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Saturday, January 25, 2003

Minoso made his dream come true

A Primer favorite…

Repoz Posted: January 25, 2003 at 03:08 AM | 46 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. EricEnders Posted: January 25, 2003 at 04:08 AM (#214634)
So was it commonplace even back then for Latin ballplayers to fudge their age? Does any one have any sense of the history of this practice? Is it a phenomenon limited to Latin ballplayers in the past?

To answer your questions: yes, yes, and no.

Age fudging is a time-honored baseball tradition, and probably happens less often now than at any time in baseball history. And although it may make white folks more comfortable to believe that it's only Latino players who've done it, that's not the case. White guys used to do it all the time, but it faded out as the issuing of birth certificates and other official documents became commonplace in the U.S. (Which happened well into the 20th century.)

For more on this, see Rob Neyer's quick and dirty study.
   2. eric Posted: January 25, 2003 at 04:39 AM (#214635)
I think this Yun Taragoashi jerk is just mad because somebody stole his given name, Retardo. If you're out there, Retardo, can you give the name back and make him go away?
   3. EricEnders Posted: January 25, 2003 at 04:50 PM (#214640)
For what it's worth, Cuba in the days of Al Lopez's youth was every bit as racist as the U.S., probably even moreso. (I know Lopez is American-born, but his parents were Cuban immigrants who settled in Tampa.) Blacks were not allowed to play in the Cuban amateur league until the 1950s I believe. As a group, the white upper class in Cuba (most of whom now live in Florida) definitely consider themselves superior to Cubans of African descent like Minoso. So racism is probably something that was deeply ingrained in Al Lopez from the beginning. (Note that I'm not claiming he was racist, just saying that it would have required a great departure from his culture to not be racist.)
   4. Marc Posted: January 25, 2003 at 06:28 PM (#214641)
The case for Minnie is OPS+ 130 in 1835 games. I don't give a rats you know what about what happened before or after. He played 1835 games at a high level.

That and his age 53 comp is HoFer Jim O'Rourke ;-) What more can you ask of a guy.
   5. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: January 25, 2003 at 08:32 PM (#214642)
The problem, of course, is that a 130 OPS+ in 1835 games in the outfield isn't a HOF level of performance, unless you think Ross Youngs and Kiki Cuyler are great picks. Despite a reputation to the contrary, he doesn't add speed (205 SB, 130 CS), or great defense (league-average range factor with a worse-than-league error rate).

Essentially, Minnie needs the discrimination argument to have a reasonable candidacy. And if, as the coda to this article states, he was actually born in 1925, then he had a tryout at 23 and was a regular at 25, so where's the discrimination?
   6. DanG Posted: January 25, 2003 at 11:38 PM (#214643)
"unless you think Ross Youngs and Kiki Cuyler are great picks"

Youngs played only 1211 games, four full seasons worth of games less than Minnie. He's an inappropriate comparison.

Cuyler, while not a "great" pick, isn't so bad either. You can easily find 30 worse hall of famers.
   7. Mom makes botox doctors furious Posted: January 25, 2003 at 11:39 PM (#214644)
fracas - i read your point, but ...Youngs only played 1197 games OF, with 131 OPS+. Cuyler played 1807 games with a 125 OPS+.

Winfield played a lot more games, but also had a 125 OPS+. Fred Clark played 2246 games with a 132 OPS+. Clemente played 2433 games with a .. 130 OPS+. Paul Molitor DH'ed more than anything else, and had a 122 OPS+. Chuck Klein played 1753 games, 1600 OF, and had 135 OPS+. Richie Ashburn played 2189 games with 111 OPS+. George Sisler played 2055 games with a 124 OPS+. Enos Slaughter played 2064 games in the OF with 122 OPS+. Earl Averill played in 1668 games, with a 132 OPS+.

I could go on, but my point is that OPS+ is not really the big road to take when making the case against Minoso as a HOF player.

He WAS a seven time all-star, for what that's worth, that's as many as Molitor and more than Ashburn.
   8. Srul Itza Posted: January 26, 2003 at 02:00 AM (#214647)
Dan -- I take it somebody deleted Yun from the thread?
   9. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: January 26, 2003 at 11:01 AM (#214649)
<i>fracas - i read your point, but ...Youngs only played 1197 games OF, with 131 OPS+. Cuyler played 1807 games with a 125 OPS+.

Winfield played a lot more games, but also had a 125 OPS+.
   10. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: January 26, 2003 at 11:05 AM (#214650)
For comparison:

130 7710 LF Minnie Minoso
   11. GregD Posted: January 26, 2003 at 08:02 PM (#214651)
Not relevant to a HOF discussion, obviously, but in my experience (a couple of times talking to him, once for about 30 mins, others for just a minute or two) Minoso is an extraordinarily gracious and interesting person to meet. A very likable and intense individual. It's easy to imagine why he was so popular with the fans as a younger man.

That said, I do think that the statements here about his age capture the issue. If he lost some years to the slow retrechment of segregation--and I would still guess that he did--then he has a good HOF case. If he didn't--if he essentially lost years to bad personnel decisions--then he joins a list of guys who probably were HOF players but didn't quite get the chance to have HOF careers. There are quite a few guys who got stuck with bad farm systems or bad luck or inopportune injuries; the argument against Minoso is that he belongs with that group, not with Larry Doby.

I hope he makes it, but I understand why some people argue the other side. It's a tough call, in my book.
   12. DanG Posted: January 27, 2003 at 03:32 AM (#214652)
From what little I know, there was no team in the late 1940's/early 1950's that gave colored players the same opportunity as whites.

In the NHBA, James tells about how the Giants left Ray Dandridge in the minors, despite the fact they needed a thirdbaseman and despite the fact he was tearing up the American Association. Apparently, even the teams with colored players had a quota of how many would be allowed. In general, it seems that only the colored players considered to be "can't miss" were given an opportunity.

Is this perception of mine accurate? Is there any evidence to the contrary, that colored players WERE being allowed to hang around as bench players in the era 1947-52?

It is safe to say that in the major league as a whole, colored players did not have the same opportunity as whites in the 1950's. Teams like Boston and Detroit didn't even break the color line until the decade was nearly over. IIRC, there were even teams into the 70's that maintained unofficial quotas against blacks. Wasn't there quite a hubbub when Pittsburgh started a game with an all black lineup?
   13. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: January 27, 2003 at 03:56 AM (#214653)
Not that this is a conclusive argument at all, but other than Mantle and Williams, was there a better AL outfielder in the 50's than Minoso? I can think of a few who had brief stretches of excellence (Jensen, Doby, Sievers [though he was a terrible fielder]), and then Kaline, whose breakout year wasn't until 1955. Maybe all this means is that the AL in the 50's was so pitiful that an outfielder with relatively modest OPS+ figures could become a perennial all-star.
   14. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: January 27, 2003 at 03:58 AM (#214654)
Dan G....

Your perception is 100% accurate.
   15. Steve Treder Posted: January 28, 2003 at 04:48 PM (#214655)
"Is this perception of mine accurate? Is there any evidence to the contrary, that colored players WERE being allowed to hang around as bench players in the era 1947-52?"

DanG, as Andy says, your perception is indeed 100% accurate.

Let's take a look at how players of color were deployed in the major leagues in 1947-52.

1947:

Used in regular role: Jackie Robinson (Dodgers).
   16. Steve Treder Posted: January 28, 2003 at 04:55 PM (#214656)
Oops: add Dan Bankhead as a regular with the Dodgers in 1950.
   17. DanG Posted: January 28, 2003 at 05:46 PM (#214657)
Steve,

Great research, really valuable stuff. One wonders about Gilliam, who was ROY at age 24 with 25 win shares. If you give him those 2+ seasons he missed due to his color, could he have put up hall of fame numbers? He finished his career with 247 win shares.

Again, clearly, Minoso did not have the opportunity to play as the white guys did. Let's assume he really was three years younger than his listed age. That he was only 25 in his rookie year, rather than 28.

Previously, one would assume he missed 5+ years due to his color. That his 283 career win shares should actually be over 400. We have to scale this back now. A player of his caliber we might assume would have a cup of coffee at 21, part-time play at 22 and regular play at ages 23 and 24. That brings him in around 330 win shares, among the top 120 in history.

Minnie still belongs in the Hall.
   18. Steve Treder Posted: January 28, 2003 at 06:13 PM (#214658)
It was a very different era than today.

I have a great book which displays newspaper sports pages from around the country on the days of famous baseball events -- World Series games, pennant clinchings, no-hitters etc. It's great reading (and incidentally the little advertisements at the bottom of the page are often as fascinating as the articles themselves).

When Willie Mays was promoted to the New York Giants in May of 1951, the articles describing it unfailingly refer to him as "Negro sensation" Willie Mays. His race was prominently featured in every mention of him. Just think of how weird it would be today to do the same thing -- "Dodgers trade for Negro outfielder Daryle Ward." The point is that the black players in the late 40s and early 50s were NOT considered just as players; their race was a huge element in the way they were deployed.
   19. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: January 28, 2003 at 06:46 PM (#214659)
A player of [Minoso's] caliber we might assume would have a cup of coffee at 21, part-time play at 22 and regular play at ages 23 and 24. That brings him in around 330 win shares, among the top 120 in history.

We might assume that, or more conservatively we might assume:

A) minors at 21, cups of coffee at 22 and 23, part-time play at 24, and regular play at 25. That brings him from 283 WS to around 295, still not a HOFer, unless he's a pitcher or catcher.

We could also assume any of the following:

B) a cup of coffee at 21, part-time play at 22 during which he gripes about playing time, is labeled a "clubhouse lawyer" and gets traded, doesn't become a regular until age 26 with his third team. Around 270 win shares; not a HOFer.

C) cup of coffee at 21, pushed into regular role due to teammate's injury at 22, can't hack it, labeled a "AAAA player" and never gets serious career traction. 50-150 win shares.

D) cup of coffee at 21, part time role at 22, blocked by star teammate at 23 and 24, joins uncle's insurance business at 25, since he can make more money there and he's got kids to feed now. 20-30 win shares.

E) cup of coffee at 21, part time role at 22 but doesn't hit enough for his position (limited sample size) and is asked to learn new position, part time role at 23 at new position but is asked to try a third position due to team needs, winds up with Gil McDougald's career (excellent but unappreciated, retires young). 100-200 win shares.

F) cup of coffee at 21, gets injured at 22 (beaning, runs into unpadded outfield wall, training injury, hit by streetcar, drafted and sent to Korea, etc.) 4 win shares.

I wouldn't say that any of these (except E, Gil's career was unusual) is substantally less likely than your assumption, and collectively the non-HOF career trajectories are far more likely.
   20. Steve Treder Posted: January 28, 2003 at 07:44 PM (#214660)
Of course any one of those scenarios are possible, fracas. You're exactly correct that if one is going to play the "what if" game, then it's only fair to consider all the possible "what ifs," not just the most favorable one.

But here's the thing with Minoso: we're not talking about a guy who never had a substantial ML career, and just imagining what kind of a player he might have become. This isn't the Pete Reiser, Herb Score, or Tony Conigliaro case here. With Minoso we know far more than we need to surmise; we've already got 10+ seasons of factual ML performance as our starting point. The only question with Minoso is moving backward from his 1951 season, and imaginatively filling in the blanks with reasonably expected performance.

The questions we need to address there are, (a) how old was he really, and given that, (b) how much and how well would he likely have played, had racism not been a factor?

I am not at all convinced that he really was born in 1925; from what I know there is one source that asserts that and all others that assert that he was born in 1922, and moreover, it would obviously been in his self-interest to claim to be younger than he really was, not older.

Assuming he was born in 1925, then the additional portion we can reasonably add on to his ML career is pretty minimal. Few players were regulars in those days before the age of 24 or 25. But if he was born in 1922, then I don't think it's at all unreasonable to pencil in at least 2 or 3 more seasons as a very high-producing regular for Minoso.

Obviously all of this is in the realm of speculation, but I think it's a useful exercise in trying to calibrate Minoso's career totals with those of other, similar players who were able to enjoy full major league careers -- guys like Goslin, Slaughter, Brock, Rose, Raines, all have aspects that are comparable to Minoso.

But, as we've discussed before, personally I don't think that's necessary to qualify Minoso for the Hall of Fame. I strongly believe that Minoso deserves to be so honored not just for what he accomplished on the field, but for that in combination with his courageous and highly admirable achievement as the first prominent black Latin player in major league history.
   21. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: January 28, 2003 at 08:49 PM (#214661)
I am not at all convinced that he really was born in 1925; from what I know there is one source that asserts that and all others that assert that he was born in 1922, and moreover, it would obviously been in his self-interest to claim to be younger than he really was, not older.

Well, I'm not at all convinced it was 1925, either, just that it makes as much sense as 1922, which is to say, not much. I believe that the 1922 DOB was accepted throughout his (regular) career, and 1925 came up after his initial retirement. This is the opposite of what you'd expect, since it would both reduce his prospect status and push back his pension eligibility. I think part of my hesitation to take either date at face value is my sense that there's a story here and I'll be damned if I'm going to make a decision before I hear it. I'd be very much interested in hearing your sources for either claimed age.

One of the sources for 1925 appears to have been Minoso himself, in a book or an interview for one. Of course, he's also the primary source for the 1922 date, too. We need to go as far back as we can to pin this down.

It's possible to travel to Cuba now, by way of other countries. Why hasn't somebody tried harder to pin this one down, at least to the point of saying "I looked, but the records office burned down in 1972"?

By the way, Minoso's candidacy (at least around here) is probably boosted by Bill James' discussion of him in The Politics of Glory/Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? James takes the 1922 DOB as a given, but even so he describes Minnie this way: "My off-the-wall Hall of Fame favorite, if I have one, is Minnie Minoso." (emphasis mine)
   22. Steve Treder Posted: January 28, 2003 at 09:12 PM (#214663)
"I'd be very much interested in hearing your sources for either claimed age."

The sources of the Nov 1922 DOB are every record book ever published, as far as I know.

The one source of the Nov 1925 DOB that I know of is the interview Minoso gave to the biographer, circa 1992 or so, that Dick Thompson cited in one of the threads on this site. Minoso's explanation was that he had to claim to be older than he was in order to gain a visa to enter the US. That certainly sounds plausible, but there are a few reasons to doubt it as well:

- In Danny Peary's 1994 book, "We Played the Game," Minoso is directly quoted in an interview giving his DOB as 1922, in a passage in which he describes his childhood in some detail. Why would he stick with a false DOB at that point, after he had already spilled the beans in a previous interview that he was born in 1925?

- As we discussed in the previous thread, at the time of the 1925-DOB interview, Minoso was married to a much younger woman, and in fact the father to a young child with her. The motive for lying about his age for reasons of vanity are obvious -- if for instance, she was in the room while he was giving that interview, he would be highly motivated to stick with the 3-years-younger story he might well have given her.

- If indeed he was born in 1925 but lied about being born in 1922 in order to gain entry into the US, once he was actually an adult (presumably after Nov 1946) there would be no more need to keep up the charade -- indeed it would be in his professional interest to let his employers know that he was really 3 years younger than they thought he was (though whether they would believe him is obviously questionable; there was very good reason for every ballclub to suspect that every player was claiming to be younger than he really was). But in any case the reason for the lie was long gone by the late 1940s; why would Minoso wait until 1992 to come clean, when he would have every professional (as well as personal vanity) motive to have people believe he was born in 1925?

I don't know when Minoso was really born, but it seems to me there is more reason to suspect the 1922 date as being valid than the 1925 date.
   23. Steve Treder Posted: January 28, 2003 at 09:18 PM (#214664)
Hey there, Dick. I was traveling on business all last week and unable to visit my favorite website. Or this one, either. ;-)

Cuba certainly had an army (who was it that Castro and Guevara were fighting in the 50s?), but I'm quite sure they were a non-combatant in WWII. Many teenagers in many countries claim to be older than they really are in order to get into the military, for whatever reason. But again, if Minoso did this, his motivation for maintaining the lie was long gone once he was in the US and his baseball career was established.
   24. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: January 28, 2003 at 09:42 PM (#214665)
"every record book ever published" doesn't do it for me, since MacMillin didn't publish the Encyclopedia until 1969, and books before that were even less thoroughly checked. I'm talking about original source material: birth certificates, baptism records, licenses, even his army discharge or immigration paperwork would be more trustworthy, although we have reason to doubt those.

Has anybody got an earlier citation to the 1925 date than 1992? I still can't see any satisfying reason to change the date post-playing career unless it was to go back to the correct one. I think everyone would be impressed with him fathering a child at an older age, not a younger one. Likewise his wife might appreciate mingling her genes with somebody looked young for his age, instead of old for it.

If I could be satisfied on this issue, I could vote for the guy, if anyone gives me a ballot, that is.
   25. Steve Treder Posted: January 28, 2003 at 09:56 PM (#214666)
"I think everyone would be impressed with him fathering a child at an older age, not a younger one. Likewise his wife might appreciate mingling her genes with somebody looked young for his age, instead of old for it."

Look, I completely understand this, fracas. My point was that it wouldn't be at all unlikely that Minoso lied about his age to this woman when he was wooing her -- he made up the story about the Cuban army in order to get her to believe that he was only, say, 64 instead of the 67 that she could plainly read in any record book, because this could help him, um, strategically in his relationship with her.

Do I know this? Of course not, but what I'm saying is it is a highly plausible explanation for the sudden appearance of the 1925 date late in Minoso's life.
   26. Greg Franklin Posted: January 29, 2003 at 12:37 AM (#214667)
DanG, Pittsburgh's all-black lineup was the subject of one of Bruce Markusen's best articles, right here on Primer:

http://www.baseballprimer.com/articles/markusen_2001-08-31_0.shtml
   27. Steve Treder Posted: January 29, 2003 at 12:53 AM (#214668)
In "The Boys of Summer" Roger Kahn discusses the concern that many people in baseball had in the early years of integration about fielding not an all-black lineup, but merely a majority-black lineup (that is 5 out of 9 players). This issue was presumably one of the things that motivated those teams that were integrated to keep their number of black players to no more than four.

The first majority-black lineup was fielded by the Dodgers in 1954 (I forget the exact date): Campanella, Robinson, Gilliam, Amoros, Newcombe. The event passed without incident, but it was still several years before hardly any team carried as many as five black players on its roster all season long.
   28. Repoz Posted: January 29, 2003 at 01:25 AM (#214670)
Steve Treder and Dick Thompson....

My favorite part of the show.
   29. Rob Wood Posted: January 29, 2003 at 02:28 AM (#214671)
Minoso has an uphill HOF battle, since the new VC is made up mostly of players who played after Minoso retired. Even worse, I suppose, is that these more recent HOF players may remember Minoso only for his publicity "stunts" of coming back in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s (I think).
   30. Dag Nabbit is a cornucopia of errors Posted: January 29, 2003 at 05:55 AM (#214672)
Rob, his attempt to come back in the 1990s got shot down by Giamatti. He last played in 1980.
   31. Repoz Posted: January 29, 2003 at 06:31 AM (#214673)
Chris J.....I came across Fay Vincent as being the Commish ...from The Shadows of Cooperstown ......a long article on Minoso.

"Terry Cannon of The Baseball Reliquary tells me that in Minnie's 1994 autobiography, Just Call Me Minnie, when word got out, the White Sox received a fax from Fay Vincent, MLB's last real commissioner, which basically pulled the plug. Fay felt it would be a "travesty for baseball" and with the games' best interests always in mind, Fay just said No. When Minnie contacted the Commish's office for an explanation, Fay just said nothing. (The Great and Powerful Wizard of MLB had Spoken.)

Jerry Reinsdorf, ChiSox owner, said (to the AP) "We had never gotten to the point where we'd decided to let Minnie play, but now it's a moot point. Minnie had taken batting practice, and we had satisfied ourselves that he could have competed."

In the same AP story, Minnie expressed his disappointment. "Maybe the Commissioner will let me play in the year 2,000." The AP could not have foreseen the way we'd write "2000," just as no one could have predicted the eventual squeezing out of the Commish and the replacement of a Commish by an owner."
   32. Repoz Posted: February 01, 2003 at 06:06 AM (#214675)
Dick....I don't know if you saw it or not....Minoso Pt. II at MLB.
   33. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: February 01, 2003 at 07:46 AM (#214676)
From the article:

To come to the United States I had to sign up for the Cuban army. But since I wasn't 18 years old yet, I did whatever it took. I said, "I don't care how many years you put on me, I want to go to the United States." (The army never called me so) I didn't serve any time in the army.

Make of it what you will.
   34. Steve Treder Posted: February 01, 2003 at 05:56 PM (#214678)
Great stuff as usual, Dick.

Count me among those who will now lean toward the 1925 date. The implication of this is obviously significant in assessing what Minoso might have accomplished; born in 1925, his career totals are probably pretty close to what they would have been had racism not been a factor.

Nonetheless, as I've said before, in my judgment what he accomplished on the field and as a cultural trailblazer still warrants his enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.
   35. EricEnders Posted: February 01, 2003 at 06:14 PM (#214679)
For what it's worth, this Cuban-published baseball card of Minoso tends to support the 1922 birthdate, since it lists him as being 29 years old in the winter of 1951-52.
   36. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: February 02, 2003 at 04:41 AM (#214682)
For what it's worth, this Cuban-published baseball card of Minoso tends to support the 1922 birthdate, since it lists him as being 29 years old in the winter of 1951-52.

Mi Espa?ol es muy malo, pero.... Using www.freetranslation.com, I confirmed that the card does not indicate Minoso was 29 in the winter of 1950-51. Instead, it shows that he was 29 when the card was printed, and that he played for the Indians in 1950 [in fact he was in their minors], and moved to the White Sox in 1951. Since he stayed with the Sox through 1957, the card could be referring to him as 29 in any year from '51 through '57.

Here's the machine translation:

Position: Outfielder. Club: Marianao. It was born in Perico Prov. Mtzas., 29 years ago. It bats and throws to the right. It measures 5'10" and weighs 175 lbs. Uniform: 17. Of the championships semi pr? and then in the Cuban Minning jumped to the Club Marianao in the season of 1945, and since that year belongs in said team. In the North played of the New York Cubans, until in 1949 entered the beisbol organized. It played of the Cleveland in 1950 and in 1951 passed to the Chicago.
   37. EricEnders Posted: February 02, 2003 at 07:16 AM (#214683)
The card is actually from 1952. Click on the homepage for more info.
   38. DanG Posted: February 02, 2003 at 08:10 PM (#214684)
(#50) - Steve Treder
   39. DanG Posted: February 02, 2003 at 08:19 PM (#214685)
(#50) - Steve Treder
   40. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: February 03, 2003 at 02:40 AM (#214686)
<i>What's "pretty close"? How much time do you think he missed?
   41. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: February 03, 2003 at 02:58 AM (#214687)
If the 1925 birth year is correct (which I believe it to be now), Minoso would be close to borderline territory for the Hall. I think he makes it, but barely.

I think the "superstar" label would be stretching it even if he had been born in 1922. A definite "star," though.
   42. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: February 03, 2003 at 05:03 PM (#214689)
LOL! You go, Alejandro!
   43. DanG Posted: February 05, 2003 at 03:38 AM (#214690)
(#58) - fracas
   44. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: February 06, 2003 at 10:05 PM (#214692)
First, cut and pasted from another thread:

<i>Posted 3:58 p.m., February 6, 2003 (#99) - DL
   45. Repoz Posted: February 07, 2003 at 11:07 PM (#214693)
Part III of the Minnie Minoso series....this one is mini.
   46. Steve Treder Posted: March 29, 2003 at 03:18 PM (#214695)
Danny Peary,

Your book is a jewel, one of my favorites. And I'd say that even if you and I didn't agree about Minoso. :-)

I'm making good use of quotations from your book in an article I've written that's being published in "Nine" this summer, focusing on the experiences of the original four expansion teams in the early 60s. Some really great insights in your book about how it felt to be a player on those teams.

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