When the Baseball Hall of Fame holds its next inductions, the Latin flavor will be undeniable.
Bands will play, flags will wave, and speeches will include plenty of Spanish – or at least English with a Caribbean lilt.
That’s because three of the seven Class of 2022 members were born in Latin America: David (Big Papi) Ortiz in the Dominican Republic and both Tony Oliva and the late Minnie Minoso in Cuba.
Ortiz, the 58th man to win election in his first try, was the ultimate designated hitter, with DH records for most home runs in a season (47), most in a career (485), and more RBIs in the role (1,569) than anyone else in the hitting-only role.
An eight-time winner of the Edgar Martinez Award, given annually to the best designated hitter, Ortiz was an All-Star 10 times in 20 years. He was also won MVP honors in the American League Championship Series and World Series, finishing with 17 post-season homers and a career total of 541, topping earlier Red Sox icon Ted Williams by 20.
Unlike Williams, Ortiz so encouraged Red Sox nation that the Fenway Faithful dubbed him Big Papi, honoring both his size (6’4″ and 230 pounds) and his leadership.
He led the Sox to three world championships, including the one that broke the Curse of the Bambino in 2004, and capped his World Series career with an almost-impossible batting average of .688 in 2013.
Like Ted Williams, Ortiz was a lethal lefthanded hitter who anchored the Red Sox lineup after the Sox signed him as a free agent on Jan. 22, 2003. Why the Minnesota Twins released him remains a mystery to this day.
At 46, he’s the youngest Hall of Famer – born a few months after Vlad Guerrero – and the fourth Dominican, following Juan Marichal, Pedro Martinez, and Guerrero. Martinez, who also played for the Red Sox, was at Big Papi’s home when word of the election came.
It was close – 77.9 per cent – but better than the percentages of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa, all controversial figures who couldn’t garner the required 75 per cent in any of their 10 years on the ballot.
They may get another chance in December, when the Today’s Game era committee meets, but will have to battle more than two-dozen strong contenders for the coveted 10 spots on that ballot.
The waiting is over, on the other hand, for Gil Hodges, the former first baseman and manager who failed to win election in 34 ballot tries, and for former Minnesota Twins Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva, who didn’t survive previous votes. They will be inducted along with Buck O’Neil and Bud Fowler, standout Negro Leagues alumni of another era.
Oliva, who missed by one vote in his last look by a veterans committee, was an eight-time All-Star who hit .304 during a 15-year career spent entirely with the Twins. He led the American League in hits five times, doubles four times, batting three times, and slugging once. The 1964 AL Rookie of the Year also won a Gold Glove and played in a World Series.
Oliva will celebrate his 84th birthday just four days before his July 24 induction at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, NY. That event is likely to be the best birthday present he ever got.
Minoso’s ascension from the Negro Leagues to the 1949 Cleveland Indians helped pave the way for Oliva, who started his career while Minoso was still playing.
In fact, Bill Veeck kept Minoso playing at a ripe old age: he activated the outfielder for cameo appearances in both 1976 and 1980 to make him a five-decade player.
Although he was involved in numerous trades that sent him in and out of Chicago, Minoso spent most of his career with the White Sox. Counting his brief stay in the Negro Leagues, he hit .299 with 195 homers and 216 stolen bases, leading the league in steals and triples three times each.
A compact righthanded hitter, Minoso won three Gold Gloves and made the All-Star team 13 times. His professional career began in 1946, the year before Jackie Robinson integrated the major leagues.
The seven-man Class of 2022 swells the Hall of Fame membership to 340. No one was elected last year, thanks to long-planned but Covid-cancelled veterans committee meetings and a shutout of candidates by baseball writers in the “regular” vote.
The Hall of Fame still managed a meager celebration, however, with an outdoor induction of the Class of 2020 in September – two months after originally planned.
Derek Jeter, the long-time Yankee captain, headed a group that also included Ted Simmons, Larry Walker, and long-time labor leader Marvin Miller.
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