Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Will Minnie Miñoso Finally Get To Deliver His Long Overdue Hall of Fame Induction Speech Next July?

Minnie Miñoso 1961 Topps
With former players Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas as well as former managers Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, and Tony LaRussa set to deliver their induction speeches, Sunday's Hall of Fame ceremony will be one of the most impressive and most crowded induction ceremonies of recent memory.  Conspicuous by his absence will be Craig Biggio who fell just 2 votes short of election--collecting 74.8% of the required 75% on January's BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot.  After coming so close, it is likely Biggio will be able to pick up the necessary votes to gain election and be part of next July's induction ceremony.  Despite having only appeared on two BBWAA ballots, Biggio--who retired with over 3,000 career hits--is viewed by many as a glaring omission from the Hall of Fame, whose election is overdue.  But, Biggio is hardly an overdue Hall of Fame candidate when compared to Minnie Miñoso.  Remembered by many for taking at bats in five different decades, Miñoso played the pioneering role of being one of the first black superstar ballplayers in the early days of integration as well as Major League Baseball's first black Latino player.  Miñoso appeared on his first Hall of Fame ballot all the way back in 1969 and has been eligible on and off since that time.  Yet, despite having accomplishments worthy of a bronze plaque in Cooperstown, Miñoso's career still stands outside the doors of the Hall of Fame with his enshrinement now several decades overdue.  However, that could all change since Miñoso, like Biggio, could potentially be inducted during next July's ceremony as he is eligible on December's Golden Era Hall of Fame ballot.

Minnie Miñoso was born in El Perico, Cuba on November 29, 1925.  Miñoso's name at birth was Saturnino Orestes Arrieta Armas.  Early in his life Miñoso started being known by his middle name Orestes rather than his first name Saturnino.  Orestes had two older half-brothers who played baseball for a local factory team and he would accompany them to games so he came to be referred to by their last name Miñoso.  Orestes would later pick up the nickname Minnie during his first season as a member of the Chicago White Sox.

Miñoso began his professional baseball career in his native country during the mid-1940's.  At that point, several white Cuban-born players had appeared in the Major Leagues but because of the color barrier, black Cubans were still ineligible.  Miñoso first made his way to the U.S. in 1945 to play in the Negro League for the New York Cubans, a team largely comprised of Cuban-born players.  In 1947, as the team's starting third baseman and leadoff hitter, Miñoso helped the Cubans win the Pennant and defeat the Cleveland Buckeyes, four games to one, to win the Negro League World Series.  On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson integrated the Major Leagues when he made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers--at long last opening the door for black players such as Miñoso to compete alongside whites at the game's highest level.

Miñoso was signed by the Cleveland Indians in late 1948 and assigned to their minor league affiliate Dayton where he hit a blistering .525 in 11 games.  At the time, Cleveland was one of the few clubs willing to sign black players and had become the first AL team integrate when Larry Doby made his Major League debut on July 5, 1947.  Miñoso made the Indians' big league roster out of Spring Training for the 1949 season.  On April 19, Miñoso was called upon to pinch hit for Cleveland pitcher Mike Garcia in the top of the 7th inning of the season opener.  Miñoso drew a walk against St. Louis Browns hurler Ned Garver and in the process became the first black Latino and eighth overall black player to appear in the Major Leagues.

Despite his talent, Miñoso had trouble getting playing time on Cleveland's veteran roster and, by the end of May, was sent to the club's Triple-A affiliate in San Diego.  Although he put up excellent numbers with San Diego, Cleveland chose to keep Miñoso in Triple-A for the remainder of the 1949 and entire 1950 season.  Miñoso made the Indians' big league roster out of Spring Training a second time in 1951, but once again found himself struggling to crack the starting line up, earning only a couple starts at first base with just 17 plate appearances over the team's first 17 games.  On April 30, Miñoso was sent to the Chicago White Sox in a seven-player, three-team trade that also involved the Philadelphia Athletics.  One day later, Miñoso became the first black player to take the field for the White Sox.  Even though 1951 marked the fifth season of the Major Leagues being integrated, there were still a limited number of teams willing to give black players the opportunity to ply their trade at the big league level.  In fact, when Miñoso took the field for Chicago they were just the sixth of the sixteen franchises to integrate, and it would be another two years before the next team took that step.  In addition, Miñoso was one of less than twenty black players in the majors at the time.  Moreover, an underlying reason why the abundantly talented Miñoso may have been kept in the minors during most his time with the Cleveland franchise was the unofficial quota system under which even a forward thinking club like the Indians were hesitant to have what may be perceived as too many blacks on their big league team.

Although he was the sole black player on the White Sox, the trade ended up working out well for Miñoso since Chicago, in contrast to Cleveland, made a point of finding a spot for him in their starting line up--rotating him between third base, right field, and left field.  In his first at bat with the team, White Sox fans immediately found out their new player had a flair for the dramatic as Miñoso took pitcher Vic Raschi of the defending champion New York Yankees deep for a 2-run homer.  Unlike the Indians, who were a perennial contender for the AL Pennant, the White Sox were coming off seven-straight losing seasons in which the club finished no higher than fifth in the eight-team AL.  However, Miñoso's arrival coincided with a roster overhaul and management changes that helped turn the White Sox from a league doormat into a consistent winner.  Miñoso proved to be a key component in the franchise's resurgence with the team improving from a 60-94 record the prior season to 81-73.  Finally given regular playing time, Miñoso immediately established himself among the game's elite, batting .326 with 10 home runs, 76 RBIs, and a .422 OBP in his first full season.  In addition, the speedy Miñoso led the AL in triples, stolen bases, and times hit by a pitch while also ranking second in the league in runs scored and batting average.  Miñoso drew 11 of 24 Rookie of the Year votes but was narrowly edged for the award by Yankees infielder Gil McDougald who picked up the 13 remaining votes.  Although McDougald won the Rookie of the Year Award, Miñoso grabbed more MVP votes, finishing 4th overall in the vote compared to 9th for the Yankees infielder.

Miñoso proved his splendid rookie season was no fluke with his initial campaign marking the first of an eleven-year stretch, from 1951 to 1961, in which he hit over .300 eight times--never falling below .280--and got on base at a .400 or higher clip on five occasions while never dipping lower than .369.  After rotating him between center and left in 1952, Chicago moved Miñoso to left full-time for 1953.  Miñoso settled in as a fine defensive outfielder and rarely missed a game, leading the AL in games played in left field seven times between 1951 and 1961.  Miñoso's outstanding play helped the White Sox stay among the top teams in the American League--finishing in third place each season from 1952 to 1956, winning as many as 94 games, and finishing as close to five games behind the Pennant winner.  Miñoso's exciting style of play helped the team earn the "Go-Go Sox" nickname and embark on a run of success not seen by the franchise since days of the controversial "Black Sox" team of more than thirty years before.  Following a second place finish in 1957, Chicago controversially traded the popular Miñoso back to Cleveland.  Though he was still putting up excellent numbers, the trade was a sensible one for Chicago as it brought them starting outfielder Al Smith and future Hall of Fame starting pitcher Early Wynn in return for Miñoso and back up third baseman Fred Hatfield.

Minnie Miñoso 1959 Topps
Miñoso continued his steady hitting in Cleveland, batting .302 while smacking a career high 24 home runs in 1958--though the Tribe could only muster a 77-76 record for a fourth place finish.  Miñoso turned in another strong performance the following season, batting .302 with 21 home runs and 92 RBIs.  Miñoso's stellar play helped Cleveland contend for the Pennant where--in a twist of irony--they battled Chicago, trading the lead back and forth until being passed by the White Sox for good in late July and ultimately finishing five games back of the Pale Hose with an 89-65 record.  The superior starting pitching of the White Sox played a key role in their outlasting the Indians with Wynn picking up 22 wins.  Chicago fell short in the World Series, losing in six games against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Intent on returning to the Fall Classic, Chicago reacquired Miñoso via trade during the offseason.

On the Opening Day of the 1960 season, Miñoso made a dramatic return to Chicago against the Kansas City Athletics, hitting not only a grand slam but also a game-winning, bottom of the 9th home run.  Miñoso finished the season with a .311 batting average, marking the eighth time he hit over .300.  Miñoso also drilled 20 homers, led the league with 184 hits, and drove in 105 runs--second to only AL MVP Roger Maris.  Miñoso helped bolster the White Sox's offense, which scored 741 runs--just five runs behind the league-leading Yankees and 72 runs more than Chicago's Pennant-winning team of the previous year.  The White Sox battled the Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles for the Pennant and led the standings as late as August 14 but were unable to keep the pace and wound up finishing in third place, ten games behind New York with an 87-67 record.  Miñoso followed up his strong 1960 campaign with another good season for the White Sox before being surprisingly traded to the St. Louis Cardinals after a change in Chicago's ownership and front office.  After being one of baseball's most durable and consistent players, Miñoso found himself plagued by a variety of injuries in 1962--including a broken wrist and fractured skull which were suffered when he crashed into Busch Stadium's concrete left field wall while chasing a Duke Snider triple.  Weakened by injuries, Miñoso hit an uncharacteristically low .196 in just 39 games for the Cards.  Prior to the start of the 1963 season, St. Louis sold Miñoso's contract to the Washington Senators, where he continued to struggle.  Miñoso wrapped up his career with the White Sox, being used mostly as a pinch hitter during the 1964 season.

After his Major League career was over, Miñoso headed south of the border to Mexico, where continued to play professional baseball--often times in the role of player-manager--from 1965 to 1973.  Miñoso later returned to the White Sox organization, serving on the team's coaching staff from 1976 to 1978 and also in 1980.  Chicago even allowed the colorful Miñoso to come out of retirement for a few at bats towards the end of the 1976 and 1980 seasons, despite him being over 50 years old.  With those plate appearances, Miñoso became only the sixth Major Leaguer to play past the age of 50 and joined Nick Altrock as the only Major Leaguers to play in five different decades.  Over the years Miñoso adopted the nickname "Mr. White Sox."  In 1983, the White Sox franchise honored him by retiring his number 9 and in 2004 unveiled a statue of his likeness on the center field concourse of U.S. Cellular Field.  Miñoso continues to work for the franchise as a community relations representative.

During his career, Miñoso was one of baseball's most dominant and well-rounded players, staying among the league leaders in nearly every major category and leading the AL on at least one occasion in hits, total bases, doubles, triples, stolen bases, sacrifice flys, times hit by pitch, and games played.  Miñoso was also one of the quickest players of his time and kept his opponents on their toes with his aggressiveness which made him a constant threat to steal a bag or take an extra base.  Miñoso had four seasons where he drove in over 100 runs as well as four campaigns where he eclipsed 100 runs scored.  Miñoso was a seven-time All-Star and drew MVP votes in eight different seasons, finishing as high as 4th in the MVP vote on four occasions while collecting one or more first place votes in three of those ballots.  A fabulous player on both sides of the diamond, Miñoso also stood out on defense, winning three Gold Glove Awards for his solid work in left field.  Miñoso was part of the initial Gold Glove class in 1957 when the award was voted on by the sportswriters and only honored one player at each position on the Major League level.  Miñoso was also awarded two more Gold Gloves in 1959 and 1960 when the honor was bestowed on one player from each position in each league and voting was done by the players themselves.  During most of his career, Miñoso was at the top of the AL leaderboard for left fielders in putouts, assists, and double plays turned.  Most of Miñoso's career took place before the existence of the Gold Glove Award but had they been given out from the onset of his career it is likely he would have received the honor several more times.

Minnie Miñoso 1957 Topps
Miñoso was one of the most fearless players of his time and wasn't afraid of getting hit by pitches during an era in which batters were afforded minimal protection in comparison with today's hitters.  In fact, Miñoso led the AL ten times in being hit by a pitch and was beaned a total of 192 times in his career.  By his own admission, Miñoso did crowd the plate and picked up the break of the ball late, thus he was often inadvertently struck by errant pitches.  Miñoso was the victim of a frightening beaning on May 18, 1955, when his skull was fractured by a pitch from Yankees hurler Bob Grim.  Although Miñoso considered the beaning unintentional, he spent ten days in the hospital--where he was visited by an apologetic Grim.  Miñoso miraculously returned to action on June 4 after missing just 15 games.  Despite the skull fracture, the courageous Miñoso still managed to play in 139 games, marking the only season between 1951 and 1960 that the durable Miñoso played in less than 146 of the 154 scheduled games.

As the first black Latino in the Major Leagues, Miñoso had to endure his share of racism as well as deal with the difficulties of playing in a foreign country while trying to learn a different language and culture.  Not only did Miñoso have to deal with the racial prejudices of the time but the Cuban-born slugger often found himself a target of racially-tinged taunts and bench-jockeying from opposing teams.  One manager in particular, brought a black dog to the field to torment Miñoso and even ordered one of his pitchers to throw at Miñoso's head.  Disturbing incidents like this imply that at least a few of the beanings he endured may have been due to the color of his skin--something the jovial Miñoso chooses not to dwell on.  Refusing to be intimidated or show pain, Miñoso would sometimes softly toss the ball back underhanded to the pitcher after being hit, as a way of showing he could not be hurt.  Miñoso faced these difficult pioneering challenges with grace and dignity, proving to be a role model for future generations as well as for his peers.  Miñoso also had to deal with the stress of political unrest in his native Cuba which was taken over by Fidel Castro in 1959.  Miñoso did not support the Castro-led government which seized almost all of his property and holdings.  Miñoso left Cuba for good in 1961 and made the United States his permanent home.

Throughout his playing career and for several years afterward, Miñoso's date of birth was listed as November 29, 1922.  In actuality, Miñoso was born a full year three years later in 1925 but had used the 1922 birth year to acquire a visa when he lived in his home country of Cuba, something Miñoso revealed in his 1994 autobiography.  Being recognized as three years older did not seem to help Miñoso reach the Major League any faster because the color barrier and unofficial quota system delayed the start of his career.  However, the three-year age difference may have hastened the end of his Major League career since he was thought to be in his early-forties when his skills began to erode instead of his late-thirties and that may have turned teams off from giving him a chance to prolong his career.

Miñoso retired with 1,963 career hits along with a .298 batting average and .389 OBP in 7,712 plate appearances over 1,835 career games--strong career numbers that would have been even more impressive had his career not been delayed by several years due to the color barrier and the unofficial quota system.  Yet, despite his solid career numbers and pioneering role as Major League Baseball's first black Latino player, when Miñoso became eligible to be elected to the Hall of Fame on the 1969 Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot, he inexplicably drew just 1.8% of the vote and subsequently disappeared from the ballot.  Miñoso was re-added to the BBWAA ballot in 1986 and was allowed to stay on the ballot for up to fourteen more years as long he collected at least 5% of the vote in each election.  Miñoso easily surpassed the 5% minimum on each election and drew moderate support--generally hovering right above or below 15%, peaking at 21.1% in 1988.

Following his time on the BBWAA ballot, Miñoso became eligible to be included on Hall of Fame ballots voted on by the Veterans Committee, a small voting body which met behind closed doors each year.  While their secretive elections may have been controversial, the Veterans Committee usually elected at least one or two candidates to Cooperstown each year.  Miñoso's chances of election were much greater through the Veterans Committee since that voting body had elected several players from his era who were overlooked in BBWAA voting including Enos Slaughter and Phil Rizzuto, as well as former teammates Larry Doby and Nellie Fox.  Doby, in particular, had Hall of Fame credentials comparable to Miñoso's, with the two players having similar career numbers and length as well as each playing pioneer roles in the integration of the Major Leagues.  However, Miñoso had the misfortune of only being eligible on the Veterans Committee ballot for a few years before cries of cronyism led to it being abandoned in favor of biannual elections in which all living Hall of Famers were asked to vote by mail.  Unfortunately for Miñoso, this system proved to be unwieldy as in four elections under this format, the Veterans Committee failed to vote in a single candidate.

Ultimately, the Veterans Committee was, once again, restructured into what is now known as the Golden Era Committee, a 16-member electorate which meets in a closed door session every three years to consider 10 candidates who made their biggest contributions to the game between 1947 and 1972.  The Golden Era Committee held their first election in December 2011.  Miñoso appeared on the 2011 Golden Era ballot, collecting nine of the sixteen votes--falling just three votes shy of the 75% required for election.  On the same ballot, the Golden Era Committee posthumously elected the long overdue Ron Santo, who captured fifteen votes for a near unanimous 93.8% of the vote.  Pitcher Jim Kaat fell two votes shy of election with 62.5% of the vote, while Miñoso and slugger Gil Hodges finished tied for third on the ballot with 56.3% of the vote.  Prior to the election, Miñoso's Hall of Fame candidacy had picked up ample backing with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf among his most vocal supporters.  However, Miñoso and all other candidates were overshadowed by Santo, who had passed away the previous December after coming close in several Veterans Committee elections and had been an open critic of the previous voting format which failed to elect a single candidate in four elections.  Nevertheless, the support Miñoso drew in the 2011 election is promising and with Santo no longer on the ballot, voters may turn their attention to the White Sox legend.

Miñoso's name appeared in the news last summer when he was part of a group of former Negro League players invited to the White House to meet and be honored by President Barack Obama.  A short time later, Miñoso drew more press when Ichiro Suzuki reached 4,000 professional hits.  A study by Scott Simkus of the Society on American Baseball Research showed that Miñoso had at least 4,073 hits over his professional career with 1,963 coming in the Major Leagues, 429 in the Minor Leagues, 838 in the Cuban Leagues, 715 in the Mexican Leagues, and at least 128 documented for his time in the Negro Leagues.  This made Miñoso one of just nine players known to reach the 4,000 professional hits plateau, putting him in an elite class which also includes legendary players such as Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, and Derek Jeter to accomplish that incredible feat.  Miñoso's name will make its way back into the news again in December when he makes his second appearance on the Golden Era Hall of Fame ballot.  Will Miñoso once again be overlooked by Hall of Fame voters or will the combination of his excellent Major League career, 4,000-plus professional hits, and pioneering role as one of the first great black ballplayers in the early years of integration and the first black Latino Major Leaguer be enough for the long overdue White Sox legend to finally be elected to the Hall of Fame?

----by John Tuberty

Sources:  Baseball Reference, Baseball Reference Play Index, SABR, Minnie Miñoso's SABR Bio, Baseball Almanac, Google News Archive, Eugene Register-Guard, Reading Eagle, MLB, Minoso By Any Other Name by Richard C. Lindberg from The National Pastime:  A Review of Baseball History, William M. Simons-The Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, 2009-2010 (McFarland), Bruce Markusen's Cooperstown Confidential, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Chicago White Sox, White Sox Interactive, Baseball Hall of Fame, Southside Sox, Lou Hernández-Memories of Winter Ball:  Interviews with Players in the Latin American Winter Leagues of the 1950s (McFarland), Peter C. Bjarkman-Baseball with a Latin Beat:  A History of the Latin American Game (McFarland)

Other Tubbs Baseball Blog Articles:

Dwight Evans' Strong Sabermetric Statistics Underscore His Overlooked Hall of Fame Case

Bobby Grich Was The Victim of Some Bad Baseball Cards and Some Even Worse Hall of Fame Voting

Nineteenth Century Baseball Pioneer Deacon White Is An Excellent Addition To The Hall of Fame

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