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Late Cleveland Indians All-Star Minnie Miñoso elected to Baseball Hall of Fame

The native of Cuba spent most of his career with the White Sox, but was also a key contributor in parts of four seasons with the Tribe.

CLEVELAND — He sadly didn't live to see it, but the call finally came for Minnie Miñoso.

The former Cleveland Indians outfielder who spent most of his career with the Chicago White Sox was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame Sunday, one of six new members selected via the museum's so-called "Veterans Committees." Miñoso was chosen by the Golden Days Committee (covering candidates from 1950-69) along with the late first baseman Gil Hodges, fellow outfielder and Cuban Tony Oliva, and pitcher Jim Kaat. Legendary Negro League legend Buck O'Neill and Bud Fowler -- the first known Black player in the history of professional baseball -- were selected by the Early Baseball Committee (1871-1949).

Born Saturnino Orestes Armas Miñoso in Havana, Cuba, Minnie's career began with the Negro National League's New York Cubans in 1946 at the age of 20, and he soon developed a reputation as an elite hitter with speed. The Indians brass took notice, and signed him to a contract two years later before sending him to the minor leagues.

Miñoso continued to rake in the lower levels before being called up to Cleveland in April of 1949, where he recorded three hits including a home run in 16 at-bats. He hit .339 the next season for Triple-A San Diego, but with the Tribe's lineup already littered with stars like Larry Doby and Al Rosen, the budding superstar couldn't find big-league playing time in either the outfield or at third base.

Following 14 more MLB at-bats at the start of 1951, the Indians traded Miñoso to Chicago in one of the worst deals in club history, receiving relief pitcher Lou Brissie from the Philadelphia Athletics in a three-team deal. Brissie was solid-but-unremarkable in Cleveland, while Miñoso would blossom as the Sox's first Black player, hitting .324 after his arrival while leading the American League with 31 stolen bases and the majors with 14 triples. For his efforts, he was chosen for the AL All-Star team.

Credit: AP
Chicago White Sox outfielder Orestes "Minnie" Miñoso poses in batting position at Al Lopez Field in Tampa, Fla., on March 9, 1957.

Over the next six seasons, Miñoso topped the AL in steals and triples two more times each and doubles once, and also hit over .300 four times with three seasons of at least 100 RBIs. He was an All-Star four additional times and the league's 1957 Gold Glove winner in left field, all while earning the love and admiration of fans with the nicknames "The Cuban Comet" and "Mr. White Sox."

After than '57 season, Miñoso was traded back to the Indians in exchange for future Hall of Fame pitcher and another All-Star outfielder Al Smith. Upon his return to Northeast Ohio, Miñoso was sharp as ever, hitting .302 with a career-high 24 homers in 1958. He duplicated the average the next year and also made both big league All-Star Games and won his second gold glove, helping the Tribe finish second in the AL after a thrilling pennant race. Unfortunately, the club that finished first was his former team, the White Sox.

Credit: AP
Cleveland Indians outfield Minnie Minoso, right, appears to be explaining why he was several days late to Tribe General Manager Frank Lane March 9, 1959 in Phoenix, Ariz. Lane listens with smile, but wiped it off later when he fined Minoso $500.

Miñoso was devastated at missing out on the 1959 World Series, so despite not wanting to lose him, Cleveland sent him home to Chicago that offseason for a package that included future star Norm Cash (who would later be shipped to Detroit before playing a game for the Tribe). He would hit .311 in 1960 -- leading the league with 184 hits while making two more All-Star clubs and winning a third Gold Glove -- but never played in an AL or NL postseason game, and his skills began to decline shortly thereafter. He would briefly play for the St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Senators before a third stint with the Sox, finally retiring (somewhat) in 1964.

After his first MLB career was over, Miñoso played in the Mexican League for a time before being hired by the White Sox as a coach. Ever the promoter, owner Bill Veeck (who first signed Miñoso while leading the Indians) coaxed the beloved Chicago sports figure to come out of retirement in 1976 at the age of 50. True to form, he managed to get a hit in eight at-bats, and the stunt proved so successful that he did it again for two hitless plate appearances in 1980. Officially, this makes him the only man to play a game in five different decades of major professional baseball.

With his playing days finally over after parts of 20 seasons, Miñoso finished with 13 All-Star selections, a .299 lifetime average, 2,110 hits, 216 steals, 195 home runs, and an OPS+ of 130. He also won a Negro League World Series championship in 1947 with the Cubans, ironically beating the Cleveland Buckeyes in five games.

Miñoso remained a presence in Chicago, with the White Sox retiring his No. 9 in 1983. He died in 2015 at the age of 89, survived by his wife Sharon and four children. Then-U.S. President Barack Obama, a passionate Sox fan, mourned him as "one of the most dominant and dynamic players of the 1950s."

In parts of four years with the Indians, Miñoso hit .302 with 46 homers and a 137 OPS+. Though his Cleveland tenure was much shorter than it probably should've been, he was still named one of the franchise's 100 best players in 2001, when the club celebrated its 100th anniversary.

Miñoso and the other five committee selections will be enshrined this summer in Cooperstown, New York, along with any inductees from this year's regular ballot. The results of the latter will be announced next month.

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