A Place in the Hall for Minnie
Hell, yes! – I was surprised that Buck O'Neil didn’t get elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in the recent special "Negro League and Pre-Negro-League" election. I’m even surprised that Spottswood Poles, the early Negro League outfielder who is considered to be one of the best black players of the 1910s, wasn’t elected.
I have a problem in attacking these decisions, though, because I haven’t been given the ammunition. The decisions of the Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans' Committees over the years, the ones that kept Leo Durocher and Bill Mazeroski out of the Hall of Fame for awhile, were secret ballots, but our ability to criticize those decisions arose from our ability to view the statistics for ourselves. We were all playing from the same base of information.
Regrettably, in the case of Buck O'Neil and the other Negro League candidates who did not win election to the Hall, we don’t have the statistical record that the Committee reviewed – the 3,000 day-by-day records and box scores of Negro League play compiled by the Committee over the last several years. Someday soon, I hope, we’ll get to see that data. My assumption, however -- based on the limited stats that have been published, in addition to his impact as a major league coach, scout and goodwill ambassador -- is that Buck O'Neil would be a worthy addition to the Hall, regardless of whether he is classified as a "Negro League player" or a "person who has had a significant impact on the game."
Regarding Minnie Minoso, the Hall of Fame cannot fall back on any convenient excuses. As O’Neil himself said, on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown last Wednesday, "I don’t think Minnie should have been on this ballot, the Negro League ballot . . . he put up the numbers in the major leagues, and I think he should go in the Hall of Fame [through the Veteran’s Committee]."
Minoso's major league record alone should indeed suffice for his election. Minnie Minoso, who was the first black Latino player in the major leagues and the first black player on the White Sox, is ranked by stats guru Bill James as the 10th greatest leftfielder in major league history -- in rarefied company with Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Carl Yastrzemski and Willie Stargell, and well ahead of Hall of Famers Ralph Kiner, Joe Medwick, Lou Brock and Zack Wheat. Furthermore, James asserts, Minoso ranks among the best players of all time (#16, between Eddie Collins and Paul Molitor), based on contributions ("Win Shares," in James' idiom) as a player between the ages of 30 and 39 – the only player on James' list of the top 20 of such players who has not yet been elected to the Hall of Fame. A 3-time Gold Glove winner and 7-time All-Star, Minoso drove in 100 or more runs four times and at different times led the league in hits, doubles, triples, total bases, being hit by pitches and stolen bases, while consistently ranking in the top 10 in on-base percentage.
His style of play for the White Sox and the Indians was unusual for its time -- the stars of the late 1950s and early 1960s were, more often than not, big guys who hit home runs every once in a while, couldn’t run all that well, and had lower batting averages. Minoso was a harbinger of a new style that would begin to emerge in the 1960s – a combination of power, speed and batting average that we now recognize in the careers of such players as Alex Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano and Barry Bonds (before things got wacky with him).
To all of that, we must add that Minoso has been, much like Buck O'Neil, an extraordinary goodwill ambassador for major league baseball, always eager to please the fans. To be sure, there has been a certain circus-like quality to Minoso's appearances since the 1960s – making highly-publicized plate appearances with the White Sox in 1976 at the age of 53 and in 1980 at the age of 57, as well as drawing a walk in one appearance with the St. Paul Saints at the age of 80 in 2003 – but, can you really begrudge a fellow for his love of the game?
Let’s hope that both O'Neil and Minoso – and even Spot Poles – will be given the official recognition they deserve. For Minoso, who is 84, and for O'Neil, who is 94, I hope that day comes very soon indeed.