From 2007: The bummer of 69(%)

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Ron Santo's heart was broken again Tuesday when he was denied entrance into the Baseball Hall of Fame, leaving the former Cubs icon to wonder whether his day ever will come.

The nine-time All-Star learned Tuesday morning the Veterans Committee again declined to admit any former major-leaguers into their exclusive club, the third time since 2003 that no one made the grade.Santo finished first on the Hall of Fame ballot with 57 votes out of the 82 cast, or 69.5 percent of the total. That was five votes shy of the necessary 75 percent for induction, making the news that much harder to stomach.

Santo was too distraught to talk to the media, and his good friend and former teammate, Billy Williams, said he probably was devastated by the news.

"I felt sorry for him because he was so looking forward to getting the call," Williams said. "I felt really good about it this year. I talked to Ernie [Banks] yesterday and I think everybody who was involved [wanted it to happen]. Maybe we were a little partial to him because we were teammates, but I really thought with the credentials he had, he was deserving."

Santo was followed in the voting on the players' ballot by former pitcher Jim Kaat, who garnered 52 votes (63.4 percent). Former Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges finished third with 50 votes (61 percent), while former Twins outfielder Tony Oliva was fourth with 47 votes (57.3 percent). The candidate getting the most votes on the composite ballot, featuring managers, umpires and executives, was former ump Doug Harvey with 52 votes.

Though no one has been voted into the Hall by the Veterans Committee in the three years it has held a vote--2003, 2005 and 2007--Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark said "we feel strongly the process is open and fair."

Clark added the process will be re-evaluated on March 13 because no one has been elected under the new system, which replaced a committee that was composed primarily of a select group of baseball writers.

Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan said it was unfair to criticize the Veterans Committee for not voting anyone in because "the writers voted on these guys 15 years without any of them being elected." Morgan was referring to voting by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, which gives players up to 15 years on the ballot to receive the 75 percent vote total required.

Morgan disputed the notion that the Hall of Famers who are currently voting aren't studying the candidate's credentials.

"The players did their due diligence," Morgan said.

Santo tried to downplay his feelings about the voting last week, but added: "Let's be honest, I want this badly, mainly because [the voting] is every two years. To me, two years, because of what I have with the diabetes and [getting] older, it's like eternity. If I do get in, I'd like to enjoy it."

Santo, who turned 67 on Sunday, said he's not interested in gaining the honor posthumously. In 2005 he tied for first on the ballot with the late Hodges with 52 votes, but was still eight votes shy of induction. In '03 he placed third on the ballot with 46 votes, behind Hodges and Oliva.

Williams was puzzled as to why Santo keeps coming close and missing out. Asked if Santo's heel-clicking celebrations during the 1969 season had any bearing on the voters, Williams replied: "I don't know. I hope not. I hope they look at it from the standpoint of what he did in the game of baseball. I know a lot of players in the Hall of Fame don't look at that."

Cubs manager Lou Piniella said Santo was worthy of induction and was disappointed when told Santo was denied entrance once again.

"Santo was a dominant player at his position for a long, long time, an All-Star and a Gold Glover and a great ambassador for the game of baseball," he said. "It's a shame he just fell short."

The entire Cubs family shared in Santo's disappointment. Mark Prior may have put it best Monday when asked how Santo would handle it if he didn't make it this year.

"Ron's pretty resilient," Prior said. "The city has obviously embraced him as one of their own. He'll get over it. . . . He's deserving of the honor, and it will be an awesome day to see him up there giving that speech at Cooperstown."

The next vote is scheduled for February 2009. Williams believes the Hall of Fame will revise the voting procedure to ensure there won't be a repeat of the last three ballots. Some believe voting should take place every year instead of every two years.

"That might be a good question that the committee is going to look at again," Williams said. "Every two years is a long time."

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