Minnie Minoso’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday caps off a long and complicated journey to Cooperstown, NY, that few imagined would end this way.
The former Chicago White Sox legend, who will join David Ortiz, Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva, Buck O’Neil, Gil Hodges and Bud Fowler in the class of 2022, has been repeatedly deemed unworthy since his original retirement in 1964 until his death at the age of 90. 2015.
Minoso was an afterthought on the minds of the Baseball Writers Association of America, which originally kept him out of the Hall during his eligibility years. Early veterans committees ruled him out as a viable candidate, as did a revamped veterans committee in 2003 made up of Hall of Famers and those who had earned plaques in Cooperstown through streaming or writing about the game. (The Hall disbanded the 15-member veterans panel after Bill Mazeroski’s election in 2001, feeling he was too political.)
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But Minoso, known as the “Cuban Comet,” still fared poorly with his peers, finishing with just 16 votes from the 85-man committee, which was tied for 10th place and well short of the 61 votes needed for election. . His candidacy barely registered in the Chicago media, which focused on the Hall of Fame search of former Cubs third baseman Ron Santo, who fell 15 votes short in 2003.
When MLB created the African-American Baseball Committee in 2006 to elect overlooked Negro League greats, Miñoso felt he had a realistic chance. But his three-year stint in the Negro Leagues was deemed too short, even combined with his major league career, so Minoso was not one of the 18 black players chosen.
By 2011, he seemed resigned to his fate.
“I’ve kept it inside of me,” Minoso told the Tribune that April at US Cellular Field. “She will go with me when he dies. … I’m angry because it seems like a lot of people ignore a lot of the things that I do in baseball.”
But in the fall, Minoso again found himself on the 10-person ballot for consideration by the Hall’s Golden Age Committee that replaced the veterans’ committee. During discussions for all candidates in the 16-member group, supporters pointed to his late arrival in the major leagues and the bias he faced during his career as a black Latino from Cuba.
Miñoso was again denied, receiving nine of 16 votes. Santo, who died the previous December, I finally got in. Hall of Famer Juan Marichal, a member of the committee, said Miñoso was “responsible for so many careers of the (Latino) players that came after him, including me,” suggesting his involvement had been overlooked. pioneer status for Latino gamers. Tribune baseball writer Phil Rogers called it “the Hall’s most embarrassing exclusion.”
Miñoso’s last heartbreak came in 2014, when he got just eight of the 12 votes needed for a 15-member committee, which ended up electing no one.
“I don’t know what player, outside of the ’50s and ’60s era, would be more deserving than Minnie,” Red Sox president Jerry Reinsdorf said after the announcement.
Minoso died the following year. After the 2020 Golden Era ballot was postponed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Miñoso garnered six votes on the 2021 ballot and finished with 14 votes from the 16-member committee that included former commissioner Bud Selig, an influential supporter.
They say life is about time, and Miñoso’s time at last arrived. It was too late for her to revel in the celebration, but at least she made it. Though he was let down by baseball writers and Hall of Fame voting players, in the end, Miñoso was helped by MLB’s acknowledgment of his shameful racist past, leading to the Negro Leagues officially be recognized as a major league in 2020.
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The addition of Minoso’s Negro League stats pushed him over the 2,000-hit mark (2,113), while his .848 career OPS was ahead of Hall of Fame outfielders including Reggie Jackson ( .846), Carl Yastrzemski (.842) and Kirby Puckett. (.837). No one handed it over to Miñoso. He gained entry from him.
The funny thing about the Baseball Hall of Fame is that hardly anyone remembers the struggles many members had to get there. Once they’re in, they’re all part of the same select group of baseball elites, and their badges don’t show the years of angst and waiting.
Minoso’s love of the game could have ultimately worked against him. He never wanted to stop hitting. To some, his name was synonymous with legendary stunt double Bill Veeck, the maverick Sox owner who brought him out of retirement to play in 1976 and then again in 1980 to tie a playing record in five decades.
Veeck had already left in 1990 when Reinsdorf was willing to give Minoso an at-bat during the last days of old Comiskey Park, which would have made six decades instead of five.
“I promised him this years ago,” Reinsdorf told Tribune baseball writer Jerome Holtzman before the 1990 season. “We have to make sure this isn’t a farce. I haven’t thought about the whole thing, but we don’t want him to embarrass himself or baseball.”
By the summer, the Sox were in a heated race with the Oakland Athletics in the American League West. The idea of giving the 67-year-old Minoso an at-bat was discussed, and Minoso was told he might have to pass a medical.
“That medical talk is nonsense,” he said. “‘I can play. I feel like every day is my birthday. Every day I feel like I’m reborn. I would be honored to play.”
But commissioner Fay Vincent stopped the plan, citing “the best interests of the game.” Many came out in defense of Miñoso.
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“We know we can’t live forever, we know our heroes can’t be heroic forever, but the dream makes reality bearable,” Tribune columnist Bernie Lincicome wrote. “Baseball must fulfill dreams. That’s why it exists.”
On a side note, MLB in 2012 allowed former Cubs player Adam Greenberg to signs a one-day deal with the Miami Marlins as a publicity stunt, seven years after his only career at-bat ended with a hit on the first pitch he saw. No one seemed to mind the stunt, which went according to plan.
The owners eventually fired Vincent, and in September 1993, the Red Sox again announced that the 70-year-old Miñoso would play one inning and start against the Seattle Mariners. But the Sox were on track for the playoffs, and ace Jack McDowell led a player revolt, forcing general manager Ron Schueler to cancel the plan, citing “several players (who) have expressed discontent.”
“The team has other things to focus on that are much more important,” Schueler said. “After speaking with Minnie, we have decided that she will not play.”
Minoso understood. He just wanted to make the fans happy, and of course he loved hitting.
Before a 1991 veterans game at Wrigley Field, after Minoso finished smoking lines in the batting cage, I asked him if he would ever stop hitting.
“It’s my life,” he replied.
It was a life well lived.
And on Sunday, after nearly six decades of being shunned, Minoso finally gets his day in the sun.