[from The Art of Sports / March 1, 2007]

Poor Ron Santo didn’t get into the Hall of Fame again.

Poor Ron Santo couldn’t convince voters, despite his best whining and schmoozing and crying to the media empire that backs both his former and current employer, that his career is the stuff that legends are made of.

Poor Ron Santo was a .277 career hitter.

Poor Ron Santo was never an MVP.

Poor Ron Santo was the co-captain of those legendary Cubs teams of the ’60’s. Under his on-field leadership, the Cubs made the playoffs a total of zero times and executed possibly the single greatest choke job in the history of baseball, blowing an 8.5-game lead…in August.

Poor Ron Santo has his jersey retired and number flying high over Wrigley Field 365 days a year, an eternal testament to his value to the franchise and to the fans.

Poor Ron Santo currently holds (and always has held) zero MLB records, his closest feat being 21st on the all-time list of times grounded into double plays.

Poor Ron Santo was the subject of an excellent documentary about his ongoing battle with diabetes.

Poor Ron Santo is loved by Sox fans because his presence on the Cubs’ broadcast team means we no longer have the worst announcer in the city on our side.

Poor Ron Santo is a member of neither the 3,000-hit club nor the 500-homer club. He stole 35 bases in 15 seasons while getting caught 41 times.

Poor Ron Santo never won a batting title.

Poor Ron Santo won the Gold Glove five times, and that should mean a lot, shouldn’t it? Especially in light of some of the other heavyweights of the diamond who belong to the five-time Gold Glove Winners’ Club: Bill Freehan, Jim Sundberg, Devon White, Kenny Lofton, Frank White, Robin Ventura, Ron Guidry, Kenny Rogers, Keith Hernandez, Wes Parker, Mark Langston.

Mark Langston!

Meanwhile, Jim Kaat, the actually HOF-qualified pitcher who was also shafted by the Veterans’ Committee, won 16. In a row. And had a better broadcasting job. Who’s weeping for him? Where are his press conferences? Where is the outrage in the national media?

The fact is that Santo’s case for the Hall is based more on sympathy and appeal as a person than on anything he ever did as a player. The argument goes that he was there for a widely-loved team, he’s had a rough battle with an awful disease and he’s been a good ambassador for the game in his retirement; in reality, Santo’s teams were awful and, perhaps more importantly, they were awful under his watch.

That his career as head loser should be so readily embraced by the Cubbie faithful is, to anyone outside Wrigley, not at all shocking. If he played for, say, the Angels or the Astros in the same era, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. There are no manufactured curses for him to be a victim of there, just the cold, hard fact that he’s not a benchmark but an icon. Santo made a nice adult living playing a child’s game. There’s no reason to cry for anyone who can say that about their life.

Was he good? Yes. The fact remains, however, that the career he assembled was not one of a legend, but one closer to the Venturas and Bobby Bonillas of the game. Santo wasn’t great, he was just pretty good for a longer-than-average time. And there’s no Hall of Pretty Good.