Opinion: Tony Oliva, Orestes 'Minnie' Miñoso finally get Hall of Fame vote they deserved

·5 min read

Thankfully, Tony Oliva is alive to see this day.

Oliva, the 83-year-old former Minnesota Twins All-Star, on Sunday joined five others – fellow Cuban Orestes "Minnie" Miñoso, former Twins teammate Jim Kaat, Gil Hodges, Buck O'Neil and Bud Fowler – as the latest players to be elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Oliva, Miñoso, Kaat and Hodges were chosen by the Golden Days committee. O’Neil and Fowler were selected by the Early Days committee.

Among the new inductees, only Oliva and Kaat are still with us.

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Miñoso, for example, died in 2015, three months after he and Oliva each failed to be elected by the Golden Era committee. Sunday's vote was the first time Oliva, an eight-time All-Star and three-time American League batting champion; and Miñoso, the first Black Latino All-Star in the majors, were considered since that 2014 vote.

Tony Oliva had a career .304 batting average in 15 seasons with the Minnesota Twins.
Tony Oliva had a career .304 batting average in 15 seasons with the Minnesota Twins.

"We were just waiting to hear the call; it meant so much to finally receive it," Charlie Rice-Miñoso told USA TODAY Sports about learning Sunday night that his father had been elected. "Immediately after, I called my brother and my sister. We were all just so grateful that his contributions are being recognized in such a way.

"... Bittersweet is really the best way to describe it considering that the last time he was up, we were just a few months before he had passed. We certainly wish he were here to enjoy it, but we're still just glad that his contributions and his legacy lives on."

Cameras captured the moment Oliva received his call at home as he was surrounded by cheering family and friends.

"I knew sooner or later I was going to be in the Hall of Fame," Oliva said, "but I wanted to go in while I'm alive and then be able to speak to you people and thank everybody."

In 2014, Oliva missed being elected by one vote, while Miñoso was four votes shy of the 12 needed to reach 75% of the 16-member Golden Era committee ballots. Both received 12 votes on Sunday.

"It was a great day for Latinos," said University of Illinois history professor Adrian Burgos, Jr., one of the 16 members of this year's Golden Days committee. "I’m very pleased that they are in the same class and that Tony can go in knowing that one of his compadres, one of his compatriots ... one of the guys who paved the way is there right alongside him. It’s unfortunate that Minnie doesn’t get to be on that stage to share the joy."

What changed between the 2014 ballot and Sunday's vote?

“I think the make-up of the committee changed quite dramatically,” said Burgos, who was not on the committee in 2014.

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Only four members of the 2014 committee were on this year's committee.

"So, with fresh eyes and fresh minds, we considered the cases," Burgos said. "I think that getting four people elected out of this process shows how this was such a loaded ballot. People need to understand that it’s not a straight up and down vote on each of these individuals. There are cases where I’m sure everyone struggled at ‘how do I limit this to four individuals?’ But that’s our mandate. We can only vote for four."

Before being considered by the veterans committee, Oliva spent 15 years (1982-96) on the Baseball Writers' Association of American ballot. Despite a .304 career average, Oliva never got more than the 47.3% of the vote he received in 1988.

Orestes "Minnie" Miñoso Miñoso batted .299 with 2,110 hits, 195 home runs, 1,093 RBI and 216 stolen bases and had 13 All-Star Game appearances in 20 major-league seasons.
Orestes "Minnie" Miñoso Miñoso batted .299 with 2,110 hits, 195 home runs, 1,093 RBI and 216 stolen bases and had 13 All-Star Game appearances in 20 major-league seasons.

Miñoso's 15 years on the BBWAA ballot – with a high of 21.1% in 1988 – were spread over parts of four decades beginning in 1969 and ending in 1999 because after retiring in 1964, he came back to play some games in 1976 and 1980.

"His appearances in '76 and 1980 certainly had an impact because it kept resetting his clock for consideration," Burgos said. "So ultimately, the last year he was under consideration was 1999. That was 35 years after his last MLB season in true form and not in 'return' form. There were not many individuals who had actually seen him perform participating in those votes."

Too often, it seems, players such as Miñoso have been honored posthumously when they could have been enshrined during their lifetimes.

Remember Chicago Cubs star third baseman Ron Santo? Died in 2010. Elected by the Golden Era Committee in 2011. Former Philadelphia Phillies slugger Dick Allen, who died in 2020, fell one vote shy in 2014 and on Sunday.

"Look at what happened with Minnie; that's a lack of respect," Cuban former pitcher Luis Tiant told USA TODAY Sports in September. "What they did to Ron Santo. He lost both legs. Why didn't they put him in? They waited until after he died? That's a lack of respect. That's heartless."

Tiant, who won 229 games with a 3.30 ERA, was on the 2014 ballot, earning "three or fewer" votes and was not on the ballot Sunday.

"I've told my sons, 'don't worry, don't get emotional that you don't see my name,' " Tiant said in September. "The day they want to put me in, put me in. Hopefully, I won't be dead."

Oliva, who was a teammate of Tiant with the Twins in 1970, told Our Esquina: "Luis Tiant belongs in the Hall of Fame. ...He has the numbers to be in the Hall of Fame. No question."

Said Burgos: "I think he will definitely get another look. I think having two of his contemporaries ultimately be able to pass that threshold and enter, his story gains more focus now."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tony Oliva, Minnie Miñoso finally get Hall of Fame vote they deserved

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