Viva Oliva! Viva Miñoso!
After long waits, the two Cuban natives are members of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
They were among six new members of the Class of 2022 announced Sunday after votes by two veterans committees, now called eras committees.
The Golden Days committee chose Oliva, Minoso, Gil Hodges, and Jim Kaat, while the Early Days committee picked Buck O’Neil and Bud Fowler.
The vote swells the Cuban population of the venerable Cooperstown, N.Y. institution to six, as Tony Perez and Negro League veterans Martin Dihigo and Jose Mendez were enshrined previously.
There are now 339 members in the Hall of Fame, with David (Big Papi) Ortiz a good bet to join them when the Baseball Writers Association of America announces its vote on Jan. 25, 2022. All new members will be inducted six months later.
Oliva, who missed previous election by one vote, got exactly the right numbers this time: 12 votes from the 16-member panel, giving him the minimum requirement of 75 per cent. Miñoso got 14 votes, or 87.5 per cent, the highest received by any of the six new electees.
“To me, Minnie was a legend,” said retired pitcher Jose Contreras, who spent time with the Chicago White Sox, Miñoso’s primary team. “He was one of the reasons I started playing baseball. When I was a kid and people talked to me about Minnie, I said, ‘I want to be like him.’ ”
Often called “the Latino Jackie Robinson,” Miñoso was the first black Cuban who made a major impact in the major leagues. He came up with Cleveland after playing third base for the New York Cuban Giants, shifted to the outfield, and produced 2,110 hits, 195 home runs, 216 stolen bases, and a .299 batting average. A three-time American League leader in triples, he also won three stolen base titles. He was an All-Star nine times and Gold Glove recipient three times.
Miñoso spent 17 seasons in the majors, mostly with the White Sox, and was so popular with the fans that owner Bill Veeck twice brought him back so that the smiling speedster could say he played in five different decades (along with incumbent Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan).
Like Miñoso, Oliva was a fleet outfielder who could handle a bat. He won batting titles in his first two seasons, later won a third, and was an All-Star eight years in a row before falling victim to knee injuries. The 1964 American League Rookie of the Year, helped Minnesota win a surprise pennant in 1965 and narrowly miss another in ’66. His lifetime batting average was .304.
Kaat was also a big factor in Minnesota’s ascension. He had three 20-win seasons, a World Series ring, and 16 Gold Gloves for fielding excellence. Pitching for six different teams, he won 283 games, more than anyone outside the Hall of Fame but not implicated in abuse of performance-enhancing substances.
Hodges also had a long career: 18 years as a first baseman for the Dodgers and Mets, plus nine more as manager for the Mets and Senators. He had seven straight 100-rbi seasons for Brooklyn, won three Gold Gloves, and earned a reputation as a peacemaker during the early years of the game’s integration.
He spent more time on the Hall of Fame ballot (34 years) and had the most votes (3,000+) of anyone not elected previously.
O’Neil, bypassed by the special committee that elected 17 Negro Leaguers in 2006, had a longer baseball career than Hodges, Minoso, and Kaat combined. He spent nearly eight decades in the game as player, manager, coach, and scout — even signing future Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Lou Brock for the Chicago Cubs. The first black coach in big-league history, he was later instrumental in planning and designing the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City.
Fowler, born before the Civil War and well before the official organization of the Negro Leagues, was an infielder and pitcher for multiple black clubs in the 19th century. He helped form the Page Fence Giants, a barnstorming team of considerable repute.
The selection of Miñoso and Oliva brings the number of Latinos in Cooperstown to 17.
They will be inducted posthumously in July at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown. Among the six new electees, only Oliva and Kaat, the former Minnesota Twins teammates, are still living.
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