Near the end of Thursday’s 2+ hour forum on Minnie Minoso’s Hall of Fame candidacy at U.S. Cellular Field, host Pedro Gomez noted that there was one individual who badly regretted not being present and sent his best wishes; Jerry Reinsdorf.
It was at this moment that the entire PR blitz that the White Sox have launched since Minoso was announced as eligible for the Veteran’s Committee vote, culminating in Thursday’s presentation featuring baseball historians, statisticians, teammate and countrymen praising his legacy, as an expression of Chairman Reinsdorf’s love and appreciation for Minoso, and Minnie’s indefatigable devotion to the sport and the franchise.
“Beautiful,” Minoso said at the end of the program, “I hope everyone can have a day like this in their life.”
Indeed, even if Minoso doesn’t get in, he’ll have a day where his career was honored and revered by his peers to look back on.
Minoso’s on-the-field case for the Hall is well-known, but was articulated thoroughly on Thursday. Don Zminda of Stats, LLC isolated the eleven-year prime of Minoso from 1951 to 1961, during which time he was in the top 5 in the AL in both batting average and on-base percentage, as well as counting stats like hits, runs and stolen bases. This allowed for a lot of use of the phrase “behind only Mickey Mantle”, or “behind only Ted Williams”, which are useful names to bring up during a Hall of Fame discussion.
Minoso has been on the outside looking in with all of his stats on public record for a while, though. As such, historian Rich Lindberg stressed the need to recognize the historical significance of Minoso’s playing style. While Minoso’s five-tool talent skill set was lauded throughout, Lindberg credited Minoso’s initially prolific base-stealing (led the league in his first three years with the Sox) as the catalyst for the team philosophy of aggressive baserunning, which culminated with the Go-Go Sox that took home the pennant of 1959.
Consistently throughout the forum, Minoso’s birth year was cited as 1922, placing him at 28 years of age at the time of his MLB debut, and for his part Minoso never corrected it to the 1925 birthdate he’s often cited as having. It’s a not insignificant distinction, since a career that was delayed till age 28 for circumstances beyond Minoso’s controls and continued deep into his 30’s reads as more remarkable than a career that began at 25 and followed a more normal aging curve.
Ultimately, it’s unlikely that Minoso will get voted in because his same numbers get cast in a new light, it’ll be because his role as a trailblazer and ambassador for the sport will be recognized and given its proper weight. To that end, historian Adrian Burgos, Jr. detailed the enormity of Minoso’s role as the first black-latino player in major league baseball, and the first player of color for the White Sox, but the strongest attestation of his impact in this regard came from fellow Cuban players Tony Perez (Hall of Famer) and Luis Tiant (Fellow Veteran’s Ballot Candidate).
Both Tiant and Perez cited Minoso as being a national phenomenon and idol while they were impressionable youths in Cuba. Growing up, Perez always said “I want to play like Minnie Minoso”, while Tiant referred to Minoso as a father-figure for all Cuban ballplayers who came after him.
Surprisingly enough, that sentiment was echoed by Minoso’s white teammates with the Sox. Jim Landis, who debuted with the team six years after Minoso, claimed to refer to him as “Papa” in the clubhouse. Jim Rivera recalled Minoso as a coach in the field, providing positioning instructions to the other outfielders, and White Sox great Billy Pierce simply confirmed, “he was one of us.”
It was an outpouring of appreciation to a man who by all accounts, has matched the days proceedings in graciousness throughout his entire career and life, both as a groundbreaking and inspiring player, and as an ambassador for the sport and the White Sox franchise ever since. As Lindberg noted, “I don’t think there’s a man, woman, or child in Chicago who doesn’t have Minnie Minoso’s autograph.”
After a lifetime spent being deferential and accommodating (Minoso’s session included an anecdote about absorbing a beanball, as well as subsequent racial epithets from the pitcher, and responding by smiling and flipping the ball back to the mound), Minoso doesn’t have to be bashful anymore about coveting the ultimate honor and validation of his career.
“It’s what every player dreams of,” he stated frankly, “I hope God will let me be in good health to enjoy it.”
I’ll second that.
Thanks to Marty Maloney and the White Sox for putting on a great forum and luncheon, and thanks to Minnie for telling me to go get some food already.