Minnie Miñoso’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday culminates a long and complicated journey to Cooperstown, N.Y., that few imagined would end this way.
The former Chicago White Sox legend — who will join David Ortiz, Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva, Buck O’Neil, Gil Hodges and Bud Fowler in the 2022 class — repeatedly was deemed unworthy from his original retirement in 1964 to his death at 90 in 2015.
Miñoso was an afterthought in the minds of the Baseball Writers Association of America, which originally kept him out of the Hall during his years of eligibility. Early veterans committees shot him down as a viable candidate, as did a revamped veterans committee in 2003 consisting of Hall of Famers and those who had earned plaques in Cooperstown through broadcasting or writing about the game. (The Hall disbanded the 15-member veterans panel after Bill Mazeroski’s election in 2001, feeling it was too political.)
But Miñoso, known as the “Cuban Comet,” still fared poorly with his peers, finishing with only 16 votes by the 85-man committee, which was tied for 10th place and well below the 61 votes necessary for election. His candidacy barely even registered with the Chicago media, who focused on the Hall of Fame quest of former Cubs third baseman Ron Santo, who fell 15 votes shy in 2003.
When MLB created the Committee on African-American Baseball in 2006 to elect Negro Leagues greats who had been overlooked, Miñoso felt he had a realistic chance. But his three-year stint in the Negro Leagues was considered too brief, even combined with his major-league career, so Miñoso was not one of the 18 Black players elected.
By 2011, he seemed resigned to his fate.
“I’ve kept it inside me,” Miñoso told the Tribune that April at U.S. Cellular Field. “It will go with me when I die. … I’m mad because it seems a lot of people ignore a lot of things I do in baseball.”
But in the fall, Miñoso again found himself listed on the 10-person ballot for consideration by the Hall’s Golden Era Committee that replaced the veterans committee. During discussions for all the candidates by the 16-member group, supporters pointed to his late-arriving entry into the major leagues and the bias he faced during his career as a Black Latino from Cuba.
Miñoso was again denied, receiving nine of 16 votes. Santo, who died the previous December, finally got in. Hall of Famer Juan Marichal, a member of the committee, said Miñoso was “responsible for so many careers of the (Latino) players that came behind him, including myself,” suggesting his status as a pioneer for Latino players had been overlooked. Tribune baseball writer Phil Rogers called it “the Hall’s most shameful exclusion.”
Miñoso’s final heartbreak came in 2014, when he earned only eight of the 12 votes needed by a 15-member committee, which wound up electing no one.
“I don’t know what player, out of the era of the ‘50s and ‘60s, would be more deserving than Minnie,” Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said after the announcement.
Miñoso died the next year. After the 2020 Golden Era ballot was postponed a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Miñoso gained six votes on the 2021 ballot, finishing with 14 votes from the 16-member committee that included former Commissioner Bud Selig, an influential supporter.
They say life is all about timing, and Miñoso’s time finally arrived. It was too late for him to revel in the celebration, but at least he made it. Though baseball writers and voting Hall of Fame players let him down, in the end Miñoso was aided by MLB’s reckoning with it shameful, racist past, which led to the Negro Leagues officially being recognized as a major league in 2020.
The addition of Miñoso’s Negro League stats pushed him over the 2,000-hit mark (2,113), while his career OPS of .848 was ahead of Hall of Fame outfielders including Reggie Jackson (.846), Carl Yastrzemski (.842) and Kirby Puckett (.837). No one handed it to Miñoso. He earned his way in.
The curious thing about the Baseball Hall of Fame is hardly anyone remembers the struggles many members had in getting there. Once they are in, they are all part of the same select group of baseball elites, and their plaques don’t note the years of heartache and waiting.
Miñoso’s love for the game ultimately might have worked against him. He never wanted to stop hitting. To some, his name was synonymous with legendary stuntman Bill Veeck, the maverick Sox owner who brought him out of retirement to play in 1976 and then again in 1980 to tie a record of playing in five decades.
Veeck was long gone by 1990 when Reinsdorf was willing to give Miñoso an at-bat during the final days of old Comiskey Park, which would have made it six decades instead of five.
“I promised him this years ago,” Reinsdorf told Tribune baseball writer Jerome Holtzman before the 1990 season. “We have to be sure this isn’t a farce. I haven’t thought the whole thing through, but we don’t want him to embarrass himself or baseball.”
By summer the Sox were in a heated race with the Oakland A’s in the American League West. The idea of giving a 67-year-old Miñoso an at-bat down the stretch was debated, and Miñoso was told he might have to pass a medical exam.
“That medical talk is bull,” he said. “‘I can play. I feel every day is my birthday. Each day I feel I’m reborn. I’d be honored to play.”
But Commissioner Fay Vincent put a halt to the plan, citing “the best interests of the game.” Many sprung to Miñoso’s defense.
“We know we can’t live forever, we know our heroes can’t be heroic forever, but the dream makes the reality endurable,” Tribune columnist Bernie Lincicome wrote. “Baseball ought to indulge dreams. That’s why it exists.”
On a side note, MLB in 2012 allowed former Cubs player Adam Greenberg to sign a one-day contract with the Miami Marlins as a publicity stunt, seven years after his only career at-bat ended with him getting beaned on the first pitch he saw. No one seemed to mind the stunt, which went off as planned.
The owners eventually fired Vincent, and in September 1993 the Sox again announced a 70-year-old Miñoso would play an inning and lead off against the Seattle Mariners. But the Sox were on their way to the playoffs, and ace Jack McDowell led a players revolt, which forced general manager Ron Schueler to cancel the plan, citing “several players (who) have voiced their displeasure.”
“The team has other things to focus on that are far more important,” Schueler said. “After talking with Minnie, we have decided that he will not play.”
Miñoso understood. He wanted only to make fans happy and, of course, he loved to hit.
Before a 1991 old-timers game at Wrigley Field, after Miñoso finished smoking line drives in the batting cage, I asked him if he ever would give up hitting.
“It’s my life,” he replied.
It was a life well lived.
And on Sunday, after nearly six decades of being rejected, Miñoso finally gets his day in the sun.