This isn’t a snarky post about the Cubs, and I hope that everybody understands that my snide remarks are all in fun (except maybe for the ones about Zambrano). I do have an appreciation for the rivalry’s history, and I rank it right up there with Celtics – Lakers, Coke – Pepsi, ND – USC, and Red Sox – Yankees. I view Ron Santo as one of the many players who helped really build the rivalry into what it is today, and he did it by respecting the game and playing hard. The most intriguing thing about Santo for me is his Baseball Hall of Fame candidacy (or lack thereof). I’ve often heard it said that he belongs in the “Hall of Very Good”, and the “Dale Murphy theorem” has often been applied to Santo. I’ve also heard him compared to a very popular former Cardinals player, Ken Boyer, and Boyer has nearly always been on the winning end of that comparison. That’s all a bunch of talk, though. I need information, and I need it now.
Before I go on, I want to make a few notes about Ken Boyer. First, he is the only player to have his number retired by the Cardinals who is not enshrined in Cooperstown. Second, the Cardinals wore black armbands during the 1982 World Series in memoriam of Boyer who had recently passed away.
My version of the “Dale Murphy Theorem” is that Dale Murphy‘s career represents the practical bar or barrier of entry to the HOF. Just marginally exceed Murphy‘s career accomplishments, add/subtract some team success, factor in your playing era and relative competition, and a few people will say that you can make your case for HOF membership. Now, Murphy was a 7-time All-Star and 2-time NL MVP (1982, 1983), and he won 5 Gold Glove awards and 4 Silver Sluggers. He had a lifetime .265 average, .346 obp, and .469 slugging percentage with 398 home runs, 1266 rbi, and 2111 hits in 18 seasons. His career WAR value is 44.2 which consists of oWAR of 48.7 and dWAR of -4.5. He started his career as a catcher and 1st baseman, but he eventually transitioned to the outfield. He’s primarily identified with the Atlanta Braves, although the team only reached the playoffs once during his 14+ seasons there. The team won the NL West in 1982 but was swept in the NLCS, and I probably don’t need to tell you who swept them.
Right. It was none other than the St. Louis Cardinals – the same team that employed Ken Boyer for some 11 seasons as a player and 3 more as a manager. Although the Cardinals did win the pennant in his final year as manager, Boyer enjoyed a lot more success as a player during his time in St. Louis. After all, that time did include 4 consecutive .300+ average seasons and a WS championship in 1964. Boyer made 7 All-Star teams, won 5 Gold Gloves, and was voted league MVP once (1964). All that success came within the first 10 years of his career, and he did not achieve any individual award recognition after that 1964 season. He still finished his career with a .287 average, .349 obp, and .462 slugging percentage to go with 282 home runs, 1141 rbi, and 2143 hits. In his 15 seasons, he totalled a WAR value of 58.4 based on an oWAR of 51.3 and a dWAR of 7.1.
Now, Santo (like Boyer) played in an era before the Silver Slugger award, and that really shouldn’t be held against him. Based on his numbers and primary competition, he probably would have been in the running regularly but only won 1 or 2, and even that is obviously debatable. However, he did make 9 All-Star teams and won 5 Gold Glove awards. He had a lifetime .277 average, .362 obp, and a .464 slugging percentage with 342 home runs, 1331 rbi, and 2254 career hits in 15 seasons. For his career, he compiled a 66.4 WAR value. That number is derived from an oWAR of 65.3 and a dWAR of 1.1. To put that in better perspective, Brooks Robinson is often mentioned in discussions as the greatest 3B to ever play the game. It took Robinson 23 seasons to total a WAR of 69.1 (oWAR of 41.8 and dWAR of 27.3).
It does seem like there are a lot of acronyms in this post, so I feel like I owe it to all 3 of my loyal readers to throw in some mangled definitions. “WAR” stands for “Wins Above Replacement” and it represents an approximate value the player contributes to the team above or below what some generic, average player off the streets would contribute. A value of “0” is considered replacement level while a value above 0 but less than 2 is considered a “substitute”. “2+” is considered a “starter”, “5+” is an “All-Star”, and “8+” is MVP-worthy. I use WAR a lot, but it’s just one of many stats that I use. It does not and will never be considered an adequate replacement for the “eyeball test” in my opinion. Since that test cannot be applied to players of the past at this point, I’m going with what’s available.
With all that said, I’m not making the case that Santo is a first ballot HOFer. I do think that the veteran’s committee got it wrong when it failed to elect Santo, but that’s another blog for another day. More importantly, I don’t think it’s fair to compare Santo to Dale Murphy or Ken Boyer without really thinking deeply about the comparison. Murphy had a great 8-year stretch with an awesome 2-year run in the middle, but the rest of his career was much less spectacular. Boyer started fast and played really well in St. Louis, but he failed to break .275 for a season in his last 7 years. Santo never won an MVP award, but he did sustain excellence for a long period of time. As we honor the Ron Santo, let’s be sure to give his just due for his on-field accomplishments as well as his off-field ones as well.
BONUS TIDBIT: The highest single season WAR value attributed to Ron Santo, Dale Murphy, Brooks Robinson, and Ken Boyer actually belongs to Santo who scored a 10.2 for his 1967 season. Robinson’s highest (8.1) was his MVP year of 1964. Murphy topped out at 7.5, and that wasn’t even an MVP year. He finished 11th in the MVP voting that year despite hitting .295 with 44 homers and 105 rbi. Boyer’s WAR peak was 7.8 in 1961, although he won the MVP award with a WAR of 5.6 in 1964 with what I would call obviously inferior stats.