Buck O’Neil, Minnie Miñoso Among 6 Elected to Baseball Hall of Fame

Sunday’s special selection committee meetings yielded six inductees to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, two of whom with Chicago ties were long overdue. The legendary Buck O’Neil and Minnie Miñoso will both be inducted posthumously, as will Bud Fowler and Gil Hodges, with Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva — both 83 — the only surviving members of this portion of the new class.

These votes came as part of veterans committee selections that meet at specific intervals to focus on different eras of baseball and, ideally, to correct previous oversights in HOF voting. The Early Baseball panel covers candidates from 1871-1949 and meets once every 10 years; the Golden Days panel looks at the period of 1950-1969 once every five years; the Modern Baseball (1970-1987) and Today’s Game (1988-present) panels vote twice every five years.

Due to last year’s pandemic shutdown, both the Early Baseball and Golden Days panels convened this year. Each group has 16 members who can vote for up to four names, with 12 votes required for induction.

Miñoso was the leading vote-getter from the Golden Days group, garnering 14 votes. Hodges, Kaat, and Oliva received 12 apiece, while late Sox legend Dick Allen fell one vote short after suffering the same fate six years ago. As strange as it sounds, I almost wonder if Allen’s personality overshadows his performance to an extent.

The man was a whole vibe and that image from the June 12, 1972 issue of Sports Illustrated of him juggling baseballs while puffing on a lung dart in the White Sox dugout — in their red uniform, no less — is iconic. I’d like to think the committee has more sense than to overlook his accomplishments, but that picture is honestly the first thing that pops into my mind when I hear Allen’s name. Perhaps he’ll get that extra vote next time.

O’Neil received 13 votes and Fowler got 12 to gain entry via the Early Baseball committee, which is a shame because the former should have been in 15 years ago. That’s when the Hall formed a special committee to enshrine legendary Negro League players, yet neglected to induct a man who may have done more than anyone outside of ownership to shape the Cubs franchise as we know it.

Though his stats as a player over 10 years with the Memphis Red Sox and Kansas City Monarchs weren’t particularly notable, O’Neil was an incredible ambassador for the game up until his death in 2006 at the age of 94. He actually spoke at the induction ceremony honoring his fellow Negro League veterans before passing away later that year.

O’Neil became the first Black coach in MLB history when the Cubs hired him in 1962, and he was instrumental in bringing Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, George Altman, Gene Baker, and Lou Brock to Chicago. When Williams left the organization after getting fed up with racism during his time in the minors, it was O’Neil who headed down to Whistler, Alabama to bring the would-be Hall of Famer back into the fold.

Without Buck O’Neil, there would be no Sweet Swingin’ lefty and no Mr. Cub. The Cardinals might have had known the legendary Brock, though that ill-fated trade was a product of racism O’Neil likewise faced throughout his life and baseball career.

Despite his obvious acumen and influence, O’neil was never allowed to coach a base and was not part of the infamous College of Coaches employed by owner PK Wrigley in the 1961 and ’62 seasons. Had he not been bypassed for the latter opportunity, he’d have been the first Black manager in MLB history. Throughout all that, O’Neil carried himself with public grace that never betrayed his deep disappointment.

That it took so long to admit him to the Hall of Fame is a shame, especially since they already have a life-sized likeness of him at Cooperstown. I suppose it’s better that they’re righting a wrong even if it comes so late.

Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso, passed away in 2015 at the age of 90 and is also being admitted to the Hall later than he should have been. While much has made of Banks’s role in helping to integrate baseball — and rightly so — it was Miñoso who became Chicago’s first Black player when he joined the White Sox on May 1, 1951.

Born in Cuba, Miñoso moved to the States in 1945 and played for three years in the Negro Leagues for the New York Cubans. His contract was purchased by the Cleveland Browns, who were owned at the time by none other than future Sox owner Bill Veeck. Miñoso actually made his MLB debut with the Indians in 1949, but only played nine games at the end of that season. He spent the following year in the minors and came to Chicago in a trade early in the 1951 season.

Miñoso hit .326 with 10 homers to win Rookie of the Year in ’51, then spent the next 13 seasons in MLB, twice being traded and twice coming back to the White Sox. After retiring, he joined Charros de Jalisco of the Mexican League and went on to play eight more seasons, finally walking away in 1973 at the age of 48 after a season in which he hit .265 with 12 home runs and 83 RBI.

After Veeck re-purchased the Sox in 1975, the 50-year-old Miñoso returned to the team in 1976 as a base coach and actually appeared in three games, going 1-for-8 with a single and becoming the fourth-oldest player to collect an MLB hit. He was called into active duty again in 1980 at the age of 54, becoming the fourth-oldest MLB player ever as he went 0-for-2 in two pinch-hit appearances. Miñoso played in 1,835 games over parts of 17 seasons for four teams, compiling a .298/.389/.459 slash with 1,963 hits, 189 home runs, and 1,023 RBI.

One of the greatest defensive outfielders of all time, Miñoso’s longevity and love for the game were inspiring. His infectious smile made him a fan favorite wherever he went and his legacy now gets its proper due.

“When I die, I want to be playing baseball,” he once said. “Truly. They don’t bury me without my uniform.”

To bring this all back around to the Cubs in closing, I thought it was great that Fergie Jenkins was a member of both committees involved in these inductions. Now O’Neil and Miñoso can join Jenkins in the Hall and perhaps O’Neil’s No. 53 can join Fergie’s 31 on one of the foul poles at Wrigley.

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