Minoso has a shot at the Hall

Minoso has shot at Hall

CHICAGO -- Minnie Minoso wears one very impressive ring on each of his hands, a couple of meaty mitts that still look as if they were ready to flawlessly field a line drive to the outfield or quickly bounce a single up the middle.

On his left hand, Minoso sports a symbol from the St. Paul Saints' 1993 Northern League championship. It was on June 30 of that season, with the team owned by Mike Veeck, when Minoso served as a pinch-hitter and grounded back to Thunder Bay pitcher Yoshi Seo. It was quite an impressive effort for a 70-year-old playing in his sixth decade, but Minoso would make it seven decades 10 years later when he drew a five-pitch walk, once again for the Saints.

Minoso's right hand features a ring indicating his Hall-of-Fame status from his years playing professional baseball in Mexico. Both honors evoke great baseball memories for him, but sit down and talk to the always upbeat legend for 20 or 25 minutes and it becomes evident that there are nothing but great memories from his long and storied life. Even the bad instances were learning experiences.

On Feb. 27, Minoso could be presented with a moment that would top them all. Minoso, who is still eligible for Hall of Fame selection via the Veteran's Committee voting, was one of 39 players and executives from the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues time period chosen for possible induction to the Hall of Fame. The ballot will now be submitted to a panel of 12, with nine votes from that particular panel (or 75 percent) needed for induction.

There are no limitations as to how many players or executives can be voted in, as each candidate will be considered on an individual basis. This process will be the final election for players associated with the Negro Leagues, after a research program funded by Major League Baseball produced these additional worthy candidates.

The ramifications of this 12-person panel are not lost on Minoso. But he won't campaign for his election, even as the first black player to ever suit up for the White Sox, on May 1, 1951 against the Yankees at Comiskey Park, and an individual with the numbers to make the Hall of Fame without any special voting.

That's simply not Minnie Minoso's style.

"I don't like publicizing myself," said Minoso, during a recent interview at U.S. Cellular Field. "I never thought that I deserved anything. That's what makes myself be the kind of baseball player I was. I was supposed to try to get it. And when I get it, I forgot. I was supposed to do better. Each day I was supposed to play better.

"Sometimes you have an ambition to do something that might be impossible, but you never think it's impossible. I do the best that God give me to show up for the fans.

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"If the day comes and they say, 'Minnie you are in,' then it's great," Minoso said. "I never dreamed it could be possible. But I don't want to make any kind of decision like I think I should be there or I'm the best."

The native of Cuba still is as lucid as he was as a young baseball player, coming to the United States to play for the New York Cubans of the Negro Leagues 60 years ago. The only minor discrepancy is when Minoso is asked for his age. He answers 79, but records actually show that Minoso was born in November of 1922, meaning he turns 84 later this year.

There are literally thousands of people who consider themselves Minoso's friends -- basically anyone who has met him at a White Sox game or when he's out representing the organization as part of the White Sox speaker's bureau. But ask people such as White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and vice chairman Eddie Einhorn about Minoso, who they have known and loved for 25 years, and a couple of thoughts come to mind.

Both men agree that the energetic Minoso is a bit tough to understand at times. They also readily admit that his popularity stands virtually unmatched.

"Minnie is probably the most popular player in the history of the [White Sox] franchise," Reinsdorf said. "People who never saw him play love him. He has an amazing magnetic personality. He draws people to him. People sit and listen to him speaking and they are just transfixed. He is just a genuinely nice person, and really an ambassador of good will."

"He's an icon and everyone loves him," Einhorn added of Minoso. "You can see it whenever he's at the ballpark. He never won here, but he is revered."

Serving as an unofficial baseball ambassador, as Reinsdorf so astutely pointed out, and Minoso's foray into Independent baseball to achieve his seven decades of participation might have taken away from the greatness of Minoso as a player. Minoso hit .298 over 14 Major League seasons and finished with 186 home runs and 205 stolen bases. He batted .300 eight times and was The Sporting News Rookie of the Year in 1951. Minoso led the American League in stolen bases during his first three full seasons in the Majors.

Minoso led off for the 1947 Cubans, a team that won the Negro League title, and was the starting third baseman for the East squad in both the 1947 and 1948 East-West All-Star Games. Minoso played and managed in the Cuban and Mexican Leagues from 1965 to 1973 and was a seven-time Major League All-Star. He captured three Gold Gloves in the outfield, while leading the American League in being hit by a pitch during 10 separate seasons.

His No. 9 jersey was retired by the White Sox in 1983, one of nine numbers retired by the franchise, including Jackie Robinson. If Minoso's career didn't start at 28, because of race, he most certainly would have approached 3,000 hits and this special election to reach the Hall of Fame would be an afterthought.

"I think he's a Hall of Fame player as a Major Leaguer," Reinsdorf said. "I don't even know what his career in the Negro Leagues was, but he had a Hall of Fame career. Any way that he gets in will be OK with me."

Jose Contreras, the lone player from Cuba currently on the White Sox roster, has met Minoso and knew of his greatness courtesy of the stories from their home country. But Contreras was amazed as to how important Minoso was all over the Latin culture and in the United States itself.

That level of importance could be validated this Monday, but don't try to tell Minoso he needs the Hall of Fame to complete his career. The handshakes, smiles and warmest regards are Minoso's highest honor -- not another ring for his collection.

"I want people to remember that I was happy all the time, signed autographs and drove a convertible Cadillac," said Minoso with a smile. "I used to smile all the time. Sometimes I would cry inside, but I don't want them to know. I try to represent the game with dignity and respect to the end."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.