Last week, the BBWAA posted the official 2013 Hall of Fame Ballot, and we celebrated the birthday of Minnie Minoso — or should I say, Saturnino Orestes Armas “Minnie” Miñoso Arrieta. In light of those two facts, this seemed an appropriate time to examine the extremely underrated career of Mr. Minoso. You might retort that last week would have been an even more appropriate time, but that would make me upset.
Minoso did not make it into the Hall of Fame in the standard fashion, and he finished tied for third (and not in the Hall, once again) on the Veteran’s Committee ballot early this year. Ron Santo got in easily, although this should have happened years ago, as he unfortunately passed away before he was inducted. As I understand it, Santo is someone who really cared whether he would get in or not. Making it worse that they waited so long to vote Santo in is that 3B is criminally underrepresented in the Hall and Santo was an obvious choice. Jim Kaat, Gil Hodges, and Tony Oliva were also unsuccessful. In my mind, Minoso, as a black and Latino player, is one of a class of pioneers – alongside guys like Larry Doby, for example — that came after Jackie Robinson. Like Doby, who could and should be the subject of much discussion in his own right, these players often fall through the cracks of baseball’s collective memory and do not receive adequate recognition. One could write volumes about the obstacles that guys like Minoso had to overcome, and their social and historic impact. While I won’t rule out trying to cover some of those things down the road, they are truly mammoth undertakings if they are going to be done properly. Today, instead, I want to take a look at the quantifiable, on-the-field contributions of Minoso, which also tend to get overlooked.
Minoso absolutely murdered the ball in AAA for two full seasons with the Indians before he got a full time look at the major league level in 1951. It was clear that he had been left down too long when he hit the ground running as a 25-year old rookie. After only 17 PAs in 8 games with the Indians, he was traded as part of a three-team swap to the White Sox, who gave up Gus Zernial in the deal.
Finally given the opportunity to play every day in the majors, Minoso would go on to hit .326/.422/.500 while seeing playing time at 3B, 1B, all three outfield positions, and even a few innings at shortstop. That year, en route to an All Star appearance, finishing 4th in MVP voting and 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting, Minoso would lead the league in triples (18), steals (31), and being hit by pitches (16) – all of which he would continue to do at high rates for the rest of his career. Indeed, in so many ways this 1951 rookie season would be a microcosm for Minoso’s entire career – delayed by segregation and an inability to get a fair shake at an every day job, his offensive profile was distinctive, exciting, and valuable, he played a whole bunch of positions, and then watched his Rookie of the Year award given to an inferior player. He also liked to get caught stealing, but I’ll just chalk that up to him being a super entertaining player in all respects.
Minoso would continue to spray lots of extra base hits around the outfield and over the fence for the next few decades, even coming back for a handful of PAs at ages 50 and 54 with the White Sox. Minoso would lead the majors in triples three times, stolen bases three times, and HBP a whopping ten (!!) times, while collecting four Gold Gloves and 7 All Star appearances. Over the course of his career he would accumulate a slash line of .298/.389/.459, which is good for an OBP-heavy OPS+ of 130.
Jay Jaffe’s JAWS statistic, which relies heavily upon WAR and looks at both career longevity and at the heights of a player’s peak years, has Minoso as 21st all time amongst left fielders. It is lazy and unhelpful to go the route of, “Well, Minoso is better than Jim Rice, and Jim Rice is in” because it says more about how Jim Rice was a poor selection than anything else. Besides, we shouldn’t just use the worst selections as the bar for entry. I think it’s a better approach to look at the fact that his rate stats are right around those of solid Hall of Fame corner outfielders like Joe Medwick, Enos Slaughter, and Billy Williams. Minoso was certainly better at the plate than, say, Lou Brock, although much of Brock’s value and notoriety comes from his prolific work on the basepaths. Minoso also has in his favor that he was good defensively – and while left field isn’t a premium defensive position, he wasn’t stuck there simply because it was a place to hide his bat, and he did have the flexibility to play some infield in a pinch.
I also think it matters that Minoso probably should have had at least two more seasons in the majors, as he clearly had nothing left to prove at AAA while he collected almost 1,300 plate appearances hitting .297/.371/.483 and .339/.405/.539 at ages 23 and 24. It leaves one to speculate how early he could have been called up in a world where black players weren’t kept out of the majors until 1947. In 274 PAs from age 20-22 across three Negro League seasons, Minoso hit .307/.348/.467 as a stand out 3B. I do not want this to be misconstrued as slamming the Indians for racism, as one of the guys blocking Minoso in AAA was Larry Doby, however I am pretty sure 1949 Minoso could have outplayed Ken Keltner.
Minoso isn’t necessarily an obvious Hall of Famer at first glance, although I think it’s immediately apparent that he’s close. I believe that on closer inspection his objective performance is better than many realized. When you factor in that he should have had a couple more years in the majors in a just world, and that he was a pioneer as both a black and Latino ballplayer in the time period that he did, I think there are a lot more arguments for putting him in the Hall than in keeping him out.
For fun, here are some excerpts of a Minoso documentary that’s in the works that you can watch here. Minnie Minoso was a remarkable player and continues to be a remarkable human being. He holds the honor of being my dad’s all time favorite player – slightly ahead of Harold Baines, for those who are wondering – and I believe he should be in the Hall of Fame. Hopefully the Veteran’s Committee gets around to it before we lose him.