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Jim Ingraham

Jim Ingraham: Steady Carlos Santana more than worthy of All-Star starting spot

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    The Indians' Carlos Santana watches his two-run home run off Yankees starting pitcher Domingo German on Friday, June 7, 2019, in Cleveland. Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez watches.

    AP

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Bill Belichick would love Carlos Santana.

Just do your job.

Belichick preaches it. Santana lives it.

Day in, day out. Week in, week out. Month in, month out. Year in, year out. Santana is always on duty, doing his job, doing it well, and with little fanfare — until now.

After putting up virtually the same numbers year after year for the first 10 years of his major league career, all of a sudden this year, with Santana on his way to another Santana season, people are finally noticing.

Santana is one of three finalists in the fan voting to be the starting first baseman for the American League in next month’s All-Star Game, which, conveniently enough, will be played at Progressive Field.

The other two first base finalists are the Yankees’ Luke Voit and the Twins’ C.J. Cron. Santana has major league seniority and statistical superiority over both of them.

Entering play Saturday, Santana was hitting .295 with a .417 on-base percentage, a .955 OPS, 16 home runs and 46 RBIs.

Voit was at .269/.390/.890 with 17 home runs and 46 RBIs. Cron was at .279/.344/.878 with 16 homers and 48 RBIs.

Clearly Santana is having a better season than the other two, which means Voit will win the voting, because he plays in New York, so end of discussion.

Right? Well …

Who knows? Maybe if all the Indians fans who didn’t vote for Francisco Lindor — fourth among shortstops? Seriously? — vote for Santana, he’ll become the first Indians first baseman in 20 years (Jim Thome, 1999) to start for the American League All-Star team.

That Santana is finally getting some long overdue recognition is, well, long overdue. He’s never been selected to the All-Star team, probably because he’s never led the American League in anything except for 2014 when he led the league with 113 walks. What he does do is put up solid numbers year after year, which in itself is worth recognizing because that’s not easy to do. These are the major leagues. The best of the best.

This is Santana being Santana: Over the last eight years he has played an average of 154 games per year, averaged 31 doubles, 24 home runs, 81 RBIs and 100 walks with a .362 on-base percentage and .803 OPS.

Those are not Hall of Fame numbers, but those are “this guy is really good” numbers. There is honor in consistency, especially in a sport in which teams play 162 games a year. For the last eight years, Santana has been one of the most consistent, low-maintenance, high-performance stays-out-of-trouble-off-the-field players in the majors.

He’s also arguably the best switch-hitter in Indians history, or no worse than second to Omar Vizquel. Among Indians switch-hitters, Santana ranks first, second or third in home runs, hits, doubles, total bases, RBIs, WAR, walks and on-base percentage. He is the Indians’ career leader among switch-hitters in home runs, RBIs and walks.

Among all Indians hitters – switch-hitters and otherwise — Santana ranks third in team history with 780 walks, and the only players ahead of him are both in the Hall of Fame: Jim Thome (1,008) and Tris Speaker (857). Santana is tied with Rocky Colavito for 10th place on the Indians’ all-time list for home runs (190), and with 14 more doubles Santana will move past Thome (263) and into 10th place on that Indians’ all-time list.

Santana’s league-leading 113 walks in 2014 are the most in Indians history by any player not named Thome.

So you could say that the Indians did pretty well in that trade they made with the Dodgers on July 26, 2008. It was Casey Blake for a Dodgers minor league catcher who, for a combined three minor league teams in the Dodgers and Indians minor league systems that year, hit .326 with a .431 on-base percentage, a .999 OPS, 21 home runs, 39 doubles, 125 runs and 117 RBIs.

He made his major league debut with the Indians on June 11, 2010, and his reputation preceded him. He became the first Indians rookie in 33 years to make his major league debut batting third in the lineup.

The Indians’ lineup that day: Trevor Crowe CF, Shin-Soo Choo RF, Santana C, Russell Branyan 1B, Austin Kearns LF, Travis Hafner DH, Jhonny Peralta 3B, Luis Valbuena 2B, Jason Donald SS.

The Indians’ manager was Manny Acta, who first met Santana while sitting in the dugout in spring training that year. Santana, who wasn’t sure Acta knew who he was, sat down next to the manager, introduced himself and said, not in a boastful way, but in a purely informational way: “I can hit.”

Santana was right.

Nine years later, he’s still hitting, and perhaps closing in on his first All-Star selection. It would be a fitting reward for a player who has made a career out of just doing his job.

Contact Jim Ingraham at jingraham4@gmail.com or ctsports@chroniclet,com and follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter.


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