On December 5th at the owner's meetings, the Hall of Fame's Historical Overview Committee (made up of Hall of Famers, executives, historians and media members) will vote for 10 finalists from the "Golden Era" of baseball. If these candidates receive 75 percent of the vote, they will be enshrined in the Hall. The 16-person panel has 10 finalists to choose from: Buzzie Bavasi, Ken Boyer, Charlie Finley, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Tony Olivo, Allie Reynolds, Ron Santo, Luis Tiant and Minnie Minoso. This afternoon, Jerry Reinsdorf set up a free lunch and forum at U.S. Cellular Field to honor Orestes "Minnie" Minoso in hopes of increasing awareness about his great career and thereby increasing his chance at getting into the Hall. Somehow, I was allowed to attend this event.
Free lunch and a Hall of Fame discussion in the middle of November at the Cell? Sign me up! As Jim pointed out in this post about Minoso, Minnie already has the South Side Sox Hall of Fame approval, but the Sox set out to impress some of the mainstream media today and they started it out with a nice buffet.
I was one of the first to arrive and made my way to the lounge behind the scout seats, trying my best to look like I knew what I was doing. Our friend from CSN's White Sox Talk, JJ, joined me just in time. Mr. Minnie Minoso himself came over and said hello, he shook our hands and made some idle chit-chat about the weather. Sweetest guy you could ever hope to meet. James from White Sox Observer and SBN Chicago contributor Ricky O'Donnell joined us at the kids' table. Salad, some chips, rolls, a really good beef sirloin roast and some sliced turkey chased down with a can of Pepsi. Thanks, Jerry! Other South Side Sox allies in attendance were the South Side Hit Girl and Brett Ballantini.
The forum itself was hosted by ESPN's Pedro Gomez and was broken down into six segments:
- His role as a trail blazer
- Historical context
- Statistical analysis
- On the field with a few of his teammates
- His impact on Cuban players
- A brief interview with the man himself
First up, University of Illinois professor Adrian Burgos Jr., author of Playing America's Game: Baseball, Latinos and the Color Line, discussed how Minnie was a trail blazer for Latinos in baseball much like Jackie Robinson was for African Americans. He pointed out how he had a language barrier on top of the racism that Jackie Robinson had to deal with. I liked this guy -- you could just tell he was thrilled to be in the same room as Minnie, Tony Perez and Luis Tiant (more on them later). He was acting like the fan I was trying to stifle.
"The name Minoso in Latin American baseball is revered," he said, with Pedro Gomez adding, "It's the gold standard."
The second segment was with local historian Rich Lindberg, journalist Stuart Miller, and Bob Vandenberg, who wrote a book on the White Sox-Yankees rivalry from 1951-1964 called Minnie and The Mick. These guys were quick to point out that the 'Go-Go Sox' weren't just the 1959 team -- that attitude started with the acquisition of Minnie, who almost instantly transformed the plodding Sox into a team that took extra bases and ran like crazy.
Miller recently wrote this piece for the New York Times, so the stats were fresh in his head. He previously only knew Minnie from the Veeck stunt of playing a handful of games in 1976 and again in 1980, which made him a four- then five-decade player. When he saw the actual stats, he was blown away and wrote about our guy.
Lindberg pointed out that the standards of the day didn't value stats like we do now, and at that time it was all about the home run ever since Babe Ruth. Since Minoso didn't have big power numbers in spacious Comiskey Park, he was penalized.
These guys pretty much covered the basics of his career, so much so that when the next segment was getting ready, Gomez and Jim Landis had this exchange:
Gomez: "You guys are on deck."
Landis: "Yeah, I don't care. What can we say now?"
In the middle of that previous segment, a guy shooting the forum with a tripod realizes he set up too far off to the side and decides to move directly in front of me. He stood the entire time. What a dick. I mean who does that? Every other cameraman with a tripod was down on the floor in front where cameras are supposed to go. Not this guy, he was way out in right field, then decided to put a shift on and block my view 100 percent. Ass. Anyway, this prompted me to move up a row at the break which put me right behind Mr. and Mrs. Billy Pierce where I could hear some of what the White Sox old timers were all saying to each other, which was cool, but still, that guy sucks.
This is getting pretty long-winded, so let me briefly summarize this section with this:
Vince Gennaro, the president of the Society of American Baseball Research, thinks Orestes 'Minnie' Minoso is a Hall of Famer. So does Don Zminda of Stats LLC (and the White Sox) and Ben Jedlovec from Baseball Info Solutions.
Gomez asked Gennaro what kind of contract a 31-year-old Minoso would get in today's game. He said he didn't want to upset the man, but the offer would probably be in the eight-figure range for multiple years. This caused Mrs. Billy Pierce and Mrs. Jim Rivera to have a little chuckle between themselves.
Zminda and Jedlovic complied a few charts showing just how dominant the Cuban Comet was statistically in a packet everyone in attendance received.
AL WAR - Mickey Mantle* 90.7, Minnie Minoso 54.6, Yogi Berra* 47.9
AL RC - Mickey Mantle* 1376, Minnie Minoso 1145, Nellie Fox* 957
AL OBP - Ted Williams* .476, Mickey Mantle* .425, Eddie Yost .401, Minnie Minoso .395
AL hits - Nellie Fox* 2051, Minnie Minoso 1078, Nellie Fox* 1009
AL total bases - Mickey Mantle* 3195, Minnie Minoso 2879, Nellie Fox* 2601
*indicates already in hall of fame
Anyway, you get the idea. Over the same time frame, he was second in runs scored, extra-base hits, and times on base to Mickey Mantle, second in stolen bases to Luis Aparicio, etc.
TEAMMATES AND COUNTRYMEN
Jim Landis, Billy Pierce and Jim Rivera were the former Sox teammates in attendance. They all professed love for the man, saying they didn't see him as a black guy or a Latino. None of that. They just saw a guy who could help them win ballgames. These guys kept it light and brief, and Minnie was absolutely beaming while he listened to their testimonies.
"Minnie was a hustler." - Jim Rivera
As they returned to their seats and the Latino players took the floor, Jim Landis turned to Billy Pierce and said the big boy (or something to that effect) thought he should be in the Hall just for being the first Latino player in the bigs. He then attributed that statement to SSS favorite Moose Skowron. He followed up with his own proclamation, "With those numbers, even if he were white he should be in the Hall of Fame." Billy Pierce nodded in agreement.
Tony Perez and Luis Tiant were next. Tony Perez is already in the hall, and Tiant is on the ballot with No. 9 in December. Tony Perez was noticably choked up when talking about going to see Minoso play as a youngster in winter ball. It occurred to me that because he never made it to the MLB until he was 28, wherever else anybody got to see the man play, they saw him in his prime. In winter ball, in the Negro Leagues, the guy was on the top of his game. Then he put in 11-plus years of amazing production in the major leagues. He was a Cuban hero already when he made it here and just continued to thrive.
Tiant said if they are going to give it to him, do it while he is still alive when he can enjoy it, It is no use to honor the man after he has passed away, presumably referring to himself with that statement as well.
MR. WHITE SOX
Finally, the Cuban Comet took the floor. When asked about today he said, "It's beautiful. I hope everyone can have a day like this in their life." He talked about smiling in the face of racism, and tossing the ball underhand back to the pitcher with a smile after getting hit by a pitch. He said Jim Rivera was always the first one to go and fight for him when race became an issue. He declared himself a human being who doesn't see color. A black man, but a human being first and foremost. He said he can't sleep at night because he is thinking about getting into the Hall of Fame, and stays up until 3 a.m. watching cowboy movies.
He declared when he dies, he will be downstairs, playing the game.
Gomez interjected, "Oh, I think you'll be upstairs playing the game."
It was great to be there taking it all in this afternoon. I'd like to thank Marty Maloney and the White Sox for allowing me and SSS as a whole to take part in the event.