This past Sunday seven new members joined the Baseball Hall of Fame. More than any other sport, baseball really puts a premium on Hall of Fame selection. It’s viewed as the benchmark that separates the absolute best in the sport from players who were good and in some cases very good, but just not quite Hall of Fame types. It even makes a point of differentiating first round selections from those chosen later in the process and/or by what is now called the Golden Days Committee (formerly the Veterans Committee). The 2022 class also has both its share of controversy and the distinction of finally correcting some previous wrongs in terms of omissions.
Without question, the greatest controversy came with the selection of David Ortiz. Not in terms of his numbers, for his numbers stamped him as the greatest designated hitter for all time with 541 home runs and the unquestioned leader of three Red Sox world title teams. He was also ALCS MVP in 2004 and World Series MVP in 2007. But Ortiz also allegedly was caught using PEDs in 2004, and there’s where the controversy emerges. For one, his name was among a series of players leaked without knowledge or consent of MLB in regards to testing done prior to steroids being ruled illegal. Secondly, Ortiz disputed the results and even MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said the results might have been a false positive.
The rumors and controversy didn’t prevent Ortiz from getting 77.5 percent of the votes, and he was the only player on the writers ballot this year who earned enough votes for induction.. His selection now raises the question of whether ultimately Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the game’s two greatest stars denied admission due to widespread contention they used steroids, will eventually get into the hall.
But there was much more joy over the induction of three people many felt should have been inducted along ago. These players were Minnie Minoso, Buck O’Neil, Bud Fowler and Tony Olivia.
Minnie Miñoso was a huge star in the the Negro Leagues, hitting.350/.394/.527 with the New York Cubans between 1947 and 1948.
He joined the White Sox in 1951 and proceeded to do the same thing to the American League. He was one of the most selective hitters in the league during his peak, finishing his career with nearly 300 more walks than strikeouts. Miñoso also set the stage for other Cuban stars to transition to MLB, paving the way for players like Oliva in the ‘60s, and Yordan Alvarez, Jose Abreu and Nestor Cortes, among others, today.
Buck O’Neil was a Negro League icon, He had a wonderful career with the Kansas City Monarchs, playing for them throughout the 1940s before transitioning to manager in the 1950s.
O’Neil went on to join the Cubs as a scout and brought in a number of talented players, including Hall of Famer Lou Brock. He became the first Black coach in MLB history in 1962. He also was among the most ardent Negro League archivists, helping to found the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in 1990.
Bud Fowler was another Black baseball pioneer. Although many details surrounding his playing career are unknown, Fowler played a pivotal role in creating the conditions for Black players to succeed.
Fowler was raised in Cooperstown and enjoyed a lengthy, well-traveled career. As a Black player taking the field during the late 1800s, Fowler had to deal with rampant racism. That forced him to travel the country looking for teams to join — from Indiana to New Mexico, Fowler found leagues to join.
Tony Oliva was a star in the low-offense environment of the mid-1960s. He was the American League’s Rookie of the Year in 1964, and had four years with an OPS+ above 140. Oliva twice finished as runner-up in the AL MVP race (1965, 1970) and made eight straight All-Star Game appearances. He paired with legendary slugger Harmon Killebrew to form one of the most exciting duos in baseball throughout the mid-’60s and early ‘70s. Oliva spent his entire career with the Twins and was inducted by the Golden Days Era Committee, which made up for his being snubbed by the writers for decades.
A couple of others who should have made the Hall of Fame before now were pitcher Jim Kaat and first baseman Gil Hodges. Kaat was a tireless worker for decades. He threw at least 200 innings in 14 different seasons (he exceeded 300 innings two of those years). Kaat was by far the most durable pitcher of his era, ending his career with more than 900 games pitched.
His career spanned four different decades and was spotlighted by a sparkling 1966 campaign in which he started 41 games, threw 19 complete games and posted a 3.02 ERA. He finished fifth in AL MVP voting that year.
Hodges was a superb defensive first baseman, being one of the few right-handers to be a great fielder at that position. He had a chunk of his early career taken away by military service, but once he returned from duty, he was a force. He was in a lineup with fellow Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snider, but he could more than hold his own with the bat — he had six seasons with at least 30 dingers (two with over 40). And with the glove, few could compare. According to Stan Musial, Hodges was “perhaps the best right-handed-fielding first baseman of his time.”
That it took so long for many of these men to reach the Hall is surprising and disappointing, but at least they are now are all members.
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