This year’s selections for overlooked players to be elected to the Hall of Fame are in. The Modern Baseball committee, as you’ll recall, elected Tigers greats Alan Trammell and Jack Morris to the Hall back in 2018. This year it was the Golden Days and Early Days committees’ turn, covering players active between 1950 and 1969.
The Golden Days committee meets to elect players from the era every five years. They announced on Sunday that four new players from the period will be inducted to the Hall of Fame. Gil Hodges, Minnie Miñoso, Jim Kaat, and Tony Oliva all made the cut.
Minnie Miñoso (1925-2015) was born and raised in Cuba, beginning his professional career there and in the Negro Leagues. The Cleveland Indians signed him in 1948, the year after Jackie Robinson integrated the major leagues, and Miñoso went on to play for four different teams with multiple stints with both the Indians and the Chicago White Sox in particular.
A pioneer for both African-American and Latin American baseball players, he was a two-time Negro Leagues All-Star, and nine time major league All-Star. MIñoso’s career spanned 15 years from 1949-1964, yet he recorded eight plate appearances for the White Sox in 1976, and even got a pair of plate appearances in 1980 as he was repeatedly called out of retirement to play briefly, and also to coach. His number 9 was retired by the White Sox in 1983, and there is a statue of him at US Cellular Field. In his later years he remained an ambassador for the White Sox, and was known as “Mr. White Sox” in much the way Al Kaline became “Mr. Tiger”.
Gil Hodges (1924-1972) was one of the most highly regarded first basemen of his day and his career crossed paths with many of the great events of the era. He debuted for the then Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, the same year that Jackie Robinson joined the club and broke the color barrier. Hodges was an eight time All-Star and spent most of his 18 seasons in the major leagues with the Brooklyn-Los Angeles Dodgers. Hodges also managed the 1969 New York Mets club to a World Series title over the Baltimore Orioles.
Hodges also served with the Marines in World War II. He was an anti-aircraft gunner who fought in the battles of Tinian and Okinawa—the latter being one of bloodiest and most horrific battles of the war on either front—and was awarded the Bronze Star with combat “V” for valor for heroism under fire.
Tony Oliva was another Cuban born pioneer who debuted in the major leagues in 1962. He spent his entire 15-year career with the Minnesota Twins. An All-Star in each of his first eight seasons, Oliva was one of the game’s top hitters. Knee injuries hurt his range in the outfield, and eventually forced him to a full-time designated hitter role over his last few seasons.
Oliva won the American League batting title in 1964, 1965, and 1971, and was the first to win it in consecutive seasons. He played on the Twins’ World Series losing club in ‘65, but won rings in 1987 and again in 1991 as hitting coach and bench coach, respectively. His number 6 is retired by the Twins.
Jim Kaat, a native of Zeeland, Michigan pitched for five different organizations over an epic 25-year career. He was a three time All-Star and 16 time Gold Glove winner, finally earning a World Series ring in 1982 with the St. Louis Cardinals. The lefty is most associated with the Washington Senators, who became the Minnesota Twins during his time with the organization from 1959 to 1973. Brief stints with the Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Yankees, and finally the Cardinals followed, with Kaat retiring as a member of the Cardinals after his final appearance on July 1, 1983.
However, the Golden Days committee wasn’t the only one to elect players to the Hall on Sunday. The Early Days committee also announced two selections, putting Buck O’Neil and Bud Fowler in the Hall as well.
Buck O’Neil (1911-2006) was a legendary first baseman and manager in the Negro League, mainly with the Kansas City Monarchs. Born in 1911, O’Neil debuted for the Memphis Red Sox in 1937, wrapping up his playing days with the Monarchs in 1955. His career as a player was only a start, as O’Neil became a major league scout for the Chicago Cubs, and then the first black coach in the major leagues. He was a tireless educator and activist for the history of the Negro Leagues and the acceptance of those players as a key part of baseball history. His efforts were a big part of creating the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and he served as an honorary chairman of its board until his death in 2006. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.
Bud Fowler (1858-1913), was the son of an escaped slave who eventually moved his family to Cooperstown, New York, where his son learned the game. Fowler debuted as a professional in 1872, playing for an otherwise all-white team in Pennsylvania. As a result he is remembered as the first black player in organized professional baseball and a pioneer in the early days of the game as a professional sport. Fowler helped found the Keokuk Hawkeyes baseball team in the Western League. His career ended in 1898 as a player/manager for the Cuban Giants, the first African-American professional baseball club.
One name that expected to be called, but fell just short, was that of Dick Allen. The seven-time All-Star outfielder played 15 years in the majors, the majority with the Philadelphia Phillies and the Chicago White Sox, was also the 1972 AL MVP.
Getting to know Javier Báez
Because the Tigers and the Chicago Cubs don’t meet up very often, new Tigers shortstop Javier Báez is presumably a bit of a mystery to Tigers fans. The most fundamental part of his life that needs to be understood to understand the man he’s become, is the story of his sister, Noely, who died from complications of spina bifida back in 2015, just as Javier was beginning to break into the majors.
Noely was the youngest of the family, and repeatedly the Báez family was told she probably wouldn’t live in those first weeks of her life. Instead, she survived, became her older brother’s biggest fan and inspiration, and manage to defy the odds by living to graduate high school and see her brother’s dream come true. After their father died in an accident in 2004, their mother moved the family to Florida in search of medical care for her, and she and Javy became extremely close through all these hardships, with the future shortstop devoting himself to the game in part to provide her with the best care possible and to make life easier for his mother.
The story is well worth reading to understand Báez’s character and why family remains so centered in his life.
Erie SeaWolves president Greg Coleman named Executive of the Year
Bless You Boys would like to congratulate Erie SeaWolves president Greg Coleman. On Sunday he was announced as minor league baseball’s Executive of the Year. Over the past few seasons, Coleman has overseen the renovation and upgraded facilities at UPMC Park, and navigated the re-organization of the minor leagues, which at times looked to threaten the SeaWolves very existence.
Erie SeaWolves president Greg Coleman is the Executive of the Year! pic.twitter.com/C5T8fwB9ps— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) December 5, 2021
Daisuke retires, Ichiro surprises
Most of you will remember former Boston Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka from his MLB days. He won a World Series with the BoSox back in 2007, his rookie season in the states, and pitched for Boston until 2013, when he signed on for two final seasons with the New York Mets. However, his MLB career is book-ended by his 16 seasons pitching in Japan’s NPB that add up to a excellent and very long career as a pro.
The 41-year-old right-hander finally retired this week, after 23 years as a professional stretching back to his Seibu Lions debut in 1999. As a pioneer for Japanese pitchers, who proved top NPB pitchers could succeed in America, he’ll always be venerated for his contributions to the game. And in that spirit, Matsuzaka got a special tribute from the greatest Japanese player of all-time, Ichiro Suzuki, at his retirement ceremony.
Isaac Paredes is having another good winter in Mexico
Last 10 games for #Tigers infielder Isaac Paredes in the Mexican Pacific Winter League:— Evan Petzold (@EvanPetzold) December 6, 2021
17-for-38 (.447), three doubles, four home runs, 11 RBIs, nine walks, three strikeouts. Three homers in his last four games. https://t.co/bXsM3KEgpG
Around the horn
R.J. Anderson of CBS Sports grades the first half of the offseason for all 30 major league teams. The Tigers look pretty great in comparison. Meanwhile the mystery of Justin Verlander’s unsigned contract with the Houston Astros remains unresolved. Emma Baccellieri of Sports Illustrated looks at some of the key remaining players in free agency and what to expect whenever MLB gets underway again. Tom Verducci tries to find a path through the impasse.
Jeff Passan at ESPN has the details behind MLB’s lockout of players. The lockout keeps Yomiuri Giants ace, Tomoyuki Sugano, in Japan for another season rather than being posted for MLB consideration. SB Nations’ James Dator gives you the quick guide to the MLB/MLBPA impasse, while Marc Normandin for Baseball Prospectus dives deep, dissecting Rob Manfred’s ridiculously disingenuous letter to fans.
Baseball is awesome
Want to see Javier Báez’s 10 longest home runs of his career? Chris Brown of Motor City Bengals has you covered.