New Hall of Fame process helps Santo

Created 58 years ago with the idea of rectifying oversights of the Baseball Hall of Fame voters, the Veterans Committee has undergone a series of alterations in an effort to help it reach that goal.

Finally, the Hall of Fame, in its sixth alteration of the voting process, found a winning combination.

With the announcement on Monday that the late Ron Santo, a Gold Glove-winning, All-Star third baseman with the Chicago Cubs, will be inducted during the ceremonies next July came a validation of the most recent alterations to the Veterans Committee.

Trial and error finally hit the target.

From a body of 11 Hall of Famers who voted every other year on players who had been denied admission to Cooperstown by veteran members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, the size of the committee has been tweaked and the format for candidate selection has been overhauled — thankfully.

The old, singular Veterans Committee is no more. Now, three separate committees judge three distinct era of the game. This is the only chance that managers, executives and umpires have for selection, but the most pressing assignment of these committees is to rectify any oversights of players committed by the BBWAA voters.

The fact that few players passed the test of the Veterans Committee in recent years is in part a compliment to the job that the BBWAA has done in handling its assignment of voting on Hall of Fame-worthy players. But it also said something for an elitist mentality that affected many of the players voted into the Hall of Fame, which the Hall has found a way to counter.

Santo is proof, and his election provides validation for the most recent rendition of the committees.

Consider that Santo won five Gold Gloves, was selected to nine all-Star teams, and hit 342 home runs in his 15 big-league seasons but never really came close to enshrinement until Monday, when he was approved by 15 of the 16 members of the Golden Era Committee. In 15 years on the ballot sent to the BBWAA membership, Santo never received more than 43.1 percent of the vote, and that came in 1998, his final year of eligibility.

In his years of Veterans Committee consideration, Santo didn’t receive much support either, until this year.

In an effort to address concerns about how any group of voters could accurately compare candidates whose careers had spanned more than a century of activity, the Hall of Fame’s latest restructuring of the Veterans Committee created three different eras that would allow a more similar career pattern to comparison.

A year ago, there was a vote on what is known as the Expansion Era, which included players, executives, managers and umpires whose impact on the game was felt since 1973, which as well as being an era of major expansion also happens to coincide with the advent of the designated hitter in the American League. Manager Whitey Herzog was inducted from that era last July.

This December, there was a vote on what is known as the Golden Age Era, which spanned 1947-1972, and it was Santo who emerged as the inductee for next July.

A year from now, the Pre-Integration Era, which encompasses any player before 1947, will get its moment in the limelight.

The idea of the use of three different eras is to allow each era’s 16-person panel to more closely compare apples to apples. It puts the focus on players whose careers were spent in a similar stretch of time.

And that’s where Santo was able to rise above the fray and earn induction.

"We had a healthy discussion on all 10 people on the ballot," said Hall of Famer Billy Williams, one of the 16 committee members and also a former Santo teammate. "We brought out all the numbers and stats but also what they did for the community. Everybody knew the numbers, but not everybody had a full appreciation of what the individual may have meant to the community."

In the case of Santo, now everybody can be made aware of just what he meant to baseball and Chicago.

"When he gets 15 of 16 votes, a lot of people saw him in a different light this time," Williams said. "And that’s a good thing."

That’s an overpowering endorsement.

A player needs 75 percent support to be elected — whether it be in the BBWAA voting or by the Veterans Committee. Santo, on this occasion, had the backing of 93.75 percent of the voters.

The vote was emphatic.