"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice



“What more could I ask of life? I came from nowhere. I worked in the sugar fields as a boy. It was a tough life. I had one pair of shoes and one pair of pants. But I always had a smile on my face. My mother and father…taught me to be a good citizen, a good human being, and to love life.” Minnie Minoso (from “Diamond Greats”, by Rich Wescott—appropriated from the New Historical Abstract

I didn’t know much about Minnie Minoso, so I dipped into my ‘lil baseball library to see what I could find. I also ran Minoso through Google.com and discovered not only are there books on Minoso’s career, but two that are written by Minoso himself (with some help of course): “Extra Innings: My Life in Baseball,” and “Just Call me Minnie: My Six Decades in Baseball.” That’s good news. I have some book hunting to do, which gives me at least one more thing to look forward to this coming baseball summer.

Here is what I dug up from my selection of books:

Sooner or later, whenever we talk about hitting, someone will ask me if there will be another .400 hitter in the major leagues. Of all the so-called “sluggers” in the big time today, the only one I can think of who really qualifies in all respects is Minnie Minoso.

Ted Williams, as told to Paul Gardner, Baseball Stars of 1955 (also appropriated from The New Historical Abstract by Bill James).

Bill James makes an argument for Minoso as a Hall of Famer in his book, “What Ever Happened to the Hall of Fame”:

My off-the-wall Hall of Fame favorite, if I have one, is Minnie Minoso. Minnie doesn’t seem to draw much support, but I’m not sure why. He’s a .300 hitter, give or take a couple of points, plus he had speed (led the league in stolen bases three times, triples three times), and some power (drove in a hundred runs four times; was one of oldest men to ever drive in a hundred runs). He was a good defensive player who played with tremendous enthusiasm, and was very popular while active.

What many people don’t recognize about Minoso is that although he has substantial Hall of Fame credentials as is, he is missing probably his best years due to his race. Minnie came along while the color line was still crumbling. His career inside organized ball started in the 1948 season; he was already 25. He hit .525 in eleven games at Dayton, which earned him a major league look at the start of the ’49 season, but when he went 3-for-16 they had no real track record by which to evaluate him, and sent him out. He had to go beat up the Pacific Coast League for two years to get back to the majors, by which time he was 28.

Most players’ best years are behind them by the age of 28. If you compare Minoso’s record from age 28 on to the records of the Hall of Fame left fielders from age 28 on, you realize how good Minnie was…

James then shows a chart ranking the 16 Hall of Fame left fielders in both Hits and RBI from the age 28 on. Only Musial, Yaz, Lou Brock and “Orator” Jim O’Rourke had more hits than Minoso, who is ahead of Ted Williams and Billy Williams and Pops Stargell and Goose Goslin. And only Musial, Yaz, Pops, and Teddy fuggin Ballgame had more RBI.

James continues:

Very few of the Hall of Fame left fielders can match what Minoso did in the same time frame…If Minoso had been white, he might well have gotten started early enough to get 3,000 hits. He needed 1,040 hits by age 27–fewer than Goslin or Manush or Medwick had collected.

James made some of the same points in the second edition of the Historical Abstract. Excuse the repetition:

Much of the argument that has been applied to Enos Slaughter, and with merit, could also be applied to Minnie Minoso. But for a very brief trail, he didn’t play in the major leagues until the age of twenty-eight, in large part because of his color—yet, since he played in the major leagues so long, few people think about the fact that his best years may have been behind him before he ever got a chance, and that his entire career was spent in what is ordinarily a player’s decline phase. His highest batting average, .326, was in his rookie year in 1951.

As a player, he was tightly similar to Slaughter, a fast, hustling, line-drive hitter with medium-range power. They were about the same size, both very popular players. Their batting and slugging averages are virtually identical (batting averages are .300 and .298, edge to Slaughter; slugging averages are .459 and .453 edge to Minoso. Carl Furillo is in the same group, at .299 and .458). Like Slaughter, Minoso played until he was well past forty, as a hustling, aggressive player of this quality often will. Then he went and played in the Mexican League for another ten years.

I ran an experiment with Minoso, reversing the Brock2 system to try to project what his career stats might have been had he been called up earlier. The Brock2 system is a complex method that attempts to project a player’s final career career statistics, given his performance up to a certain point in time. What I did in the case of Minoso was to try to plug into the formula a combination of accomplishments at an earlier age which would create the projection that the player would later do exactly what Minoso later did…The method estimates that, if he had come up at the age of twenty-two, Minnie Minoso’s career statistics would be those shown below:

Games R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB AVG.

2863 1970 3079 534 168 318 1429 1272 .309

If James made a case for Minoso as a Hall of Famer, Allen Barra asked, then why is he so ignored?

From his insightful but all too brief article, “Minnie Minoso: The New Latin Dynasty”:

The first dark-skinned Latin player, I was told by the hall of Fame, was Cuban-born Saturnino Orestes Arrieta Minoso, “The Cuban Comet,” better known to fans as Minnie. Minnie Minoso made his debut in 1949, two years after Jackie Robinson, playing for Bill Veeck’s Cleveland Indians. Larry Doby, who also made his debut in 1947, shortly after Jackie, is recognized as the AL’s first black players, but what about Minoso? What must it have been like for him, to be both black and Hispanic? There have been shelves full of material on Jackie Robinson, and in recent years baseball historians have started to catch up to Larry Doby, but who knows about Minnie Minoso? We rightfully mourn Jackie Robinson’s lost years, but Minnie Minoso was a year older than Jackie Robinson [Barra contends Minoso was 29, contrary to what James asserted].

How tough was it for Minoso? According to Jules Tygiel, in “Baseball’s Great Experiment”:

In 1950, Luke Easter’s first full season in the majors, pitchers hit him ten times, tying him for the league lead with Al Rosen, one of the few Jewish players in the majors. The following year rookie Minnie Minoso surpassed both Easter and Rosen. With less than a third of the season gone, Minoso had been struck ten times, and many were “deliberate beanballs.” At the season’s end he totaled sixteen, one less than the rookie record. At one point Minoso suggested that he could end the barrage with “a bucket of white paint.” Later in the season he complained, as depicted in a dialect by a Sporting News writer [before political correctness was a gleam in your mutha’s eye], “You get it so bad, I theenk I wear a headguard even in bed. Maybe somebody throw at me when I sleep too. I don’t know whatta kind of baseball this is. Yes, you try to get the man out. You brush back. But you not try to keel him.” During his first four seasons, pitchers hit Minoso 65 times, 8 in the head.

Here is Minnie Minoso himself from Danny Peary’s, “We Played the Game”:

In those first few years in the majors, some teams would call me names. Jimmy Dykes, the manager of Philadelphia, used to call me every name in the book—“you black nigger so-and-so.” One or two of his players would go along with him. After the game he’d come up to the hotel and say, “Hell, Mr. Minoso.” I was wondering how he could now be so polite…. No one on the New York Yankees ever called me a name, so I admired and respected everyone. Even Casey Stengel, who was a comedian, was a great sportsman. I was prepared for the racial insults from opposing players and fans in towns we visited. They went through one ear and out the other. Learned from my parents. The only way I’d answer is with a smile. They’d say “You black…” and I’d flash an insincere grin. Sometimes I’d insult them back in Spanish, warning them, “I can tell you worse things than you said to me, and I can tell you without you knowing what I said.”

“Minnie Minoso was one the funniest guys I was ever around,” Les Moss told Danny Peary, “When he thought an umpire made a bad call, he’d argue in half English and half Spanish and you wouldn’t know what the heck he was saying.”

In this regard, maybe Minoso had an emotional outlet that the American-born black players didn’t.
Allen Barra continues:

And what of that Rookie of the Year Award? Gil McDougald was a fine player, but in 1951 he hit .263 with 14 home runs and 63 RBI and 72 runs in 131 games; Minoso hit .326 with 10 home runs, 76 RBI, and 112 runs. He led the league in stolen bases with 31 (McDougald had 14) and triples with 14 (Gil had 4). His on-base [percentage] was .422 and his slugging average, .500; McDougald was, respectively, .396 and .488. Gil McDougald was a fine rookie; Minnie Minoso was an outstanding one. His 1951 season taught a lesson to Latin players for the next forty-odd years: you will have to do better than the non-Latin player just to be noticed, and far better to win an award.

James compares Minoso favorably against Enos Slaughter—apparently the ideal partner, and Larry Doby.

…Minnie Minoso never had a prime. At the same age when Minoso got a chance to play full time, twenty-nine, Larry Doby had only seven seasons left to play and would lead the league in just two important batting categories, home runs and RBI, both in 1954. At age twenty-nine, Enos Slaughter still had fourteen years of big league ball left but would never lead the league in an category but triples (1949). From age twenty-nine on, Minnie Minoso led the league in hits once, triples three times, total bases once, and stolen bases three times. From age twenty-nine on, Larry Doby never hit .300; from age twenty-nine on, Enos Slaughter hit .300 six times; and from age twenty-nine on, Minnie Minoso hit over .300 eight times.

If Larry Doby and Enos Slaughter deserve to be in Cooperstown, doesn’t Minne Minoso also deserve to be? And if Enos Slaughter was cut a little slack for his military service, and Larry Doby for the immense burden of being the league’s first black player, who about cutting Minnie Minoso a little for beginning his career at a point when most players are at the halfway mark?

[Minoso] remains the Invisible Hall of Famer, and in this respect his career set a pattern for Latin stars that have followed. Latin ballplayers, white, black, or of mixed parentage, are still baseball’s invisible men. Of the twenty players chosen to start the 2001 All Star game, eight were Latinos. If Pedro Martinez wasn’t injured, that would have been nine of twenty…If pressed to pick the single biggest difference between the game before 1950 and the game as it is played now, I’d have to cite the dominance of Latin players.

“Minnie is to Latin players what Jackie Robinson is to black players. He was the first Latin player to become what in today’s language is a ‘superstar,'” said Orlando Cepeda.

Now that the former players have something to say about the vote, you would hope that Cepeda, and Ted Williams were not alone in their acknowledgement of Minoso’s significance.

Personally, I can’t wait to read more about him. I’ll keep you posted when I do.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
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