With word of former Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo’s selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame came an outcry from fans saddened that the nine-time All-Star didn’t live long enough to enjoy the honor.
Santo, who hit 342 homers and won five Gold Gloves during a 15-year career, died last year of bladder cancer at age 70.
He was chosen by the Veterans Committee Sunday, almost a year to the day after his death, getting 15 votes from the 16-member panel.
Santo’s case reminds one of another infielder who was elected to the Hall of Fame shortly after dying, an individual who has largely slipped into obscurity over the decades.
Rabbit Maranville was an outstanding defensive infielder who spent 23 years in the Majors and, even though more than 75 years have passed since he retired, still holds the record for the most career putouts by a shortstop.
Maranville’s election to the Hall in mid-1954 prompted questions.
“Rabbit Maranville was working with kids for the (New York) Journal-American when he died in January of 1954,” said slugger Johnny Mize. “The next summer he was voted in the Hall of Fame. Why did his record get so much better after he died?”
Today, when baseball fans get together and compile lists of players they claim shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame, Maranville is often mentioned. Inevitably, they point to his .258 career batting average.
But concentrating on a single statistic sells the diminutive infielder short on a number of fronts.
Consider that in Maranville’s first full season, playing for the Boston Braves as a 21-year old in 1913, he batted .247 in 143 games with two homers.
Yet, Maranville finished third in the MVP voting, just ahead of the pitching great Christy Mathewson (who won 25 games that year and compiled a 2.06 earned run average).
The following year, Maranville was the runner-up in the MVP voting to teammate Johnny Evers as the pair led the “Miracle Braves” to the pennant and a sweep of Connie Mack’s highly vaunted Philadelphia A’s in the World Series.
Maranville was the Braves’ cleanup hitter, despite batting just .246 and hitting four home runs.
Even at age 41, when Maranville batted .218 in 143 games and hit no homers, he finished in a tie for 12th in the MVP voting.
Stats also don’t tell of the impact Maranville had on fans, which were said to be captivated by the way the 5-foot-5-inch, 155-pound shortstop scurried and hopped about the infield.
The New York Times once wrote of him: “This energetic little parcel of humanity jumped all around the edge of the diamond with the celerity of a grasshopper.”
Maranville was also noted in his time for being not just a great player, but more than a little wacky, which won him even more acclaim.
According to the Sports Arsenal blog, there are many, many Maranville stories, and a lot of them are actually true:
If you needed a player to wax another player’s bat with soap, or swallow a goldfish, or jump into a hotel pool fully clothed, or offer a pair of eyeglasses to an umpire after a bad call, Maranville was your man.
If you needed a player to go drinking with Jim Thorpe, and swing through tree branches screeching like Tarzan, or to be dangled outside the 15th floor of a Manhattan hotel by Thorpe (with one arm), Maranville was your man,.
If you needed a player to paint iodine streaks on a hapless ump, or to throw buckets of ice at fellow train passengers (which he did as a player-manager), or trick a teammate into thinking he had accidentally killed him, Maranville was your man.
But for all his offfield antics, there was no getting around the fact that Maranville was an extremely talented player on the diamond.
In all, he played in 2,670 games, rapped out 2,605 hits, including 380 doubles, 177 triples and 28 home runs. He rang up 6,413 putouts and 8,967 assists.
And lest anyone think Maranville got into the Hall of Fame strictly out of sympathy following his death, it should be noted that three players were voted into the Hall in 1954: Maranville, Bill Terry and Bill Dickey.
Terry is remembered, among other things, for being the last National Leaguer to hit over .400. Dickey helped the New York Yankees to eight World Series championships, and compiled a career batting average of .313, with 202 career home runs and 1,209 runs batted in.
Yet, despite the obvious offensive prowess of both Terry and Dickey, Maranville finished first in the Hall of Fame balloting that year.
Unfortunately, as with Santo, a tenacious competitor who became the first position player to play with diabetes, it’s too bad that those responsible for the Hall selections couldn’t have recognized Maranville’s greatness while he was still around to revel in the much-deserved accolade.