Negro League status upgrade helps Minnie Minoso’s Hall prospects

CHICAGO- UNDATED 1993: Minnie Minoso and Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox pose with the 1992 Athlete of the Year Award before a MLB game at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. Minoso played for the Chicago White Sox from 1951-1957,1960-1961, 1964, 1976 and 1980. Thomas played for the Chicago White Sox from 1990-2005. (Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
CHICAGO- UNDATED 1993: Minnie Minoso and Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox pose with the 1992 Athlete of the Year Award before a MLB game at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. Minoso played for the Chicago White Sox from 1951-1957,1960-1961, 1964, 1976 and 1980. Thomas played for the Chicago White Sox from 1990-2005. (Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /
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Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox star Minnie Minoso also had exceptional Negro League seasons

Wednesday’s decision by Major League Baseball to elevate seven former Negro Leagues to ‘major’ status has been characterized as likely to have little impact on the statistical standing of most of the affected players.

But the Negro Leagues’ status upgrade might burnish at least one player’s record to Hall of Fame level.

Orestes Minnie Minoso played for 17 major league seasons starting with the 1949 Cleveland Indians. He is best known as a rare five-decade player: Minoso retired at age 38 in 1964 but was brought back by Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck for token appearances in 1976 (he was 50) and 1980 (he was 54).

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He had a noteworthy career, accumulating 1,963 base hits, 186 home runs and a .298 batting average. Minoso was a seven-time All Star, four times finishing fourth in voting for the Most Valuable Player. He lost to Yogi Berra as a rookie in 1951 when he hit a career-high .326, then to Al Rosen in 1953, Berra again in 1954 and to Roger Maris in 1960.

But when the Baseball Writers Association of America assessed Minoso’s record for Hall of Fame consideration, he never measured up. Minoso was considered 15 times between 1969 and 1999, never surpassing the 21 percent support he got in 1988.

He was considered again as part of the special 2006 Negro Leagues election, and his candidacy was reviewed by the Golden Era Committee in both 2011 and 2014. He always got majority backing but failed to win three-quarters support of the 16-member panel.

Minnie Minoso died in 2015.

Minoso’s Negro League accomplishments were not part of his resume for those votes, but should be part of the official record by the time the Golden Era panel meets again next December. That portion of Minoso’s record, which that panel has not previously reviewed but will review, is strong.

With the New York Cubans in 1947, the 21-year-old Cuban native batted .356 in 40 recognized games.  Led by Minoso, the Cubans were 43-19-1 that year.

In the 1947 Negro League World Series, the Cubans defeated the Negro National League Cleveland Buckeyes in five games. Minoso batted .333.

That performance led the Cleveland Indians to sign Minoso as an amateur free agent prior to the 1948 season. They kept him with New York for one final year, when Minoso was nearly as good. He hit .344 in 161 official at bats and led the Cubans in most offensive categories.

He joined the Indians in time for the 1949 season opener.

Minoso’s regular season Negro League numbers are likely to improve his career batting average by one point, to .299. His career clash line, previously .298/.389/.459, becomes .299/.383/.461, with marginal upgrades in both average and slugging against a six-point decline in on base average.

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Of 65 Hall of Fame outfielders who played primarily in the National and/or American Leagues, 24 – that’s more than one-third – had career OPSs below Minnie Minoso’s .844 combined Negro-American Leagues OPS. It is an impressive list, highlighted by such stars as Carl Yastrzemski (.841), Roberto Clemente (.834) and Dave Winfield (.827.)