MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Minoso belongs among baseball's immortals

Minoso belongs among baseball's immortals

Gil McDougald was invaluable for the 1951 Yankees. Moving between second base and third base, he batted .306 with 14 home runs, two more walks than strikeouts (56-54) and scored as many runs as Joe DiMaggio (72). His Yankees won 98 games.

But in Chicago, Minnie Minoso had far more impact for the White Sox. Including eight games Minoso played for the Indians, he hit .326 and led the American League in stolen bases (31) and triples (14), while moving between third base and all three outfield spots. He scored 40 more runs than McDougald and drove in 13 more (76). He had 30 more walks than strikeouts (72-42).

By modern measures, Minoso had a 5.2 WAR; McDougald was at 4.6.

But it was the Yankee who won Rookie of the Year, not the Cuban.

Minoso lost by the opinion of one voter. He and McDougald would have shared it if one of McDougald's 13 votes had gone to him. But it didn't.

That's the way it has always come out when Minoso has been judged by history -- just a shade short of joining the immortals. If I could rewrite history, I'd find a way to get him into the Hall of Fame.

Given the body of work in a career in which he may have played more baseball than just about anyone -- he had extended stints in Cuba, the Negro Leagues, the Pacific Coast League, the AL and the Mexican League -- and his standing as a pioneer for Latin American players, it's inexplicable that Minoso has not been enshrined at Cooperstown.

He's lived his life with great joy despite this sadness, which has increased as his 90th birthday approaches.

"He's somebody that radiates happiness," said White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. "He makes everybody around him feel good. There's something special about his personality."

Because he grew up in the sugar-cane country outside Havana -- losing about five and maybe more prime seasons to circumstances (including the AL integrating more slowly than the National League) -- Minoso doesn't have glittering career statistics. He never had a Bill Mazeroski moment, as he was like Ernie Banks, never playing in a World Series.

But there are ways to quantify Minoso's all-around abilities, which were clear to Texan Paul Richards, who pushed the White Sox to trade for him when the Indians were stashing him in Triple-A.

Bill James has listed Minoso as the 10th-best left fielder of all time, in part because he was a great fielder once he settled there. He was a speed-power offensive player who hit above .300 in eight of his first 10 seasons, drove in 100 runs four times and stole 205 bases -- all of which he did while sporting frequent bruises. He led the Majors in hit by pitches 10 times -- in part because players of color were often targeted and because he would not stop crowding the plate, no matter how often he was drilled.

During the 1950s, his average WAR was 5.2, better than Yogi Berra (4.7) or Ted Williams (4.8). Only Mickey Mantle created more wins among AL players (7.5). Minoso would have fit nicely in an NL that was drastically changed by Willie Mays, Banks and Henry Aaron, and maybe he would have been better appreciated had he played alongside those Hall of Famers.

Minoso's love for the game was twice exploited when Bill Veeck brought him back for Comiskey Park promotions -- making him a five-generation player -- and he paid a price by being 60 years old before getting a long look on the BBWAA ballot. He's been falling just a little short of Cooperstown for almost 30 years now, just as he was questionably judged short of McDougald back in 1951.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.