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Cubs great Billy Williams lobbied hard for buddy Ron Santo

Cubs perennial All-Star third baseman RSanreceived votes from 15 16 members Hall Fame’s veterans committee.   |  Sun-Times

Cubs perennial All-Star third baseman Ron Santo received votes from 15 of 16 members of the Hall of Fame’s veterans committee. | Sun-Times Archive

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Updated: January 7, 2012 8:16AM

DALLAS — Maybe Ron Santo was somewhere in the room Sunday. Maybe that’s what it finally took to get the long-deserved call to the Hall of Fame.

Fifteen of the 16 members of the Hall’s veterans committee cast ballots with the Cubs icon’s name Sunday on the day after the first anniversary of his death, making Santo the committee’s lone selection, which was announced Monday on the first day of baseball’s winter meetings.

Committee members say a lot of time was spent discussing Santo’s credentials, compared to some other candidates, including the argument that he was the best third baseman in the National League for a decade before the emergence of Mike Schmidt.

The committee included former teammate and Hall of Famer Billy Williams, one of Santo’s most outspoken Hall supporters for years and close friend of the family who talked with Santo’s widow Monday morning as she was informed.

“I’m not only thrilled and so grateful for him, but when Billy Williams got on the phone and said, ‘We finally got it done,’ it just made me cry,’’ Vicki Santo said. “I can see [Ron] sitting on the sofa, and he would have been pumping his first in the air, saying, ‘Yes! Yes!’ ’’

Santo, who hit 342 home runs and led the league in walks four times, is only the 11th third baseman elected to the Hall. He was a nine-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glove winner, and he played in at least 154 games 11 consecutive seasons despite battling juvenile diabetes his entire career.

“Everyone on our committee could not see how he did not get in with the writers [in 15 years on the baseball writers ballot],’’ said committee member and Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson. “Everybody realized that Santo has stats that stack up with anybody in baseball. And his defense — I kept up with him, and he was a terrific third baseman.

“Every one of us came away maybe a little disappointed that the guys we voted for didn’t get in, but I know all of us — 15 of us anyway —were happy that Santo got in.’’

Pitcher Jim Kaat was second in the voting with 10 votes; Gil Hodges and Minnie Minoso received nine each. Twelve were required for election. This year the committee considered only players and executives in baseball’s “Golden Era’’ of 1947-72.

That the nine-time All-Star’s election came a year after his death was not lost on Santo’s supporters — who had said more than once he didn’t want to be elected if it happened after he died.

“It’s kind of bittersweet with Ron passing a year or so ago. And long overdue,’’ said former Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson, a member of the 2010 Hall of Fame class who got to know Santo during his broadcasting career — often sharing conversations about the Hall of Fame processes.

“I was never a Cub fan growing up,’’ Dawson added, “but I knew those teams back in the day. And I always tell people that a lot of people will feel that Ronnie got lost on a team with Ernie [Banks] and Billy, but he, in my opinion, was one of the premier third, basemen in the game during his era. A lot of people lost sight of that.’’

Despite the call coming a year too late for Ron, Vicki expressed none of the bitterness even after deep disappointments in close-call votes over the years.

“I’m just a believer in what’s meant to be, and I believe he was meant to be in the Hall,’’ she said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t happen in his lifetime. But this is going to continue his legacy, for his heart that he played with, that he broadcast with, and all the work he’s done for juvenile diabetes research.

“Even to have this come after his passing, it just shows you can’t give up. And that’s what Ron was all about.’’

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