Minnie Miñoso’s deserved HOF induction is too late

To some degree, most people want to leave a legacy. To impact those around us, to bring joy whenever we can and, for some, to write history.

Minnie Miñoso’s legacy received the long-awaited Gold Star alongside him on Sunday when he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY

We could argue for days about what everyone thinks of the Hall of Fame election process, but it’s created by and for humans, so it’s subject to error. We will never fully understand who enters and who does not. It is a process with standards that cannot be calculated by those of us on the outside.

And while for some it doesn’t validate the value, being inducted mattered to the person whose opinion mattered most – Miñoso himself. In what would be his final interview, Miñoso told ESPN, “Don’t tell me I might come in after I die. I don’t want that to happen after I pass. I want it while I’m here, because I want to enjoy it.

Miñoso died on March 1, 2015. He was 90 years old. We missed our chance. He was never able to answer his call to the Hall.

We all want to be remembered, and one thing many of us get wrong is that we remember too late. We do not honor our elders while they live, rather we wait until they are no longer with us to sing their praises, share stories or pay homage.

In his speech Sunday afternoon in Cooperstown, his wife Sharon Rice-Miñoso reminded us of this.

“Minnie has been inducted into other esteemed halls of fame, including Cuba and the Dominican Republic,” she said. “It would have meant the world for Minnie to be here himself, knowing that he was inducted into the Cooperstown Hall of Fame alongside baseball’s greatest.

“And what makes today’s recognition especially bittersweet is that Minnie has faced many obstacles to get to this day. As a dark-skinned Afro-Latino at the height of her of segregation, he knew the racial and cultural challenges he would endure coming to the United States. He tolerated them so he could play professional baseball and achieve his own American dream. As a pioneer, he did not know that he was opening doors for countless other people behind him, some of whom sit proudly on this stage.

Miñoso was electrifying. In 20 professional baseball seasons, he hit .299 with 195 homers, 1,089 RBIs and 216 interceptions and had a .387 on-base percentage. He became the face of the Chicago White Sox during his multiple stints on the South Side. For decades, White Sox fans rallied around him and he returned their love and affection until his death.

Both a black league and major league star, Miñoso was as known for his smiling face and willingness to sign autographs as he was for his base running and clutch shots. He is considered the Jackie Robinson of Latino players and you could say his baseball legacy was on full display last Monday as Latino players competed in the home run derby.

After years of remaining optimistic despite not being inducted, Miñoso has begun to speak out. He told reporters how much it hurt. He said he saw those with shorter careers – and numbers that weren’t as good as his – succeed before him.

On Opening Day in 2011, he told the Tribune, “I’m crazy because it seems like a lot of people don’t know a lot of things I do in baseball.” In December of that year, Cubs legend Ron Santo was elected, but Miñoso was down three votes in a Golden Era committee vote. Then, when he reappeared at the polls in December 2014, no one was elected.

It’s nice to think that Miñoso may have despised the ceremony, finally happy to get the recognition he deserved. But it would have been better to see him accept his well-deserved place among his peers in person.

Miñoso lived a long life, inspiring generations of players and fans, but several committees assembled over the years failed to elect him. After all the challenges he faced as a player, he still had one barrier to acceptance. And while a wrong was righted on Sunday, it doesn’t sound as loud as it could have.

“He was a great ambassador for baseball and for the city of Chicago. Baseball was his life,” Rice-Miñoso said.

One of baseball’s great ambassadors deserved better from the game.

James C. Tibbs