On Thursday, Collin evaluated the landscape of future White Sox Hall of Fame candidates, before concluding that the next White Sox Hall of Famer is not active or recently retired, but Minnie Minoso. And, although Minoso is often remembered for his appearances at 50 and 54-years-old in 1976 and 1980 respectively, his career was relatively short compared to most Hall of Famers, collecting only 7,712 PAs in the majors. By comparison, of the last fifteen position players elected by normal vote, all but one had over 9,000 PAs, with most clearing 10,000. The only one who didn’t was Mike Piazza, with 7,745, with the understandable caveat that extensive playing time at catcher is more difficult to achieve than in the outfield.
But Minoso’s lack of counting stats is also a byproduct of another key component of his candidacy–Minoso was a pioneer. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, a titanically important and heroic achievement. However, Robinson’s first game in the majors wasn’t the flicking of a light switch wherein baseball went from “hostile to minorities” to “fine” overnight. The struggle of integration persisted for decades, and there is a case to be made that it is still ongoing. The Red Sox would not employ a black player until 1959–after Jackie Robinson had retired. And for perspective on how recent the preliminary phases of integration were, Larry Doby was the first black player in the American League in 1948. His rookie season was the last year the Cleveland Indians won the World Series.
Minoso was attempting to break into the majors in this world. Before he became the first black Cuban in the major leagues, and the White Sox’ first black player, Minoso was left to waste his age-23 and 24 seasons accumulating almost 1,300 plate appearances in AAA. He earned the opportunity to languish in the minors after being an All Star in the Negro Leagues. Indeed, in 1950 despite hitting .339/.405/.539 in AAA, he didn’t get called up for even a cup of coffee. The Indians clearly weren’t averse to playing black players in the absolute sense, given the presence of the aforementioned Doby, and in many ways Minoso was blocked. Al Rosen had third for Cleveland in ’50, and those Cleveland rosters were pretty robust top to bottom. However, in ’49 they ran out a mediocre Ken Keltner, and in ’50 a corner outfield slot was also pretty underwhelming. One need not attribute Minoso being blocked by fungible veterans to racial animus, but I wouldn’t rule out the lack of finding room for a versatile defensive player with an elite bat being a result of unfair skepticism either.
Then, after a trade to the White Sox in 1951, Minoso immediately posted a 7.5 WARP season in his rookie year, finishing 4th in MVP voting and 2nd in Rookie of the Year. I think it is fair to posit that if he had been allowed to play a full season in the majors in 1950 when he was obviously ready he would have been a 4 or 5-win player, and it isn’t unreasonable to suggest he would have been an above-average major leaguer in 1949 as well. Given that he averaged 7.5 WARP over his first four seasons in the majors, these estimates may be conservative.
Even without the benefit of these two lost years in his 20s, Minoso’s career WARP sits at 65.1. For reference, Carlos Beltran is currently at 67.9 and Tim Raines was at 70.4, while Andre Dawson posted an even 60. Minoso was their equal on the field, and given that MLB teams were not required to have Spanish translators until 2016, it is easy to underestimate his other contributions.
By Jay Jaffe’s JAWS metric, Minoso ranks 22nd All Time amongst left fielders, which puts him about even with Lance Berkman, ahead of Hall of Famers Joe Kelley and Jim Rice, and only slightly behind Hall member Ralph Kiner. Another thing to keep in mind when looking at this ranking is that some of the most absurdly dominant players of all time were left fielders. The top four at the position by JAWS are Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Rickey Henderson, and Carl Yastrzemski.
A common fallacy in Hall of Fame debates is the, “You had to be there” argument for a player who isn’t qualified on paper, an appeal to style over substance. “Sure, Mickey Morandini had a sub-.700 OPS but you should have seen him lay down a sac bunt!” Setting aside the fact that Minoso’s high-OBP was likely not as appreciated in his day as it would be now, and that he is qualified, Minoso was so freaking cool that it leaps off the stat page. After all, he lead the league in triples three times, stolen bases twice, caught stealing six times, and in hit-by-pitch ten times. I am too young to have seen him play live, but I can appeal to his style because his panache is there in the numbers.
It is also true that arguing for someone to be in the Hall because they are better than its weakest members–like Jim Rice–is not very persuasive. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Kiner is an interesting point of reference in that he had approximately 1,000 fewer PAs than Minoso playing in roughly the same era. For what it is worth, I think Kiner deserves to be in, partially because I think a blinding peak is worth quite a bit, which JAWS attempts to capture above and beyond just adding up a player’s career WAR.
I will point out, however, that Minoso’s JAWS score, 45.0, is essentially identical to that of Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter who weighs in at 45.1. In the Jackie Robinson story, Slaughter has been cast as one of the leaders of the faction of regressive sneering racists standing in his way. There is dispute over what actions if any Slaughter took to stop Robinson, but it is undisputed that Slaughter spiked Robinson at first base during his rookie year. Whether or not it was intentional is something that we cannot know.
The consensus, however, is that Slaughter was probably a jerk. By contrast, Minoso was an absolute delight, playing with tremendous flair and infectious charisma, paving the way for Latin players and Cubans specifically in MLB. The former is in the Hall and the latter is not. Minnie Minoso passed away in 2015, and so the opportunity to induct him into the Hall during his lifetime has irretrievably been lost. But the individuals with the power to do so should correct this error as soon as they’re able.
Lead Image Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki // USA Today Sports Images