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Minnie Miñoso is on the Golden Days Era ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame — and the Chicago White Sox ‘trailblazer’ has plenty of support: ‘Minnie was our Jackie Robinson’

Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
 2021-11-29
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White Sox legend Minnie Minoso at U.S. Cellular Field, a day before Opening Day on April 6, 2011. Chicago Tribune historical photo

“Trailblazer.”

That’s one word that immediately came to Charlie Rice-Miñoso’s mind while describing the baseball career of his father, Minnie Miñoso.

“His story speaks to so many different audiences,” Rice-Miñoso said last week in a phone interview. “Being a trailblazer, there was no playbook for how to navigate that. And he was able to do (it) so seamlessly in an arena that didn’t necessarily have folks like him in mind when it was created. He was still able to do it.”

Miñoso, who spent parts of 12 seasons with the Chicago White Sox, is one of 10 players on the Golden Days Era ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Candidates with 75% of the vote by the 16-member committee earn election. Results will be announced Sunday.

“There’s no better person to represent baseball,” said Sharon Rice-Miñoso, Minnie’s wife, during a phone interview last week.

Minnie Miñoso was a nine-time All-Star and won three Gold Glove Awards as an outfielder during 17 seasons with the Cleveland Indians, White Sox, St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Senators. And before that, he made the All-Star roster in two of his three Negro League seasons with the New York Cubans. Miñoso died in March 2015 at age 89.

His accomplishments at the plate, on the bases and defensively are just part of the story. “The Cuban Comet” was the first Black player for the Sox in 1951, and he quickly emerged as one of the game’s first Afro-Latino stars.

“I am who I am because my father aspired to be like Minnie Miñoso,” said former big-leaguer Eduardo Pérez, the son of Hall of Famer Tony Pérez. “So there is a direct connection there to who Minnie Miñoso represented, not only in the White Sox organization but all over, from the teams that he played with to the Negro Leagues and, most importantly, to the Cuban community and to the Latino community and the Afro-Latino community, being able not only to do it on the field but also do it outside the lines and inspire others to be great at whatever they decided to do.”

Eduardo Pérez, former Sox pitcher José Contreras and Bob Kendrick, the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo., recently discussed Miñoso’s candidacy during a conference call with reporters.

“Minnie represented us in a beautiful way,” Contreras said through an interpreter. “He was all that you can imagine, on and off the field, not just because of the way that he played but just the way that he handled himself off the field, how he represented us in the baseball world but also in society. Minnie was our Jackie Robinson.”

When making Miñoso’s case, here are some of the areas the committee will take under consideration.

A fresh look at the numbers

Last December, Major League Baseball announced it would begin including some Negro League statistics, which provides an uptick to many of Minoso’s overall numbers.

Miñoso batted .313 with 12 triples, nine home runs, 70 RBIs and 89 runs in 111 games during three seasons with the New York Cubans in the most recent Negro League statistics available, which doesn’t account for barnstorming.

“Don’t get me wrong, I know our game is this beautiful game of comparisons and statistics,” Kendrick said. “But you just can’t reduce the Negro Leagues to statistics because you’re not comparing apples to apples. No players had to endure what these players had to, to play baseball in this country.

“You can’t even imagine what it must have been like for them to perform at such a high level not knowing when you’re going to get something to eat, or not knowing where you’re going to have a place to stay. And yet somehow or another, they’re able to perform at such a great level and still bring a level of joy to this game.”

Miñoso’s career stats include a .299 average, 2,110 hits, 195 home runs and 216 stolen bases in 1,946 games. According to the Sox, only six other players in MLB history have reached the combination of those marks. And all six are in the Hall of Fame.

“His record as a player is extremely impressive,” author and baseball historian Don Zminda said in a phone interview last week. “Probably the one thing people held against him was that he did not have a long period as an outstanding player; basically by 1961, that was his last really good year. And that’s a shorter peak period than a lot of players who were considered Hall of Famers would have. But that has to be understood in the context of his time. He had a short career because he couldn’t have a long career in the major leagues.

“He was an All-Star in the Negro Leagues in the late 1940s when he really couldn’t play in the major leagues. By the time he broke in, depending on which age you use for his birth year, he was either 25 or more likely 28. So his peak is a little bit shorter, but he not only broke in later than he should have because of discrimination and the color line, but also as a Black player playing in the major leagues during that time, he had to put up with a lot of discrimination and a lot of difficulties that most players didn’t have to deal with. And nonetheless, he continued to excel.”

The instant impact

The Sox landed Miñoso from Cleveland as part of a three-team trade on April 30, 1951. He homered in his first Sox at-bat on May 1 against the New York Yankees.

That was quite an introduction. With much, much more to come.

Miñoso was fourth in AL MVP voting in 1951, the first of four fourth-place finishes for the award in his career.

“The same impact that he had with the White Sox when he got there, he had with the New York Cubans,” Kendrick said. “Classic leadoff guy. He had Rickey Henderson capabilities because he did have power and he had great speed, he had the great arm.

“He was the quintessential leadoff guy for a pretty doggone good New York Cubans baseball team. And he was that table-setter for the Cubans. The same energy and electricity that he brought to the Go-Go White Sox, he did the same thing for the New York Cubans.”

From 1951-61, Miñoso was second in the AL in several categories, including hits (1,861), runs (1,078), triples (81) and stolen bases (193). His .305 average during the timespan ranked fifth in the AL for players with a minimum of 3,000 plate appearances, while his .395 on-base percentage was fourth in the league.

“Every player had a role on a team, right? And Minnie knew what his role was, and his role was to get on base, to score runs,” Pérez said. “For an 11-year period, Minnie Miñoso continued to not only score runs, but most importantly get his base hits.”

Miñoso helped the New York Cubans to victory in the 1947 Negro League World Series. And he helped the fortunes of the Sox.

From 1944-50, the Sox finished under .500 every season. They made a 21-game improvement in 1951, going 81-73.

“When he broke in with the White Sox, he really helped transform the league,” Zminda said. “In 1950, the leader in stolen bases in the American League (Dom DiMaggio) had a total of 15. ... It was basically a wait-for-a-home-run league. And Miñoso brought speed back to the game (he led the AL with 31 stolen bases in ‘51). The team was called the Go-Go White Sox because they ran the bases, they stole bases, they took the extra base. Minnie was the pioneer with that.

“And he not only helped turn the league around, he helped turn the franchise around. When he came to the White Sox, they were a terrible team. They had been a second-division team for decades, for the most part. And almost as soon as he joined them, he helped turn them into contenders.”

The lasting influence

Contreras, who came to the Sox in a 2004 trade, remembers the first time he saw Miñoso in the team’s clubhouse.

“I was like, ‘Wow, Minnie’s here,’” said Contreras, who was born in Las Martinas, Cuba. “To me, Minnie was a legend. He was one of the reasons I started playing baseball. When I was a kid and people talked about Minnie, to me, it was, ‘I want to be like him.’ Then, when I had the chance to meet him here, it was incredible.”

Miñoso’s influence is evident across generations, whether it’s Contreras, a current player such as 2020 AL MVP José Abreu, who was born in Cienfuegos, Cuba, or a Hall of Famer such as Tony Pérez, who was born in Camaguey, Cuba.

Said Kendrick: “You can never reduce Minnie Miñoso’s career to just baseball.

“What he did in his game is noteworthy and certainly justifies Hall of Fame merit. But what he meant for legions of Latino ballplayers, to know that they, too, could have the dream of playing in the major leagues, cannot be understated.”

Miñoso’s family hopes the committee takes that complete picture into consideration.

“If somebody looks at the entirety of his career and the entirety of his contributions, that is probably the most compelling case,” Charlie Rice-Miñoso said. “He opened the door and paved the way for so many people who have already been in Cooperstown.

“This really was his last wish as a human and an ambassador to the sport, the sport he dedicated his whole life to.”

Added Sharon Rice-Miñoso: “You couldn’t have a better person representing your company, sport or whatever would have you, and Minnie did that every day of his life. He loved baseball and was very proud to be a professional athlete.”

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