Baseball Hall of Fame: Buck O’Neil Among Six Elected By Era Committees

Baseball Hall of Fame: Buck O’Neil Among Six Elected By Era Committees

by December 6, 2021 1 comment

On Sunday evening, the results of two era committees’ ballots were announced for the Baseball Hall of Fame. It was the first meeting of both the Early Baseball Era and Golden Days Era Committees. The Early Baseball Era Committee considered candidates who made an impact on the game of baseball prior to 1950. The Golden Days Era Committee considered candidates who contributed from 1950-69. The Golden Days Era Committee ultimately voted in four new members in Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, and Tony Oliva. The Early Baseball Era Committee voted in two, Bud Fowler and Buck O’Neil. All six will be honored, along with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America selections, on July 24, 2022, at the induction ceremony in Cooperstown.

The full voting results can be seen below.

From World War II Hero to Cooperstown

Gilbert Ray “Gil” Hodges has a tremendous resume on and off the diamond. The former U.S. Marine finally adds the Hall of Fame to that resume 50 years after his death. Just 11 days after making his major league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Hodges joined the Marine Corps. As a marine, he fought in the Battle of Okinawa in April 1945. His actions in battle earned him the bronze star for heroism under fire. The West Palm Beach native was discharged in 1946 and would play for the Newport News Dodgers until earning his second call-up to Brooklyn in 1947.

While with the Dodgers, Hodges helped the team capture two World Series titles, in 1955 and 1959 (Los Angeles). He played his first 15 of his 17 big league seasons (played 1 game in 1943) with the Dodgers, before heading to Queens to play for the New York Mets. An eight-time All-Star, Hodges had a great peak from 1949-59, in which only teammate Duke Snider had more homers and RBI. His first All-Star selection came in 1949, in which he amassed 23 homers and 115 RBI. He finished his playing career with 370 homers (20+ in 11 seasons), 1,274 RBI, .273 average, and a .846 OPS. His 38.8 JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score system) ranks 40th among all-time first basemen and his 43.9 career WAR ranks 41st.

Hodges was a more part-time player in his later years with the Dodgers and two years with the Mets. He became the Washington Senators manager in 1963, where he would stay through the 1967 season. Then, in 1968 the Mets tabbed him as manager, and he would turn around the franchise that never won more than 66 games in a season. In 1969, the Miracle Mets were born with Hodges leading the way to a World Series title that year. He managed the Mets through the 1971 season. He sadly suffered a heart attack on April 2, 1972, and later died, two days short of his 48th birthday.

Twin Bill

Two Minnesota Twins legends got into the Hall of Fame, and they are the only two who are still alive. Left-handed pitcher Kaat and outfielder Oliva are those two, who are both 83 years old. The two were teammates with the Twins from 1963-73 and Oliva was a Twin for his entire 15-year career. Oliva was one of the best hitters in the league over his 15 years, recording a .304 career average with 220 homers and 947 RBI.

The Cuban-born ballplayer won the 1964 American League Rookie of the Year after hitting .323 with a .916 OPS, 32 homers, 94 RBI, and an MLB leading 374 total bases. He also won three batting titles, was an eight-time All-Star, and finished runner-up to the AL MVP in 1965 and 1970. Oliva was a solid outfielder, winning his lone Gold Glove in 1966 with 10 outfield assists, and was one of the first designated hitters in the majors when the DH was adopted into the league in 1973. The Twins retired his number six jersey in 1991 and he is a member of the team’s Hall of Fame.

Kaat was one of the best fielding pitchers in the history of the game, backed up by his 16 Gold Gloves in his 25-year career. The southpaw spent 15 seasons with the Twins franchise, including the last two years they were the Washington Senators. He compiled a 190-159 record with a 3.34 ERA with the franchise and was a workhorse. Kaat led the majors with 304 2/3 innings pitching in the 1966 season. He also led the AL with 25 wins and 19 complete games. That season was his second of three career All-Star appearances and he placed fifth in AL MVP voting.

Kaat would go on play three seasons with the Chicago White Sox, four with the Philadelphia Phillies, three with the New York Yankees, and four with the St. Louis Cardinals to finish his career. He compiled a 283-237 record and 3.45 ERA before transitioning to a legendary broadcasting career.

Cuban Legend

Ortes “Minnie” Minoso was a trailblazer in the game, as he became the first Black Cuban player in MLB history. He started his career with the White Sox with a bang, homering off the Yankees on May 1, 1951. “The Cuban Comet” began his baseball career in the Negro leagues in 1946 before joining the then Cleveland Indians in 1949. Minoso was then the runner-up for the 1951 AL Rookie of the Year. He made his first of nine MLB All-Star Games (also made four in the Negro Leagues). He led the league with 14 triples and 31 stolen bases and had a .922 OPS that season.

The three-time Gold Glove winner finished fourth in MVP voting in 1951, 1953, 1954, and 1960, and had another top-10 finish in 1957. Minoso finished his 20-year career between the Negro and Major Leagues with a .299 average, 216 stolen bases, 95 triples, .848 OPS, and 1,093 RBI in 1,946 games. The White Sox have a statue of Minoso outside Guaranteed Rate Field and his number nine jersey was retired by the team.  He passed away in 2015 at 89 years old.

Negro League Heroes

Major League Baseball started to recognize statistics in the Negro Leagues last year. That has opened up more opportunities for African American players to get their dues. O’Neil and Fowler were both pioneers for the sport. O’Neil was an ambassador for baseball and played 10 seasons with the Memphis Red Sox and Kansas City Monarchs. He went on to become a scout for the Chicago Cubs and then became the first black coach in league history with the Cubs. O’Neil also helped to found the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

John W. Jackson “Bud” Fowler is recognized as the first Black professional baseball player, beginning his career in 1878. The New York native faced blatant racism throughout his playing career. Despite that, he played an amazing 30 years in a variety of leagues. Opposing pitchers threw at him, baserunners spiked him at home plate, and teammates even refused to play if he took the field. When Black players were barred from the majors, Fowler played on a number of Minor League teams. He started out as a catcher but moved to second base because of arm issues.

If not for the color of his skin, Fowler would have been in the majors. His early years were during the barehanded era before gloves were used. While the specific number is not certain, it is believed that Fowler hit .308 over more than 2,000 professional at-bats. In Indianapolis in 1902, Fowler broke two ribs sliding into second. The injury caused complications that led to his death at age 54 in 1913.  The man who grew up in Cooperstown now returns to the hallowed grounds about 150 years after his family moved there. These latest additions to the Hall of Fame are another step towards more inclusion for the African American community and other minorities.

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