Catch a star

Benito Santiago debuts on BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot

December 30, 2010
Benito Santiago was named to five All-Star Games in his 20-year big league career. (NBHOF/Ponzini)

View a photo gallery of the 2011 BBWAA ballot

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Benito Santiago began his major league career as one of the best catchers in baseball.

Almost two decades later, Santiago was still at the top of his game. Now, he is eligible for the Hall of Fame.

Santiago, who played 20 big league seasons with the Padres, Marlins, Reds, Phillies, Blue Jays, Cubs, Giants, Royals and Pirates, is one of 33 players on the 2011 Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot for the Class of 2011 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Santiago is making his debut on the BBWAA ballot.

BBWAA members who have at least 10 years of tenure with the organization can vote in the election, and the results will be announced Jan. 5. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all BBWAA votes cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2011. The Induction Ceremony will be held July 24 in Cooperstown.

Santiago, born March 9, 1965, in Ponce, Puerto Rico, was signed by the Padres as an international free agent in 1982 and shot through the San Diego system. He played his first big league game in 1986, then was named the unanimous National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1987 after hitting .300 with 18 homers, 79 RBI, 21 steals and a memorable 34-game hitting streak – which is still a record for rookies.

The mark remains the 16th-longest hit streak in big league history.

Defensively, Santiago was also a standout – often throwing out runners from his knees and blocking pitches his with limber 6-foot-1 frame. He won the first of three straight Gold Glove Awards in 1988, and was named to the All-Star team in every year from 1989-92.

"I never have any goals," Santiago said. "I just come here and go day-by-day and play the game."

Santiago was one of the first free agent signings for the expansion Florida Marlins in 1992, and he hit the first home run in Marlins' history in their inaugural 1993 season.

Over the next seven seasons, Santiago played for five different teams – including two stints with the Reds – before landing with the Giants in 2001. His career was interrupted by a serious car crash on Jan. 4, 1998, but he returned to the playing field that same year.

In 2002, Santiago was once again named to the All-Star team after a 10-year absence. Santiago helped the Giants return to the World Series that fall after hitting .278 with 16 homers and 78 RBI. In the postseason that year, Santiago drove in 16 runs in 17 games.

He wrapped up his career with stints with the Royals and the Pirates. His final numbers: a .263 average with 217 home runs, three Gold Glove Awards and five All-Star Game selections.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum