11/01/11 1:00 PM EST
Minnie Minoso: Hall of Famer?
A statistical review of Minnie Minoso's career and HOF candidacy
By Ben Jedlovec and Don Zminda / Special to MLB.com
Depending on which source you believe, Minnie Minoso was born on Nov. 29 in 1922 or 1925. Minoso's own website acknowledges the earlier date, adding three years to his previously recognized age.
Minoso played three professional seasons in his native Cuba (1943-45) before departing to play for the New York Cubans in the Negro National League. He played three seasons with the Cubans (1946-48), helping the team win the 1947 pennant and starting at third base in the Negro Leagues All-Star Game.
After playing two weeks for Dayton at the end of the 1948 season, Minoso broke camp with the Indians in 1949 at age 26 (according to the 1922 birth year) but received just 16 at-bats in limited action in right field. The Indians were coming off a World Series title and simply didn't have room for the Cuban rookie. Hall of Famers Lou Boudreau and Joe Gordon held down the middle infield slots. Minoso's primary position in the Negro Leagues, third base, was occupied by seven-time All-Star Ken Keltner, with future MVP and four-time All-Star Al Rosen already waiting in the wings. The outfield featured another Hall of Famer, Larry Doby, and another All-Star in Dale Mitchell. With no chance for regular at-bats, Cleveland demoted Minoso.
Minoso tore up the Pacific Coast League throughout the 1949-50 seasons, playing for Cleveland's Triple-A San Diego Padres. Minoso hit at least 20 home runs both seasons in San Diego, with a combined .319 batting average, .389 on-base percentage, .513 slugging percentage and 43 stolen bases.
Minoso's big break came in 1951 at age 28, having already played eight years of professional baseball. With the Indians still struggling to find him playing time, they traded him to the Chicago White Sox as part of a three-team deal.
1951 rookie season
The White Sox immediately inserted Minoso into the lineup at home against the mighty Yankees, playing third base and batting third. This showed tremendous confidence in the rookie, who would be making his debut as the first black player to appear with the White Sox. He did not disappoint, homering in his very first at-bat.
In 1951, Minoso generated phenomenal rookie numbers, finishing second in the American League with a .326 batting average while leading the league in triples (14), stolen bases (31), and hit-by-pitch (16). With a .422 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage, Minoso was certainly the top rookie that season and was awarded The Sporting News Rookie of the Year Award.
However, in Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) Rookie of the Year voting, Minoso finished second behind Gil McDougald despite Minoso having superior stats in almost every category. McDougald edged out Minoso 13-11 in the voting, presumably because McDougald played for the eventual World Series winners, the New York Yankees, while Minoso's White Sox finished fourth. Minoso did finish fourth in MVP voting that year, finishing far ahead of McDougald though behind two other Yankees (Yogi Berra and Allie Reynolds) and Ned Garver of the St. Louis Browns.
Career batting statistics
Including his famous cameos in 1976 and 1980, Minoso played 17 seasons for the Indians (1949, 1951, 1958-59), White Sox (1951-57, 1960-61, 1964, 1976, 1980), Cardinals (1962) and Senators (1963), though he only played full-time in 11 of them. Minoso was a seven-time All-Star, and finished fourth in MVP voting on four occasions.
His seven All-Star appearances from 1951-61 were surpassed only by Yogi Berra (11), Nellie Fox (11), Mickey Mantle (10), Ted Williams (9) and Harvey Kuenn (8). Whitey Ford, Al Kaline and Billy Pierce also were selected to the All-Star Game seven times from 1951-61.
Though his time spent in the Cuban and Negro Leagues certainly hurt his Major League career totals, Minoso finished with impressive career-rate statistics. Minoso posted a career batting average of .298 and a career on base percentage of .389. His combined .848 on-base plus slugging (OPS) ranks 175th all-time.
Despite his penchant for being hit by pitches, Minoso proved to be very durable; his 1,643 games played from 1951-61 were second most in the Major Leagues behind Hall of Famer Nellie Fox (1,691). He led the American League in hit-by-pitch 10 times and led the Majors in nine of those seasons. Minoso also had incredible speed, leading the league three times each in stolen bases and triples.
Minoso was known as a versatile fielder, though he spent the majority of his time in left field. After playing third base through his developmental years, he stayed at the position his first year with the White Sox, but shifted to left field to fit the team's needs. After that, he occasionally spent time at the other outfield positions but spent 85 percent of his career in left.
When the Gold Glove Award was created in 1957, Minoso was one of the three Major League outfielders selected for the award. He also won American League Gold Gloves in 1959 and again in 1960. Minoso had 133 outfield assists from 1951-61, the most for any AL outfielder.
While Baseball Info Solutions' advanced defensive measures aren't available for that era, he also has a career Range Factor per 9 innings of 2.4, compared to a league average 2.13. From 1954 on (the only years for which full season statistics are available), Minoso saved 24 runs as a left fielder per the statistic Total Zone on Baseball-Reference.com. He saved 52 runs over 1954-59, which suggests that he was just as good if not better in his earlier years. Had the Gold Glove Award existed in his earlier seasons, Minoso likely would have won even more accolades for his defensive play.
Minoso's seven All-Star selections in 11 full seasons show universal recognition of his excellence. Only three other outfielders who played before 1980 were selected to seven or more All-Star teams and have not been elected to the Hall of Fame:
Not only was Minoso the first black player to play for the Chicago White Sox, but he was also the first black Latino player to play in the Major Leagues, an accomplishment often overlooked but that cannot be understated given the importance of Latino players in baseball today.
Along with being an outstanding player, Minoso paid a pivotal role in integrating baseball. When he made his Major League debut on April 19, 1949, he was just the eighth 20th century black player to appear in the Major Leagues, and only the fifth black player to play in the AL, after Larry Doby, Hank Thompson, Willard Brown and Satchel Paige. Doby, Brown, a Negro Leagues Committee inductee, and Paige are all members of the Hall of Fame.
When Minoso became a full-time regular in 1951, only three American League teams had black players (the Indians, White Sox and Browns), and he was one of only four full-time black position players in the AL (along with Larry Doby, Luke Easter and Harry Simpson of the Indians). The American League would not be fully integrated until 1959, already Minoso's ninth season as a regular.
In 1951, Minoso became the first black Latino player to appear in an All-Star game. Impressively, Minoso had appeared in four All-Star games (1951-54) before the second black Latin player was named to an All-Star team in 1955 (Vic Power).
Until 1955, the ninth season of integration after Jackie Robinson and the year Roberto Clemente made his Major League debut, Minoso was the only black Latino player to play 100 games in a season more than once (Hector Rodriguez in 1952, Carlos Bernier in 1953 and Vic Power in 1954 each had one 100-game season prior to 1955).
Unlike many other black players, Minoso did not attend college and spoke poor English after coming to the United States. He dealt with many of the same hardships that Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby faced, and did so while also trying to learn a new language and culture. Pitchers would throw at him, possibly because of his skin color and the fact that he crowded the plate (he was hit-by-pitch 13 times in the first half of his rookie season), but he understood the value of getting on base and took the free pass to first. Minoso not only was an outstanding player, but he also was the pioneer of baseball integration for black/Hispanic players.
Most decades playing professional baseball
Following his Major League career, Minoso continued to play Minor League ball in Mexico until the 1960s. He made appearances for the White Sox in 1976 and 1980. In 1993 he played a game for the St. Paul Saints and made another appearance for them in 2003. Minoso holds the record for most decades appearing in a Major League game (tied with Nick Altrock with five) and in a professional game at any level (seven).
Bill James's assessment
In The New Bill James Historical Abstract (The Free Press, 2000), James, the leading pioneer of baseball analytics, ranks Minoso as the 10th greatest left fielder of all time, ahead of Hall of Famers Billy Williams (11th), Ed Delahanty (12th), Joe Medwick (13th), Jesse Burkett (14th), Lou Brock (15th), Goose Goslin (16th), Ralph Kiner (18th), Fred Clarke (22nd), Zack Wheat (23rd), Jim Rice (27th), Joe Kelley (28th) and Heinie Manush (30th)
James rates Minoso as the 91st best player of all time, writing:
"Minoso didn't get to play in the Majors until he was 28 years old, but had a better career after 28 than almost any Hall of Fame left/right fielder. He had a .389 on-base percentage -- better than any of the other outfielders in this part of the rankings except Paul Waner (better than [Tim] Raines, Clemente, Al Simmons, [Willie] Stargell, [Al] Kaline, Ken Griffey Jr. For that matter, better than Willie Mays or Henry Aaron). Minoso hit for power, drove in 100 runs like clockwork, was a Gold Glove outfielder and one of the best baserunners of his time. Rate that group of outfielders in terms of power, defense, baserunning, batting average etc. and I think you'll see that Minoso more than holds his own. He led his league at various times in hits, doubles, triples, total bases, hit by pitch (in which he led ten times), sacrifice flies, stolen bases, stolen base percentage, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. He never won a batting title, but was second in hitting twice, in the top five, five times. He was a hustling, aggressive player, immensely popular with fans in both Cleveland and Chicago. Had he gotten to play when he was 21 years old, I think he'd probably be rated among the top 30 players of all time."
Bill James' Hall of Fame indicators
Bill James has devised several ways to evaluate a player's Hall of Fame candidacy, including the Hall of Fame Monitor (original and revised versions) and the Gray Ink Test.
The Gray Ink Test rewards players who finish in the Top 10 in his league in the same categories. Minoso's score of 189 is above the average Hall of Famer's mark of 144 and ranks 49th all-time among hitters. Minoso has the highest Gray Ink score of all modern-era hitters not in the Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame Monitor evaluates a player by awarding points based on season and career statistics, awards, milestones, and achievements. If a player earned 100 points, there is a good possibility for enshrinement in Cooperstown. According to this system, Minoso earned 87 points, which ranks 199th among all Major League hitters.
James developed the Win Shares system to credit players with the number of wins they contributed to their team. Every three Win Shares converts to one win in the standings; a 100- win team during a given season would have 300 Win Shares split among its players. Win Shares are earned through pitching, hitting and fielding contributions.
Most Win Shares, 1950-59
By this metric, Minoso earned 283 Win Shares during his career, tied for 210th most all time. He also had the 10th-highest Win Shares total of the 1950s with 234; the nine players above him are all Hall of Famers, as are the two below him. Minoso also has the ninth-highest average Win Share per season, 25, of players who played the majority of their career between 1947 and 1972. Below is the list of the top players of the entire Golden Era.
Comparison to contemporaries
Minoso's career numbers stack up well to other "Golden Era" Hall of Famers who were elected by the Veterans Committee -- Richie Ashburn, Enos Slaughter, Pee Wee Reese and Larry Doby. Minoso's offensive statistics are on par with or above those four contemporaries. Aside from Doby, the others also all played in more games and had more plate appearances than Minoso.
It is less useful to compare Minoso's career statistics to others since most players of his caliber appeared in many more games than Minoso due to the late start of his career. Instead, we can compare Minoso's career to how the average Hall of Fame hitter performed after age 27 (assuming Minoso was born in 1922 and was 28 during his rookie season of 1951). Given that information, Minoso compares very well; while the average Hall of Fame hitter collected 1,441 hits after age 27, Minoso collected 1,960. Minoso also got on base and hit more home runs than the average Hall of Famer after age 27.
Out of 34 Golden Era Hall of Fame hitters, only three collected more hits than Minoso after age 27, and only Luis Aparicio stole more bases. Minoso's batting average and on-base percentage also rank very well when compared to his Golden Era Hall of Fame peers at the same ages.
Most Win Shares, 1950-59
Even if you elect to put more stock in the 1925 birth year (so that Minoso was 25 during the 1951 season), Minoso still rates well compared to the average Hall of Famer after age 24. He still collected more hits, home runs, runs, RBI, and stolen bases than the average Hall of Fame hitter after age 24.
Minoso's missing early years likely cost him a chance of accumulating obvious Hall of Fame-caliber career totals.
American League rankings from 1951-61
In Minoso's 11 seasons as a full-time player, he was clearly one of the top five players in the American League, ranking ahead or in lockstep with many all-time greats. He ranked fifth in batting average (.305), fourth in on-base percentage (.395), second in hits (1861), second in runs (1,078), second in total bases (2,879), second in extra-base hits (579), second in steals (193) and second in triples (81).
Other Sabermetric statistics
Minoso led the American League in Wins Above Replacement for position players twice (1954 and 1959) and ranked in the Top 5 in WAR for AL position players seven times in the nine seasons between 1951 and 1959. He ranked in the Top 5 in Runs Created in the American League six times between 1951 and 1960. In the James stat Power-Speed Number, a statistic which combines home-run power and stolen base ability, Minoso's power-speed number of 185.7 from 1951-61 ranks second in the American League only to Mickey Mantle (186.2).
In the relatively short amount of time Minnie Minoso played Major League Baseball, he was a tremendously valuable player, both offensively and defensively. He got on base, ran the bases well, scored runs at a league-leading pace and played great defense in an era when home runs, batting average, and RBIs received the greatest attention.
Sadly, Minoso's career became lost in the shuffle due to factors far beyond his control. Growing up in Cuba, he spent several years in anonymity while American players were scouted by Major League organizations. Picked up by the Negro Leagues just before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, Minoso spent another three years of his early 20s playing for the New York Cubans in a soon-defunct league when similar-caliber players were already breaking in with Major League teams. He then spent two more years pounding Minor League pitching before a trade to the White Sox opened up an opportunity, and he immediately became an All-Star and MVP candidate.
Finally, considering the social importance of his career as the very first black Latino star in baseball, the precursor to Roberto Clemente, Tony Perez and Albert Pujols, Minoso's Hall of Fame candidacy appears extremely strong. If you consider the late start to his career due to factors well beyond his control, including partially his race, Minnie Minoso easily fits in with those baseball immortals already enshrined in Cooperstown.
Compiled by Ben Jedlovec of Baseball Info Solutions, Don Zminda of STATS LLC and the Chicago White Sox. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.