Why Minnie Miñoso Should Be in the Hall of Fame, and Why He’s Not

The man who defined the Go-Go Sox and led the way for black Latinos in Major League Baseball missed the Hall of Fame by three votes. Here’s why his career represents an conundrum.

Photo: CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Lost in the excitement over Ron Santo’s induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame was the discouraging fact that White Sox great Minnie Minoso’s bid failed by three votes, as the Trib’s Phil Rogers points out. In July, Jonathan Eig profiled the 86- (or 88-) year-old Miñoso, who can still do 150 sit-ups every morning, for Chicago:

Though he spoke little English, he became a favorite of fans. With Chico Carrasquel, Jim Busby, and Miñoso all stealing bases and fielding slickly, the Go-Go Sox were a thrill to watch. While the Yankees had the big-name, high-priced sluggers, the Sox had hungry hustlers. In his rookie year, Miñoso was hit by pitches a league-leading 16 times. It wasn’t that opposing pitchers wanted to hurt him; it was that Miñoso wanted to get hit. Anything to get on base. Anything to help the team. Other players may have been more talented, more intelligent, he says, but no player in the history of the game ever hustled more.

The Sox of the 1950s were some of the best teams ever to play baseball in Chicago. Unfortunately, the Yankees were usually better. Though segregation shortened Miñoso’s career by perhaps half a decade, he still finished with near–Hall of Fame numbers: a .298 batting average, 186 home runs, and 1,023 runs batted in.

Miñoso defined one of the great eras in Chicago baseball history, and as a black Cuban, pioneered the status of Caribbean and Latin American players; even with the twin barriers of race and language, Miñoso captured the city to the extent that he’s still one of the most revered players in our baseball history.

And he was very, very good at baseball. Last month, Stuart Miller made an excellent case for Miñoso; like Ron Santo, Miñoso’s gifts have taken time, and an evolution in our thinking about baseball, to appreciate:

The two decades that matter most in remembering Minoso are the 1950s and the 2000s. The latter is vital because it has brought us a newly sophisticated approach to statistical analysis with an emphasis on numbers like on-base percentage, wins above replacement and wins probability added. Looking at those numbers it is easy to argue that Minoso was one of the top hitters in the American League for the entire 1950s (and no statistic factors in the extra challenges of being dark-skinned and Spanish-speaking in baseball in the early 1950s).

[snip]

But the more modern statistics paint an even more vivid picture of Minoso as an overlooked Hall of Famer. For starters, he had five years with an on-base percentage over .400, he was always at .374 or higher, and only once in the decade was he not in the top 10. His mix of walks and gap power meant he was in the top 10 in O.P.S. (on-base plus slugging) eight times in 10 years.

Bear in mind that Miñoso’s “rookie” MLB season came at the age of 28, a year after a baseball player’s peak is widely accepted to begin, and sure enough Miñoso was at his best early in his major-league career. At the White Sox page, Ben Jedlovic of Baseball Solutions and Don Zminda of STATS LLC try to put Miñoso’s late start in context:

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.

[snip]

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.

The authors also look at Miñoso’s major-league peak using newfangled statistical measures; by Wins Above Replacement from 1951-1961 Miñoso was second only to Mickey Mantle in the American League (Mantle’s at 90.7, Miñoso’s at 54.6, and Yogi Berra’s at 47.9, which gives you an idea of how insanely great Mantle was). By Win Probability Added, Mantle was first at 62.7 (again, ridiculous), Ted Williams was second at 46.3, Miñoso third at 39.5, and Yogi Berra and Larry Doby round out the top five at 28.1 and 23.9, respectively.

The issue with Miñoso, aside from the fact that he entered the majors so late, seems to be that he did a lot of things very well—almost everything, really—but was never dominant in any particular category:

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).

Miñoso also won three Gold Gloves. Gold Gloves are not a surefire indicator of a player’s defensive ability, but Baseball Reference suggests that Miñoso, by newer metrics, was an excellent fielder in the way that he was an excellent hitter: not the best in the way that Ron Santo outclassed his peers, but consistently good as part of an extraordinary all-around package. Miñoso was simply good at everything, which is why the strongest statistical case for him is Bill James’s power-speed measurement, as Jedlovic and Zminda point out:

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).

Mantle, as you can see, was just preposterously good during that period, but Miñoso comes very close. If you scan through all of Miñoso’s career leaderboard numbers, he comes off best in that stat (besides being hit by pitches). You can also see the Miñoso dilemma through Baseball Reference’s translation of Bill James’s Hall of Fame stats, in which he tried to calculate how likely a certain player is to make the Hall based on the numbers voters favor. Miñoso is well below the average Hall of Famer in “black ink” stats, which measure league-leading performances, 15 out of an average of 27 for Hall of Famers, and 151st all time. By “gray ink” stats, which measure top-10 performances, Miñoso is well above average, 189 out of an average of 144 and 49th all time. It’s the highest post-deadball gray-ink ranking, with exceptions for active players and Pete Rose. It’s also close to some famous borderline cases like Jim Rice, Eddie Murray, and Rafael Palmeiro.

It’s the perfect measurement for Miñoso, showing both why he was so highly regarded and why he’s had so much trouble making the Hall. He wasn’t the best at anything in his segregation-shortened career, but as a complete player he was likely second only to the matchless Mickey Mantle.

 

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