some possible rough treatment, both from fans and opposing pitchers.

The same could not be said for Astros mascot Orbit, who was also booed.

One can quibble with the merits of booing a bunch of players who have barely touched the big leagues because you’re mad at Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman, but sports fandom is something of an irrational business. Fans are going to want their pound of flesh, especially when they paid for the right to be in the ballpark and give the Astros a piece of their mind. Some of them even brought props! This is just how it all works, unfortunately. If you’re in an Astros uniform, you’re probably going to get booed.

Welcome to the 2020 season, Astros. It’s probably going to be like this all year.

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