1950s superstar Minnie Minoso, who threw out the first pitch in the White Sox' home opener Thursday afternoon, has long been an analysts' darling. Does he belong in the Hall of Fame, though?
His age is an open question, but most people believe that he was in his late 20s when he became a major league regular for the White Sox in 1951, delayed by the color barrier. Minoso was the first dark-skinned Latino to play post-Jackie Robinson. If he had a chance to play earlier, he'd have been pushing 3000 hits, one can assume. As it was, he continued his career in Mexico following the end of his MLB days, and his staying power down there made Julio Franco look like a quitter.
Minoso is up for election by the Hall of Fame Veteran's Committee this December. I'm not confident given that body's track record, but it would be nice to see Minoso get what Ron Santo didn't get: a chance to take his deserving place in the Hall of Fame while he's still walking the Earth.
For some years, I made the same argument every chance I got. Minoso didn't play regularly until he was (according to the current best guess) 25 years old. When he got that chance, he played wonderfully. He played in an era when opportunities for dark-skinned baseball players were relatively limited. If you give Minoso (say) three more seasons, his career numbers look a lot better and it's hard to see how he's not a Hall of Famer.
This is essentially Craig's argument too, I think.
Because you do have to give Minoso some extra credit to get him into the Hall. As good as he was, he finished his career with fewer than 2,000 hits and fewer than 200 home runs, and unless you're a middle infielder or a catcher those numbers are bare minimums for almost anyone.
About Minoso's age being an open question ... We don't have a birth certificate in hand, but I think we have to take Minoso at his word on this one. Yes, for some years the record books said he was born in 1922. But in his autobiography, published in 1994, Minoso was unequivocal: "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."
Which is what Baseball-Reference.com lists for him.
After arriving in the States, Minoso played for the New York Cubans for three seasons. Late in his third seasons, Minoso's contract was purchased by the Cleveland Indians, and he finished his summer with 11 games in Class A. The following spring, the Indians sent him to San Diego in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Minoso was still only 23 and it was a good league and he played well ... but he wasn't great. Among PCLers with at least 100 games, Minoso's .297 batting average -- and before you say anything, batting average was a big part of his game -- ranked 19th in the league. He scored 99 runs, good for 11th in the loop.
It was a good season, but not a season that translates to a Hall of Fame-type season in the majors. Also, in 1949 Minoso was just learning to play the outfield; previously he'd been a third baseman, and the Indians already had an outstanding third baseman in Al Rosen.
Minoso did play brilliantly for San Diego in 1950, and undoubtedly belonged in the majors by then. To this day, it's not clear why Minoso didn't play a single game that year for the big club, which had some big problems in the outfield that season.
So we'll give Minoso that season. He was ready, and should have been playing. Minoso did break camp with the big club in '51, but opened the season on the bench. Before long, the Indians traded him to the White Sox and he became a star almost immediately.
So how many "extra" seasons do you want to give him? Sure, 1950. It might not have been the color of his skin, but he should have been in the majors. But 1949, too? That one's a little tougher. And even if you give him two full seasons and another 350 hits, does that make Minoso an obvious Hall-of-Famer?
Deserving? Maybe. Baseball-Reference.com has him with 49 Wins Above Replacement. From the beginning, Minoso averaged roughly 5 WAR per season. If we're just a little generous, it's not hard to figure him for 60 WAR in his career. But there are a lot of guys with (approximately) 60 WAR who are not in the Hall: Will Clark, Ken Boyer, Sherry Magee, Jim Wynn, Sal Bando, Willie Randolph, Buddy Bell, Keith Hernandez, Graig Nettles, Dwight Evans ... the list actually goes on at some length.
Maybe we should give Minoso more than two extra seasons. Maybe, if not for the color line that kept him out of (so-called) Organized Baseball until he was almost 23, he would have three or four more seasons in the majors, and the correlative statistics.
I just can't quite go that far, though. As much as I used to, and would still like to.