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Just due: Santo gets his spot in Cooperstown

DALLAS -- Ron Santo is clicking his heels in heaven.

Santo, the enthusiastic, popular and very resilient former Cubs third baseman, was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Monday by the Golden Era Committee. Santo was one of 10 candidates on a ballot representing the era of the sport from 1947-72.

"I can see him sitting on the sofa here and he'd be pumping his fist in the air, saying, 'Yes, yes,'" Santo's wife Vicki said Monday from her Arizona home. "We feel he was meant to be there."

Santo died Dec. 3, 2010, so the news comes a year too late, but Vicki was undeterred in her enthusiasm.

"To have this come after his passing, it just shows you can't give up," Vicki said. "I'm a believer in what's meant to be. I believe he was meant to be in the Hall."

Santo's competition included former players Gil Hodges, Ken Boyer, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat, Allie Reynolds and Luis Tiant, and executives Charlie Finley and Buzzie Bavasi.

Santo failed to make the Hall of Fame in his 15 years of eligibility on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot and also in numerous forms of the Veterans Committee prior to Monday. He missed by nine votes in a 2008 ballot of a post-1943 committee, and his highest vote total on the BBWAA ballot was 43.1 percent in 1998.

Hall of Famer Billy Williams, Santo's former teammate, was on the 16-member Golden Era Committee, and campaigned for the third baseman. Williams was joined on the committee by Hank Aaron, Al Kaline, Ralph Kiner, Tommy Lasorda, Juan Marichal, Brooks Robinson, Don Sutton. Major League executives Paul Beeston, Bill DeWitt, Roland Hemond, Gene Michael and Al Rosen, and veteran media members Dick Kaegel, Jack O'Connell and Dave Van Dyck.

A 75-percent vote was needed, which, in this instance, would be 12 votes. Santo received 15 of 16 votes cast.

"The numbers are there," Williams said Monday. "But there are intangible things that you talk about there. That's why he got the 15 of 16 votes. The numbers are there and they reviewed that over the years. There were other things that people didn't know about, and they talked about it [Sunday]."

When the Cubs retired Santo's No. 10, he claimed that was his Hall of Fame. Now, he joins Cubs teammates Williams, Ernie Banks and Fergie Jenkins, who are already in Cooperstown.

Vicki Santo said her phone hasn't stopped ringing as some of Santo's teammates have tried to get through to congratulate the family.

"For them, I think they're just as excited," Vicki said.

The discussion among the 16 members of the committee included some of Santo's off-field contributions. In his 21 seasons on WGN Radio, Santo was a passionate voice of the fans. He was a tireless fighter, survivor and champion for those who lived with diabetes. Though he had diabetes, Santo never once went on the disabled list. He helped raise more than $60 million for juvenile diabetes research during his lifetime.

"When you look at his numbers on paper, he had some good years in the big leagues," Williams said. "When you look at that, we're measured by what we do on the baseball field, and sometimes we're measured by what we do off the baseball field. With Santo, he was a broadcaster, he really built up the game of baseball and of course, JDRF, he worked for them, and he raised more than $60 million for Juvenile Diabetes.

"Of all those numbers, this is what I'm most proud of -- of all those numbers, he never did complain, 'I feel this, I feel that,'" Williams said. "He went out and played the game the way it should be played and played hard. It was tough for him. But he still put up numbers that enabled him to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame."

Santo played 15 seasons from 1960-74, and is one of four players who had 2,000 hits, 300 home runs and 1,300 RBIs in that span, joining Hall of Famers Aaron, Frank Robinson and Williams.

Santo drove in 93-plus runs in eight straight seasons. From 1960-74, his 1,331 RBIs rank fifth. The entire top 10 of RBI leaders during that span was already in the Hall of Fame, and now that list is complete.

A nine-time All-Star, Santo was one of only two third basemen to have more than 300 home runs and five Gold Glove Awards. The other, Mike Schmidt, was elected to Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility with 96.5 percent of the vote.

Among Hall of Fame third basemen, Santo ranks third in home runs, fourth in walks, fifth in RBIs and sixth in hits.

Williams said the 16-member committee had a "healthy discussion" about the candidates.

"Great ballplayer," Hall of Famer Juan Marichal said of Santo. "Played to win. Played hard. And I think that's why he's in the Hall of Fame today. I'm very happy for him and his family. ... I'm very sad that he didn't get to see this victory."

The timing was bittersweet.

"The one thing is, I'm sorry he's not here to enjoy it," Williams said.

Santo is survived by his wife and their four children, Ron Jr., Jeff, Linda and Kelly.

He is the 10th player in Cubs history to be elected into the Hall of Fame wearing a Cubs hat, the first third baseman in the 135-year history of the club. Others wearing a Cubs hat include Banks, Frank Chance, Kiki Cuyler, Gabby Hartnett, Billy Herman, Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg, Williams and Hack Wilson.

"All who knew Ron or welcomed him into their homes on the radio recognize he was so much more than a Hall of Fame baseball player," Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said. "As an athlete, he was our All-Star. As a radio analyst, he carried our passion. For those battling illness or disease, he remains an inspiration. And for all of us who had the honor of calling him our friend, he is forever beloved."

What would Santo say about Monday's long-awaited news?

"I think he would click his heels," Williams said with a chuckle.

Ron Santo