Circa 1995, I was on a work trip to South Bend, Indiana. One evening, I was in a retail store of some kind when an employee's voice came over the loudspeaker announcing a giveaway contest. They were awarding a prize to the customer who could produce evidence he or she had come the furthest to shop in their store.
South Bend is in western Indiana, bordering Michigan to the north and not far from Illinois to the west, so another customer was understandably convinced being from Ohio would prove good enough to win. That is, until I unearthed my New York driver's license with Albany address. (I suppose the fact I was from New York was enough, as I could've been from Jamestown and still won by a landslide.)
The prize was two tickets to a South Bend Silver Hawks game the following night. At the time, South Bend was the Class A Midwest League affiliate of the White Sox.
I don't recall if I successfully recruited a co-worker to accompany me to the game. In fact, my hazy memory is of going to the game solo, which is something I've done countless times without reservation.
I also don't remember much about Coveleski Stadium, the home of the Silver Hawks, which is named after Hall of Famer and 55-year South Bend resident Stan Coveleski.
What I do remember is that Minnie Miñoso was there signing autographs, for free. I've never been much of a memorabilia collector, but every once in a while I decide to seize an opportunity. This, of course, was one of those occasions.
I quickly popped into the nearest souvenir store and purchased a cheap Silver Hawks ball which, with Mr. Miñoso's gracious assistance, became this souvenir:
Of course, none of this, in any way, has anything to do with Miñoso's Hall of Fame case, which I admit I've come around on in recent years. That is to say I've gone from thinking he's borderline to believing he definitely belongs in Cooperstown.
Miñoso's chances of getting in seemed pretty close to zero after he fell short on the 2012 Golden Era ballot, receiving nine of 16 possible votes, three short of election. This came after he was passed over by the 2006 special election of the Negro Leagues Committee, which inducted 17 former players, pioneers and executives of black baseball.
Miñoso's Hall of Fame case is borderline at first glance, but when his late start in the minors due to segregation is factored in, I believe a strong argument can be made in his favor.
Cuban-born Saturnino Orestes Armas (Arrieta) Minoso played his first professional baseball in the United States in 1946, the year before Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers. That year, Minnie signed with the New York Cubans of the Negro National League.
Minnie was signed by the Indians in 1948, but he was already 22, unproven at the highest level, and his road to the majors blocked by several veterans. So, he toiled in the minors for 2+ seasons, playing nine games at the major league level in 1949 and none in 1950, before being traded to the White Sox in early 1951.
In Chicago, he became an instant star, homering in his first at bat and finishing the year with a .326/.422/.500 triple slash line, a 151 OPS+ and leading the league in triples (16), stolen bases (31) and HBP (16), while scoring 112 runs. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting and fourth in MVP voting that season.
Miñoso averaged 5 WAR per year from 1951 to 1959, 4.1 per year through 1962, his age 36 season. His 1963 season was a -1.7 WAR disaster, signalling the end of his career. I've said before I think 4 WAR per year over 15 years is a Hall of Fame career. Miñoso's productiveness falls three seasons short of that, but what do we make of his late start?
I normally don't cut a guy any slack for a late arrival to the major leagues, but the fact of the matter is Miñoso was already 21 years old when Jackie Robinson made his major league debut. Obviously, the majors didn't become fully integrated overnight, and we can't fault Miñoso for not being the guy Branch Rickey hand-picked to be the first.
So, it stands to reason that, given the opportunities white ballplayers had, Minnie would have been drafted younger and potentially would have fully broken into the majors 2-3 years earlier than he did.
Would this have been enough to make his Hall of Fame case that much clearer? I think so.
A lot of people my age know Minnie more for his distinction of being one of only two players in history—-Nick Altrock being the other—-to play in five different decades. Brief appearances with the White Sox, in 1976 at age 50 and 1980 at age 54, helped him achieve that notoriety. But, Minoso did put together what should be considered a Hall of Fame career.
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