Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ron Santo: Cooperstown's tribute to National League third basemen of the 1960's

Former Chicago Cub third baseman, Ron Santo, was inducted into the Baseball National Hall of Fame this past July 21.   Santo, who died on December 2 of 2010, had a stellar 15 year Major League career (14 with the Cubs) beginning in 1960 despite playing with diabetes throughout its entirety.    There were many talented third basemen in the National League with Santo during the 1960’s, but only two having plaques in Cooperstown.  The Milwaukee Braves’ Eddie Matthews, whose best years were in the 1950s, was a 1978 first ballot inductee.  And now Santo, who after being passed over 15 times for induction by the Baseball Writers’ Association and three times by the Hall’s Veterans Committee was finally selected this year by the new Golden Age Committee.  He was the prototype for National League third basemen in the 1960s and his Hall of Fame induction stands as a tribute to those others who played the position in the “Senior Circuit” during that decade.   

Just as in the game today, National League teams in the 1960s expected their third basemen to provide power and to be a good fielder.  Ron Santo did that, hitting 342 career home runs and winning 5 Golden Glove Awards as the league’s best fielding third baseman.  And so did St. Louis Cardinal third baseman Ken Boyer who was in his fifth Major League season Santo’s 1960 rookie year.  Boyer hit 255 home runs in his 10 year Cardinal career and won five Golden Gloves, including the one in 1960.  He was a seven time All-Star with a career .287 batting average.  In 1964, Boyer was the National League Most Valuable Player (24 home runs, 119 RBI, batted .295) when the Cardinals won the pennant and World Series.  The two baseball seasons he missed serving in the military (1952 and 1953) may have cost him the home run totals he needed for getting into the Hall of Fame.

For years the Philadelphia Phillies finished in or near the bottom of the league’s standing.  But in 1964 they almost won the pennant, losing a six and a half game first place lead in the last two weeks of September.  One reason for their revival was rookie Richie (Dick) Allen who was a third baseman for the first fourof his 15 year pro career.  Allen was not up to par fielding with his league contemporaries, but he was a hitter.  He batted .318 with 29 home runs, drove in 91 runs, and was named Rookie of the Year.  In the four years Allen played third base (1964 -1967), he averaged 28 home runs, 90 RBI, and batted .311.

Finishing second in the 1964 Rookie of the Year balloting was the San Francisco Giant’s new third baseman Jim Ray Hart.  During his rookie season, Hart hit 31 home runs and drove in 81 runs while batting .281.  Before shifting to play outfield after the 1968 season, he averaged 27 home runs and 89 RBI per season.

Don Hoak batted .282 hitting 16 home runs and driving in 79 runs playing third base for the 1960 World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates.  Other National League pennant winners during the decade having solid third base play include the 1961 Cincinnati Reds with Gene Freese (26 home runs, 87 RBI, batted .277) and the 1962 San Francisco Giants with Jim Davenport (14 home runs, batted ,297).

Who was your favorite 1960s National League third baseman?  Whoever it was, he received recognition in Cooperstown this year through the Hall of Fame induction of Ron Santo.