The late Ron Santo, winner of Fansided’s shadow Hall of Fame vote last week, has earned a slightly higher honor today. The Veterans Committee has selected him as their only inductee to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Former Twins Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva were equally deserving of HOF honors, but their luck did not hold. Hopefully the Twins will take this opportunity to announce the retirement of Kaat’s jersey number.
Of the 16 Veterans Committee members, 15 voted for Santo. Kaat came very close to the 12 needed for election, receiving 10 votes, the second highest total. Oliva received eight. Hall of Fame member Mike Schmidt wrote a pretty convincing article in favor of Kaat where he pointed out that from 1962 through 1974 only Bob Gibson won more games than Kaat. Oliva also had plenty of high-profile support, including a website devoted to his candidacy. Whether the Veterans Committee voters paid attention to either campaign is not known.
Oliva won three batting titles (1964, 1965, and 1971), which makes him the only retired player to win three AL titles and not be elected to the Hall of Fame. Kaat pitched for a quarter century and won 283 games. He was an important bullpen contributor to the 1982 Cardinals team that won the World Series. Both have been active in baseball since retirement, Oliva as a coach and Kaat as a broadcaster.
Sadly, Santo did not live to see his triumph, having passed away late in 2010. His death drew attention to his Hall of Fame plight. The third baseman played for the Cubs from 1960 through 1973 and then for the White Sox in 1974. He hit .277/.362/.464 with 342 home runs in his career, and walked 80 or more times in six seasons. Santo was a beloved figure in Chicago sports lore, and also the favorite player of Minnesota Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett while he was growing up in the Windy City. But the dismal Cubs never came close to the postseason during Santo’s career, so he often flew under the national radar.
The snub of Oliva and Kaat is unfortunate, but not unexpected. Every one of the ten players on the ballot – from Santo to Gil Hodges to former executive Buzzy Bavasi – had a legitimate, deserving case to be elected to the Hall of Fame. All of them were unfairly looked over for years during the regular voting process, and the fact that they even made it to the Veterans Committee ballot is a testament to the fact that baseball realized it was a mistake to ignore them. But simple math meant that it was impossible for the Veterans to elect all, or even most, of these deserving players.
The result is a happy but bittersweet day for Santo’s family and fans but a somewhat sad day for the Twins. On behalf of Puckett’s Pond, I would like to congratulate the late Mr. Santo. But I am disappointed that Kaat came so close but fell short in what may have been his final chance to be elected to the Hall of Fame. I also wish that Oliva had received more votes.
The Twins can take one step to mitigate the disappointment. Oliva and Kaat are both inaugural members of the Twins Hall of Fame, and Oliva’s jersey number 6 has been retired. But the Twins have never retired Kaat’s number 36. Coincidentally, the last person to wear that number for the Twins, Joe Nathan, departed for Texas this offseason. It would be a fitting gesture for the team to grant Kaat the highest possible team honor. I have taken up this cause in recent weeks, and I will continue to advocate for retiring #36 until the Twins do so.
If anyone from the Twins front office is reading this, I urge you to do so.