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Oliva & Minoso in The Hall of Fame

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(My new American Thinker post)

Last Sunday, Tony Oliva and Minnie Minoso finally made it to Cooperstown.  I got to see it on TV.  My late father, and lots of Cubans, probably got to see it up in heaven.

As a very little boy in Cuba, my father used to take us to watch baseball games.  It was the four-team Cuban winter league, or the cream of the crop in Caribbean baseball.  My father saw a young Brooks Robinson, Lefty Tommy Lasorda, and aspiring Major-Leaguers who knew that a good Cuban winter league session would get them noticed in spring training.

It was also the league to catch the Cuban stars like Minoso, Camilo Pascual, Pedro Ramos, Cookie Rojas, etc.  I don’t remember all of the details, but there was a lot of cigar smoke in the air and intensity whenever Orestes “Minnie” Minoso would come to the plate.  Later, my father told me that Minoso was booed if he didn’t slide hard or dive for an outfield fly ball.  Cuban fans heard about his stolen bases up here and wanted the same down there.  My guess is that the White Sox did not really want to see their star player play winter ball in Cuba, but the pressure on Minoso was overwhelming.

Years later, our family took a weekend trip to Minneapolis to watch Oliva and the Twins.  They were a great team and had four Cuban players: A.L. MVP Zoilo Versalles, the great curve ball artist Camilo Pascual, back-up outfielder Sandy Valdespino, and Oliva.  It was such a treat to catch our first Major League game and see Tony Oliva hit a line drive to the wall.

They are now in Cooperstown, and that’s exactly where they need to be.

Saturnino Orestes Armas Miñoso was born in Perico, Cuba, a sugar plantation.  It was very common for plantations to have baseball teams in pre-Castro Cuba, and the rest is history:

The White Sox quickly put Miñoso in their everyday lineup, where he finished the season with a .326 batting average, 112 runs scored and an American League-best 14 triples and 31 steals. He finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year vote to Gil McDougald of the Yankees, and fourth in the AL Most Valuable Player voting.

Miñoso quickly demonstrated he could play baseball as well or better than almost anyone else around. Between 1951 and 1957, Miñoso led the league in triples three times, stolen bases three times, scored 100 or more runs four times and recorded at least 100 RBI three times. In those seven years, he was named to five All-Star teams, finished in the top 10 of the AL MVP voting four times and won a Gold Glove Award for his play in the outfield in 1957 — the first year Gold Glove Awards were presented.

Pedro Tony Oliva was born in Pinar del Rio and learned to play baseball on his father’s farm.  He was spotted by a Twins scout, and they got him of Castro’s Cuba with his brother’s passport.

In 1964, our family arrived in the U.S., and the legend of Tony Oliva began:

He played a handful of MLB games at the end of the 1962 and 1963 seasons before earning a starting job in 1964.

That year, Oliva was the runaway winner of the American League Rookie of the Year after hitting a league-leading .323 with 32 home runs and 94 RBI — to go along with AL-highs in runs (109), hits (217) and doubles (43) while totaling 374 total bases, tying the rookie record.

His knock-kneed stance and golf-like swing left some wondering how Oliva produced his impressive totals, but the results spoke for themselves.

Oliva won another batting title in 1965 when he hit .321, becoming the first player ever to win batting crowns in his first two full seasons. Oliva finished second in the AL Most Valuable Player voting that year, leading the Twins to the AL pennant with 16 homers, 98 RBI and a league-best 185 hits.

In 1966, Oliva led the AL in hits for the third straight year (191) while winning a Gold Glove Award for his play in right field. His batting average dropped to .289 in both 1967 and 1968 as pitchers dominated play, but he rebounded with a .309 average and a league-best 197 hits in 1969 while leading the Twins to the first AL West title. He was even better in 1970, hitting .325 with 23 homers and a career-high 107 RBI along with his fifth AL hits crown (204) en route to another second-place finish in the MVP race. The Twins again won the AL West crown.

But in 1971, a play in the field forever altered Oliva’s career. On wet grass in Oakland, Oliva dove for a fly ball and injured his right knee. He finished with season batting .337 — good for his third AL batting crown — then missed all but 10 games the following year while rehabbing the knee.

He returned as a designated hitter from 1973-75, then spent 1976 as a coach/pinch-hitter in his final season.

The knee injury probably kept him from reaching 3,000 hits and a couple of more batting titles.

They are now enshrined in Cooperstown, and future generations will read about them.  I guess I was the lucky one because I saw them both with my father.  What a great memory.

P.S.  You can listen to my show.  If you like our posts, please look for ”Donate” on the right column of the blog page.

Written by scantojr

July 31, 2022 at 7:00 am

Posted in US politics

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