These Men Changed Baseball: Minnie Minoso
Today, we get to the last of the integrators with a serious case for the Hall of Fame just on his own merits that is not already in. When you factor in the adversity these players faced or the amount of time lost to racism, this case for Hall of Fame induction might expand. Minnie Minoso, though, has a legitimate case for the Hall of Fame, even before you factor in years spent in the Negro Leagues because of segregation. Let us talk, then, about one of the greatest Chicago White Sox ever to play the game.
For starters, Minoso was born at some point in the 1920’s in Cuba. The exact date is uncertain. While he played, his birth year was given at 1922. Starting in the early 1990’s his birth year has been given as 1925. He is known to have given both in interviews. The currently accepted year is 1925, which adjusts perception of how much major league time he lost. Regardless, in 1945, at the age of 20 or 23, Minoso broke in with the New York Cubans of the Negro National League as their third baseman. He would lead the team to the Negro World Series title in 1947, beating out Sam Jethroe‘s Cleveland Buckeyes. He was a dominant leadoff hitter, and he was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1948. He slipped into the majors for 9 games in 1949, before disappearing back to the minors. He spent two seasons in San Diego, playing very well while he bounced between third base and the outfield. Early in the 1951 season, he was sent to the Chicago White Sox as part of a three-team, 7-player trade. He would debut for Chicago on May 1, 1951, and he would become the first black player to play for Chicago. On the day, Chicago would be destroyed by the Yankees 9-3, but history was still made.
In 1951, Minoso exploded onto the scene in Chicago. For his rookie year, he was somewhere between 25 and 28. Given his batting line, an older age makes a bit more sense. He hit .326 with a .422 OBP and .500 SLG. He led the league in triples, stolen bases, and HBP, establishing the pattern of his career. He would be elected to the All Star team for the first of 9 times, come in 4th in the MVP voting, yet lose the Rookie of the Year to Gil McDougald by 2 votes. Minoso would not cool off for 10 years. He led the American League in triples 3 times, stolen bases 3 times, and HBP 10 times. He would also lead the league in hits, doubles, and total bases once each. For his career, Minoso put up an OPS+ of 130, and he was worth 52.7 WAR, good for 150th among all position players. Given the lost years to the Negro Leagues, he looks like a fairly easy choice for the Hall of Fame. That has not been the case. So what happened to Minnie Minoso?
First, Minoso retired with a .298 batting average. If it is 2 points higher, he might have squeaked in. If he retired after the 1962 season, instead of 1964, he would have retired hitting .303. Second, his record is tarnished by his last three seasons. He hit .196, .229, and .226 in 1962, 1963, and 1964. Minoso was through, either at age 36 or 39, but he tried to hold on a bit longer. Third, his serial returns to play in the 1970’s and 1980’s added a bit of sideshow image to his legacy. That of course does not explain why he was not elected prior to his 1976 return. Here the quirks of the Hall of Fame come into play. Minoso first appeared on the ballot in 1969, receiving only 6 votes. The 1969 ballot elected Stan Musial and Roy Campanella, and it also held 14 other future Hall of Famers. It was easy for a player as good as Minoso to get lost. For what it’s worth, Minoso was 6th on the ballot in career OPS+, behind only Musial, Johnny Mize, Charlie Keller, Ralph Kiner, and Tommy Henrich. After 1969, Minoso disappeared until 1986 when he would receive 20% of the vote. From there he would linger on the Veterans’ Committe ballot through 1999, when he had dropped to 14% of the vote. He was considered for Negro League induction in 2005 but did not make it.
The White Sox recognized him by retiring his number in 1983. The Hall of Fame has not. Given lost years and the segregation he had to daily overcome, I think Minoso should go into the Hall of Fame. Without time in the Negro Leagues, he would be a borderline case, sitting just outside the Hall with comparable players like Carl Furillo, Ken Griffey, Sr., and Cy Williams. None of those players lost time to the color of their skin. He did not make the 10-player, post-1943 ballot used in the 2009 election. Unfortunately, for Minoso to enter the Hall of Fame, the Veterans’ Committee would have to show a willingness to elect players. That, it appears, they steadfastly will not do.