Making Minnie Miñoso's Hall Of Fame Case

CHICAGO, IL: Six time All-Star Minnie Minoso throws out a ceremonial first pitch before the home opener between the Chicago White Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays at U.S. Cellular Field on April 7, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Hall of Fame's Golden Era ballot, to be considered early next month, includes Minnie Miñoso, one of the American League's greatest outfielders in the 1950s. Is that enough, though?

When I wrote last week about the Hall of Fame's Golden Era ballot -- to be considered in a few weeks by a 16-person committee -- I wrote in some detail about a few of the 10 candidates on the ballot but, due to space and time and continuum issues, ignored most of them.

Among those I ignored: Minnie Miñoso, who deserved better. Or whose story deserved better, anyway. Fortunately, Stuart Miller has made Miñoso's Hall of Fame case at length, and in the New York Times, no less. One highlight:

But the more modern statistics paint an even more vivid picture of Miñoso as an overlooked Hall of Famer. For starters, he had five years with an on-base percentage over .400, he was always at .374 or higher, and only once in the decade was he not in the top 10. His mix of walks and gap power meant he was in the top 10 in O.P.S. (on-base plus slugging) eight times in 10 years. (And Miñoso was on base more than he was given credit for since being hit by a pitch doesn’t help O.B.P. As I wrote in The Times in 2010, in the early years of integration, minorities were victimized by beanballs at a dispiriting rate. Miñoso, who took 192 for the team in his career, was hit more than any other batter in the A.L. every year but one from 1951 through 1961. To be fair to the pitchers, however, Miñoso did love crowding the plate and was more than willing to lean in and take a ball in the side to get on.)

Did you catch the bizarre error in there?

Miñoso did get hit by a lot of pitches. A lot of pitches. He did lead the American League 10 times in the 11 seasons in which he was an every-day player. And yes, he probably got plunked a few more times because he was black. But how on earth could anyone think all those bruises didn't help Miñoso's on-base percentage?

Here's the formula for on-base percentage:

OBP = \frac{H+BB+HBP}{AB+BB+HBP+SF}

That's been the formula since OBP became an official MLB statistic in 1984, and that's the formula that is used to figure OBPs for every player who played before 1984. The notion that Miñoso's numbers would look even better if only we counted those 192 times he was hit by a pitch is just silly, because we're counting them already. Without them, Minnie's OBP would be .373 rather than .389.

All of which is essentially irrelevant, because I don't believe that anybody who's ever actually voted on Miñoso's Hall of Fame candidacy has considered OBP for even a single solitary second. I just found it an odd thing to read in The Paper of Record.

There's also this, a more interesting argument:

Now here’s another stat, from another decade, the 1920s. For years, Miñoso’s birthdate was listed as Nov. 29, 1925. But there seems to be more evidence arguing that he was born in 1922. That means that when Miñoso had his breakout rookie year in 1951, hitting .326 and leading the league in triples and steals, he was already 28. Look back at the years he played in the Negro Leagues after coming to America (1946-1948) and the ones in which Cleveland stuck him in the minors where he decimated pitchers throughout the Pacific Coast League (1949-1950) and you can’t help but wonder what might have been. If Miñoso had even three extra major league seasons he might have come close to 2,500 hits, and he certainly would have had a shot at racking up three more Hall of Fame caliber seasons.

I have no idea which evidence Miller means, about Miñoso being born in 1922. Sources used to say he was born in 1922, but they have since been amended to 1925. Why? Because Miñoso has been quite specific on this count, writing in his 1994 memoir, "I was 19 years old when I arrived in the United States in 1945, but my papers said I was 22. I told a white lie in order to obtain a visa, so I could qualify for service in the Cuban army. My true date of birth is the 29th of November, 1925."

Perhaps Miller's got evidence that's been unearthed since then, but I've not seen it.

Even without it, there's still a case to be made that Miñoso's lost a season or three of this career to Organized Baseball's pre-1947 color line. I think it's more like a season-and-a-half, though: all of 1950 and roughly half of 1949.

Most of Miñoso's case, made here by Miller and by others elsewhere, is that he ranked as one of the American League's greatest players in the 1950s. Which is perfectly true. But it was only in the 1950s. He collected three base hits in the 1940s, and hit .275/.354/.412 in the 1960s, playing only two seasons as a regular.

Doing so well in a calendar decade is impressive, but that alone shouldn't get a guy into the Hall of Fame, any more than Jack Morris belongs in the Hall of Fame because he won more games than anyone else in the 1980s, or Mark Grace belongs in the Hall of Fame because he got more hits than anyone else in the 1990s.

I used to think Miñoso definitely belonged in the Hall. That was when I thought he'd been born in 1922. It's funny how three years makes such a difference. Now I'm not sure what to think. Except that Minnie Miñoso is, based on the evidence at hand, a borderline candidate. At best.

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