Hall calls six via Golden Days, Early Baseball era committees
Kaat and Oliva, former teammates on the Minnesota Twins in the 1960s and 70s, were two of six legends elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, Dec. 5. Kaat and Oliva join fellow Golden Days Era electees Gil Hodges and Minnie Miñoso, along with Early Baseball Era electees Bud Fowler and Buck O’Neil. Fowler, Hodges, Miñoso and O’Neil are deceased.
“The added happiness that I have, in addition to a lot of the other men going into the Hall of Fame, is that I get to share it with my teammate Tony Oliva, who I have known for so long since he came up as a kid and developed into a Gold Glove outfielder,” Kaat said after he learned of his election. “For us Minnesota Twins, it’s going to be a great summer.”
The Golden Days Era Committee and the Early Baseball Era Committee held meetings Sunday, Dec. 5, in Orlando, Fla. The Golden Days Era Committee considered a ballot of 10 candidates whose primary contributions came from 1950-69. The Early Baseball Era Committee considered a 10-person ballot whose primary contributions came prior to 1950.
Kaat helped the Twins win the 1965 American League pennant and the Phillies win National League East titles from 1976-78 before transitioning to the bullpen, when he was a key member of manager Whitey Herzog’s bullpen as the Cardinals won the 1982 World Series.
Oliva spent his entire 15-year big league career with the Twins, winning three AL batting titles while leading the league in hits five times. The 1964 American League Rookie of the Year, Oliva was named to the All-Star Game in eight straight seasons from 1964-71 before knee injuries took their toll. A Gold Glove Award winner for his play in right field in 1966, Oliva became the first player in AL/NL history to win batting titles in each of his first two seasons. He received votes in the AL Most Valuable Player balloting in each season from 1964-71 and finished his career with a .304 batting average.
“There are a lot of other guys I’d rather see up there in a clutch situation,” said Hall of Fame skipper Whitey Herzog, who managed against Oliva and the Twins in the early 1970s. “You can’t make a bad pitch on him.”
Hodges went on to manage the Senators and Mets for nine seasons, leading New York to a memorable World Series title in 1969.
“He walked in and his physical presence changed what was going on immediately,” said Hall of Fame Class of 1992 member Tom Seaver, the pitching leader of the Amazing Mets. “Then, when he spoke, it changed even more. When you looked at the size of his hands, it changed even more.
“(Hodges) had a very strong personality. He had one way to run this business - as a professional. Pretty much from day one, he didn't try to make it too complicated. It was you, the player, understanding that there was a way you go about your business.”
Also, he was second among all players in the decade of the 1950s in home runs and RBIs, third in total bases and eighth in runs.
Miñoso, born in Cuba in 1925, starred in the Negro National League with the New York Cubans from 1946-48 before debuting with the Cleveland Indians in 1949. He played 17 seasons with the Indians, White Sox, Cardinals and Senators, becoming the first dark-skinned Latin American player to appear in an AL or NL game. Miñoso finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 1951 and earned the first of nine All-Star Game selections in the AL/NL Midsummer Classic that year. A three-time Gold Glove Award winner in left field, Miñoso led the AL in triples and stolen bases three times apiece and finished his career with 2,110 hits and a .299 batting average.
“Minnie Miñoso is to Latin ballplayers what Jackie Robinson is to black ballplayers,” wrote Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda in his 1998 autobiography. “Minnie is the one who made it possible for all us Latins.
“As much as I loved Roberto Clemente and cherish his memory, Minnie is the one who made it possible for all us Latins. Before Roberto Clemente, before Vic Power, before Orlando Cepeda, there was Minnie Miñoso.”
O’Neil played, managed, coached, scouted and served as an executive for nearly eight decades – but his incredible legacy expands far beyond just baseball. He broke into the Negro American League with the Memphis Red Sox in 1937, then latched on at first base for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1938.
From 1939-42, the Monarchs captured four consecutive Negro American League pennants.
In 1948, O’Neil was named player-manager of the Monarchs – a role he would hold until 1955. After signing on as a scout for the Chicago Cubs, the franchise promoted him to their major league coaching staff in 1962, making him the first Black coach to serve on an AL or NL roster.
“It's no wonder that baseball is considered America's pastime. Buck was one of its architects. He helped shape the game,” said Hall of Famer Lou Brock, a player signed to the Cubs by O’Neil. “But even greater, he shaped the character of young Black men. He touched the heart of everyone who loved the game. He gave us all a voice that could be heard on and off the field. We who were close to him will forever seek to walk in the shade of his shadow.”
The color of Fowler’s skin forced him into a more nomadic career than his white contemporaries. He manned second base for the Keokuk Hawkeyes in Iowa, appeared in the Colorado State League, signed with the Topeka Capitals, returned east to star for the Binghamton Crickets, ventured to Indiana to play for the Terre Haute Hoosiers, traveled Southwest to join the New Mexico League, represented Greenville in the Michigan State League and led the Nebraska State League in steals.
All told, historians estimate he played for more than a dozen leagues throughout the course of his career, while Fowler himself claimed to have played on teams “based in twenty-two different states and in Canada.”
Despite the lack of consistent playing time, Fowler played professionally for nearly two decades and his talents earned him recognition in the baseball community.
The 16-member Hall of Fame Board-appointed electorate commissioned with the review of the Early Baseball Era was comprised of Hall of Fame members Bert Blyleven, Fergie Jenkins, John Schuerholz, Ozzie Smith and Joe Torre; major league executives Bill DeWitt, Ken Kendrick and Tony Reagins; and veteran media members/historians Gary Ashwill, Adrian Burgos Jr., Leslie Heaphy, Jim Henneman, Justice Hill, Steve Hirdt, Rick Hummel and John Thorn. Hall of Fame Chairman of the Board Jane Forbes Clark and Hall of Famer Bud Selig served as non-voting co-Chairs for the Early Baseball Era Committee.
Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum; Craig Muder is the director of communications at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum