By Glen Sparks
Minnie Minoso patterned his game after a fellow Cuban. Martin Dihigo hit for power, hit for average and ran hard. Oh, he could pitch, too. In 1938, Dihigo batted .387 in the Mexican League and went 18-2 with a 0.90 ERA on the mound.
Dihigo was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1977. Minoso, from Perico, outside Havana, has a chance to join his boyhood idol in Cooperstown. He is one of 10 Golden Era candidates up for induction. Like the other candidates, he needs 12 of the 16 committee members to vote for him. The Hall of Fame will announce any new members on Dec. 8.
Minoso hit for some power (186 home runs in 17 seasons, at least 20 home runs four times) and a solid average (.298 lifetime, at least .300 nine times). He could run (205 lifetime steals. He led the American League in thefts three times.), and he could drive in runs (1,023 career RBI, four seasons with at least 100). … No word on whether he could pitch.
Minoso made nine All-Star teams, with both the Indians and White Sox, and finished fourth in the MVP voting four times. He also had a high pain threshold. Minoso led the league in getting hit by a pitch 10 times. He took a bruising for the team.
Once, Minoso was hit by a pitch and slammed a home run in the same at-bat. He had turned into a pitch that plunked him. No, stay right here, the ump said. Minnie had made no attempt to get out of the way, according to the man whose opinion matters most in such things. No problem. A few pitches later, Minoso drilled a home run.
The delighted star crossed home plate. He looked at the ump. “Give me my first base the first time,” Minoso said.
The opposing pitcher and catcher probably agreed.
Minoso topped the A.L. in hits one time, doubles one time and triples three times. Oh, and he scored at least 100 runs in a season four times. So, how did one of the best all-around players of the 1950s do in the Hall of Fame voting? Not well at all. In 15 years on the ballot, Minoso topped 20 percent just two times. … Huh?
Bill James uses a stat called “age similarity” score. He compares one player with an already retired player when they were the same age. (For example, the most similar player to Mike Tout at age 22 was Mickey Mantle.) The most similar player to Minoso from age 28 through age 36 was Enos Slaughter, the long-time St. Louis Cardinal.
Slaughter was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1985. Generally, Slaughter got pretty strong support every year, receiving at least 40 percent of the vote nine times.
Slaughter hit 169 home runs in a 19-year career. He drove in 1,304 runs and batted .300. He had 2,383 hits, scored 1,247 runs and had 71 steals. Slaughter made 10 All-Star teams and finished once in the second in MVP and twice third.
Here is a little bit more about Slaughter and Minoso:
The stats look fairly similar. Minoso’s numbers suffered a bit because he spent a few years in the Negro Leagues when he should have been playing in the Major Leagues. Minoso, the so-called Cuban Comet, didn’t play a full big league season until he was 25. “Country” Slaughter was already an established star at that age. Slaughter also missed three important 27-29 seasons while serving in World War II.
Minoso, now 89, waited several years ago for a call from the Hall of Fame. A committee had been set up to look at overlooked players from black baseball. Many thought Minoso, who starred for the New York Cubans before going to the Majors, would be elected for enshrinement. That call never came.
Many people today remember Minoso for how he retired. Or, more precisely, how he didn’t retire. He left the White Sox after 1964 to go to the Mexican League as a player-manager. He was “El Charro Negro,” the Black Cowboy.
In 1976, Minoso went back to the Majors and to White Sox as a coach. The big club activated him in September, and he went 1-8 at the age of 50. He also pinch-hit twice in 1980 for the White Sox, going 0-2. He is major league baseball’s only five-decade player, appearing in a game in the 1940s, ’50, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. (His streak didn’t end there. In 1993, at the age of 67, Minoso grounded out as a member of the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League. He drew a walk for the Saints in 2003, an 87-year-old ballplayer. Minoso is a seven-decade man.)
Minoso still lives in Chicago. They call him Mr. White Sox on the South Side. He a member of the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame, the Hispanic Heritage Museum Hall of Fame, the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in Exile and the Mexican Professional Baseball of Fame. Is this going to be the year that Minoso makes it into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.?