Minnie, A Shadow Player.


Before Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu or Yoenis Cespedes, there was Minnie Minoso. Thirty years ago this week, after 12 years of retirement and after 17 years in the Major Leagues, Minoso was activated by Bill Veeck, then owner of the Chicago White Sox an started as designated hitter, batting ninth, in the first game of a twin bill with the California Angels. In the second inning, with two outs and Chet Lemon on first base, he singled to left off Angels’ starter Sid Monge. At age 53, Minoso had become the second oldest player to notch a hit in a major league game (Jim O’Rourke had a hit at 54 years/21 days) and the second oldest to suit up after Satchel Paige had played at age 59 for Veeck’s Indians in 1965. Minoso would play three games in 1976, getting one hit in eight at bats. He played again in 1980 for the White Sox. In 1993 (at age 71) and 2003 (at age 81), he put on a uniform for the independent Northern League’s St. Paul Saints, becoming baseball’s first octogenarian and only seven-decade player. He was a 7 time All-Star and batted .298 for his career. He won the Golden Glove three times. In his 12 years with the Chicago White Sox, he batted .304.

Minnie Minoso is one of the famous Great Ten of Cuban baseball players. These are the Shadow Players. With one exception, all were terrific players who played in the shadow of having two handicaps, one was the color of their skin and the other was the unfamiliar language when grew up with, spoke and understood.

Certainly Luis Tiant would head the list as he pitched 19 years in the Show, winning 20 or more games four times and was an All-Star three times. He’s not in the Hall.

Tony Perez is the lone Hall of Famer of the Great Ten as he won two World Series as a player for Cincinnati and a 7 time All-Star and MVP in the 1967 game.

Tony Oliva was the 1964 AL Rookie of the Year and played 15 years for the Minnesota Twins becoming an All-Star 8 times. With a 3.04 lifetime batting average, it is seemingly improbable that he is not in the Hall of Fame.

Mike Cuellar won 20 or more game four times and was the 1969 Cy Young Award winner and four-time All-Star. He finished after 15 years in the Major Leagues with a 185-130 record and a 3.14 ERA. He is not in the Hall of Fame.

Dolf Luque, The Pride of Havana, was a legendary pitcher who spend 20 seasons in the Bigs. He had the second most wins of any Cuban pitcher and finished with 194-179 record with a 3.24 ERA from 1914-1935. In 1923, he went 27-8 with a 1.93 ERA for the Cincinnati Reds. He won the 1923 and the 1925 NL pitching title. He is not in the Hall.

Camilo Pascual for 18 season produced a 174-170 record with a 3.63 ERA, particularly with poor teams. He was a 7 time All-Star. Ted Williams said he had the ‘most feared curial in the American League’. In an era when pitchers were real pitchers, he had back-to-back 20 game win season and had 18 complete games in each of the 1962 and 1963 seasons and led the AL in strikeouts 1961 thru 1963. He is not in the Hall.

Bert Campaneris played in the MLB for 19 seasons and at one time in 1965, played all nine positions in a major league age, the first to ever do that. He was an All-Star 6 times and won three World Series titles in 1972, 1973 and 1974 with the fantastic Oakland A’s. The undisputed shortstop of his day, he is not in the Hall of Fame.

Two of the Great Ten were the Tainted Ones.

Rafael Palmeiro ended a 20 year career with Baltimore Orioles in 2005 when he gained his 3,000th hit. He is one of four players to have 3,000 hits and 500 home runs in his career (he hit 569 home runs). A 4-time All-Star, he escaped from Cuba with his family to Miami in 1964. Some say he was a juicer. While he is not in the Hall, others who took cocaine were admitted.

Jose Canseco hit 462 home runs in 17 seasons in the Major Leagues. A 6 time All-Star, e won two World Series with the 1989 Oakland A’s and the 2000 New York Yankees. He was the American League MVP in 1988 and was the first player to ever compile 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases in a season. He is not in Cooperstown.

But this is about Saturnino Orestes Armas ‘Minnie’ Minoso Arrieta, the fuel behind the ‘Go Go White Sox’ of the ’50s. To anyone growing up in the Midwest at that time, every team had their stars. In Milwaukee it was Eddie and Warren. In St. Louis it was Stan ‘The Man’ and ‘Country’. But in Chicago it was ‘Billy and Minnie’. Minnie was one of the most exciting players in his day and someone who belongs in baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Play Ball!


The Green Of Spring

When you first glance at it in the spring, the field is like a carpet where only those heroes of the game are privileged to walk upon. It is perfectly cut and trimmed, green as green can be. In this time of chasing the statistical universe, one can only marvel at the setting where the basics of the game are played.

Legends bring the game into perspective. Joe walked toward that position. You should have seen him play. Did you see him? Was he as good as they say? He was certainly one of the greatest Yankees of them all. Henry played right there. ‘Slough Foot’ they called him when he first came up. He seemed to glide when catching a fly in left field of old County Stadium. Unbelievable bat speed. “Stan The Man” played there. Every kid in the nation copied his unique batting style regardless if you were a left hander or not. He was one of the few, at least in the games I saw him play, who was never booed at an opposing ballpark. So many stepped on that platform of green on their way to Cooperstown. Willie, Mickey and The Duke. Robin, Reggie and Teddy Ballgame. Who will be next to take this trip from outfield to The Hall?

Spring allows all to show us their wares. Trout, Harper, Cespedes and Aoki all showed exceptional talent in their first year patrolling the outfield, last year. Their rookie seasons presented great promise. Mike Trout had quite a year. At age 20, he hit .326, scored 129 runs, had 182 hits which included 8 triples, walked 67 times and had 315 total bases. He also had 49 steals. Oh yes. He had 30 home runs. In the field he had 4 errors for a .988 fielding percentage. Norichika Aoki, a 29-year-old rookie, batted .288 with 150 hits of which 37 were doubles. As a lead off hitter, he drew 43 base on balls, had 30 stolen bases and had an amazing 10 home runs. With 81 runs scored, he had 255 total bases. In the field, he had only 3 errors for a .988 fielding percentage.

Bryce Harper hit .270 on 144 hits with 26 doubles, 22 home runs and 18 stolen bases. He scored 98 runs. In the field, he had 7 errors for a .979 fielding percentage. At 19 years of age, he unquestionably has a future of brightness in front of him. Yoenis Cespedes, at 26, had 142 hits with 25 doubles, 23 home runs and 82 runs batted in while producing a .292 batting average. He had 70 runs scored and 246 total bases. In the field he had 3 errors for a .987 fielding percentage.

Who will step out and make those giant strides to Cooperstown? Any of them? None of them? That’s why the game is so much fun in the spring. The green of spring brings hope for all, including those of us who cannot seem to get enough of it. Lucky for us, we have a full month left during this amazing time of the year.

Play ball!

The Amazing Billyball Is As Exciting As It Gets Because Of DER

They play in one of the oldest stadiums in Spring Training. Their major league home is one of the last football/baseball combo stadiums of the ’60s. Yet the team that makes these two parks home is playing amazing Billyball. Today they are only three games out of first place in the American League West behind the mighty Texas Rangers. The Oakland A’s are making baseball history once again.

History is the analysis and interpretation of the human past that enables us to study continuity and change over time. It doesn’t say how long ‘over time’ has to be. But in yesterday’s game against the Boston Red Sox, the A’s third baseman, Brandon Inge threw out Pedro Ciriaco at first base in the top of the third inning. What few knew was that ‘pop’ he heard in throwing that ball across the diamond was a season ending right shoulder dislocation which will undergo surgery…season ending surgery.

But he didn’t really tell anyone how badly it hurt him. In the bottom of the third, he went to bat with two runners on. He promptly slapped a double to right, driving in both runners and the A’s were on their way to their 8th straight victory and the crowd was in their glory with impersonations of Bernie Lomax and his celebratory dance. After all, this was Bernie Weekend at the old ballpark. Terry Kiser, the actor who played Bernie in the “Weekend at Bernie’s” movies threw out the first pitch at the beginning of the game. “Lean like Bernie” is the promotional call this weekend. Inge was out of the game and out for the season in a way few will be able to recreate.

The whole season for the A’s will be hard to recreate. Here is a team that was destined to finish last. But somehow, the best General Manager in baseball, Billy Beane, is pulling off another magical season. First he pulled his magic by signing Yoenis Cespedes, a 27 to 37-year-old center fielder/DH to hit this season and many more. This Granma, Cuba (yes, Granma) native is hitting .300 and an OPS of .858. In left field, Jonny Gomes, is hitting .253 and won Friday evenings match. Josh Reddick, in right field, has hammered 28 home runs while driving in 73 RBIs. But who many believe is the key to this team, came in an unusual manner.

The trade that brought Stephen Drew was announced over the club’s public address system in the middle of the seventh inning of a game at the Coliseum with the Twins. He suffered a horrible, season ending injury last season while a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, sliding into home plate in a collision with the Brewer catcher. He was not only out on the play, but out for the season. While recovering this season, he was publicly called out by the D’Backs majority owner suggesting that Drew was taking his time getting his injured ankle back to health. But then again, who listens to what the D’Back’s owner says. The trading of Drew was in the air even before that public spew by the owner.

Yet, Billy B understood the value of Drew. And with his usual magic, he traded for Drew for a 17th round draft pick. Can you imagine that? He got one of the best shortstops in baseball for a 17th round draft pick. That’s must be what makes Arizona so good.

Then there are the Brandon’s. Brandon Moss, the first baseman (who went 4 for 5 on Friday’s drubbing of the Bostonians). He’s hitting .254 with 15 home runs. Brandon Inge, now officially out for the season. Brandon Hicks, Drew’s backup at short hitting well below the Mendoza line. Then there is Brandon McCarthy, the tallest Brandon at 6.7″ with an 8-5 season going for him with an impressive 3.10 ERA. It is my belief that Billy is really trying to get every Brandon in baseball to play for the team and then change the name of the team to the Brandon’s, thus giving him an added injection of cash in new jersey sales that he will need until they get approval for a new stadium in San Jose. “Come get your East Bay Brandon Jersey’s”.

The real reason, however, why the A’s are doing so well is that they are playing great defense with timely hitting. Using a relatively undervalued metric called DER (Defensive Efficiency Rating), the A’s are regarded the second best defensive team in major league baseball. OK. We know this is the home of Moneyball. DER rates how well a team converts “balls in play” into actual outs. The A’s do this extremely well.

Then there is the old man himself, Coco Crisp patrolling center field. He’s hitting .260 but his defense is exceptional, leading us back to DER. You only get a great DER if you have great DER up the middle.

But, can defense win a pennant? Any team that has an outfield of great first names (Yoenis, Coco, Jonny, Josh and Collin) has to play great defense. It’s the All-Smucker outfield. (“With a name like Smucker’s, You Have To Be Good”).

No. It’s none of that. It’s all about Billy. First it was Moneyball. Now it is DER ball. Here’s to you, Mr. Beane. Maybe this season you will get your pennant. We’ll all be pulling for you.

Play Ball!