Siberian Baseball

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Minnie and Buck

While these two aging giants may have names that sound like they came from an animated movie from Pixar, sadly it's more weighty than that.

Frank the Tank weighed in on this earlier in the week, but the gist of it is that a special panel released their 17 selections to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame. This was the result of a five-year process that acted independently of the Hall of Fame selection or veterans' committees and was seen as the last best chance for many of these aging stars to make it in.

For a little background, Phil Rogers had this to say in the Chicago Tribune on Minoso:

"Not only was Minoso 28 when he got to the big leagues to stay, but before he turned 23 he played in what Burgos calls "the sugar-cane leagues" of Cuba, essentially semipro and amateur town teams. It didn't take long for him to get discovered once he got into Cuba's top leagues; he was only 26 when the Indians signed him.

"But Minoso lost more years when the Indians kept him in Triple A, apparently not wanting to risk having too many men with dark skin on the field. The 1949 team he debuted on also had [Larry] Doby, Satchel Paige and Luke Easter."
Meanwhile, O'Neil has become somewhat of an elder statesman for the Negro Leagues and their surviving players. Baseball abounds with stories about O'Neil, including the day he was working in the Florida sun with his father, the foreman in a celery field, and was caught cursing about the job they were doing.

O'Neil told Steve Wulf the story in 1994 for Sports Illustrated.

One day I was having lunch by myself next to a big stack of boxes, and it was so hot, I said out loud, "Damn, there has got to be something better than this."

It turns out my father and some of the older men were on the other side of the stack having their lunch. That night my father told me, "I heard what you said today," and I thought he was going to reprimand me for swearing, but he said, "You're right. There is something better than this. But you can't find it here. You're going to have to go out and get it."
What he went out and got was a solid career as a player(he led the league in batting average in 1946), before managing the Kansas City Monarchs from 1948 to 1955 and players ranging from Ernie Banks to Elston Howard. His story follows a long arc of baseball history, from boyhood in Florida, watching the Yankees and others in spring training to the present day. He tells a story of hearing Babe Ruth's bat for the first time and thinking it'd be the last time he'd ever hear it, but would catch snippets of its thunder for years to come that is one of the best in the lore of baseball.

When his playing days came to a close, he became the first black coach in history with the Cubs in 1962 and has grown into his current position as ambassador of the game. For anyone who hasn't seen the Ken Burns documentary on baseball, pay particular attention to O'Neil's segments. To see the 80-something-year-old's face light up when he talks about the good old days is worth putting the discs on your Netflix list.

While we're on the topic, Sports Illustrated also released a compilation of baseball stories, Sports Illustrated Great Baseball Writing that is a must-have for fans, as well. The Wulf story can be found there as well.

When I first read these stories in local papers and on national web sites, I was getting ready for a post about how it's too bad some really great guys don't make it into the Hall, but that's what makes it special and that's why induction means so much.

With a few exceptions, the players who are in the Hall of Fame deserve to be there and those left out in the cold are usually there for a reason. Midway through several of these articles and to the point that I can't remember who brought it up first, some columnist mentioned in passing that it's not the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, it is the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Negro League players aren't inducted as visiting inductees or special inductees and for the sake of argument, if the writers would vote together, a Little League manager should be eligible for induction just like John McGraw was. In light of this (and admittedly, I haven't done a lot of research on this, aside from confirming the semantics) there's no good reason to keep either of these men out, aside from difficulty in confirming stats from minor and Negro league contests.

And while I support Frank and his push for Minoso, I have to stand by O'Neil whose overall contributions to the game should make him a lock for the Hall. If there has been a better man to stand on behalf of baseball - and all forms and leagues therein - I'd have a hard time finding him. Not to take anything from Minnie, but if I had one vote for him or Buck, it'd be a no-brainer.

In any event, neither man is on that list of 17 members, and even if they were, there'd be other discussions about who had been left off in their place. It's too bad that they weren't included, especially considering the ages of both men, but the decisions have been made.

On a positive note, both also have incredible perspective on their situations, with Minoso saying he'd settle for being in individual fans' Halls of Fame. Frank voted him in on the first ballot.

"There's nothing greater for a human being than to get his body to react to all the things one does on a ball field," O'Neil said. "It's as good as sex; it's as good as music. It fills you up. Waste no tears for me. I didn't come along too early. I was right on time."

(Photo from Riedel/AP)


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