Monday, March 2, 2015

How Wonderfully Unique Was Minnie Minoso's Career?

This morning, during a tribute to Minnie Minoso, I heard an amazing stat on SportsCenter. Minoso is one of two players in major league history to play during five different decades. (The other is Nick Altrock.) We know about guys like Don Zimmer, baseball lifers who coached for many years after their playing careers ended. But Minoso played in five different decades. Think about that for a second.

For more perspective, take a look at these two dates:
April 9, 1949: Minoso debuted with the Cleveland Indians. Less than a week later, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg passed its last judgement.
October 5, 1980: Minoso played his last game with the White Sox, at the age of 54. It was just three days after Larry Holmes had knocked out Muhammad Ali to claim the heavyweight title.

Sure, it took some luck (and quite a bit of gimmickry) for Minoso to appear in games in five decades. The Cuban outfielder played in just nine games in '49 then spent '50 in the Pacific Coast League before finishing second in the American League Rookie of the Year race in '51. And at the end of his career -- after hanging up his spikes for the first time in '64 -- he returned for just three games in '76 and two in 1980. He was a 50-something novelty act in each of those late-career appearances. Still, a playing career that spanned almost the entire Cold War is pretty incredible. And during the meat of his career, Minoso was one of the best players in the game. From 1951 to 1961, he racked up more wins above replacement than all but seven players -- all Hall of Famers.

Here's one more date to consider:
December 8, 2014: That's the day Minoso was not elected by the Hall of Fame's Golden Era Committee, due in large part to some nearly-impossible voting requirements.

Now, I don't know if Minnie Minoso is a deserving Hall of Famer. I never saw the man play and I haven't studied his career as much as many others have, so I'm not equipped to make that judgement. Here's what some other smart people have said, though:

Joe Posnanski: "To me Minoso’s case, like [Larry] Doby’s case, is much larger than baseball. But on any level — emotional, statistical, historical — Minnie Minoso belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame."

Jay Jaffe: "Particularly given his decade-plus of dominance and his cultural importance as the game’s first black Cuban star and the first black player on either Chicago team (Ernie Banks integrated the Cubs in 1953), I'd have no problem voting for him."

Christina Kharl: "In light of the continuing oversight of Minoso, a healthy dose of skepticism that we’ll see the Hall eventually get it right in his case as well would be totally understandable. You can wonder if Minoso will be alive to enjoy the recognition that he too is due, should that day finally come."

Others, like Rob Neyer, have called Minoso a borderline candidate. It seems clear, though, that Minoso's terrific production on the field just scratches the surface of his overall impact on the game.

Here's one last quote: "My last dream is to be in Cooperstown, to be with those guys. I want to be there. This is my life's dream." That statement came from Minoso himself in a promotional package distributed by the White Sox in 2011.

Minoso is probably fated to be honored by the Hall posthumously like another legendary Chicago ballplayer, the Cubs' Ron Santo. Just a few years after his death, Santo was elected by the Veterans Committee in 2011. Talk about a bittersweet event for Santo's family.

Again, it's difficult for me to assess the Hall of Fame case of Minoso, a man who had a five-decade big-league career, who was the first black White Sox player, who led the league in triples three times and getting hit by pitches ten times, who had a notable Negro League career, who earned seven top-20 MVP finishes. There are many variables involved in assessing that career. Still, if he ever does get elected, it's a shame that Minnie Minoso -- who lived such a long, beautiful baseball life -- will not be there to enjoy it.

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