by MARK SIMON
With little positive news to report on the MLB lockout, Sunday was a good day to celebrate baseball history.
It was also a good day for those who like to celebrate great defense in baseball.
The Baseball Hall of Fame elected six candidates – Bud Fowler and Buck O’Neil were voted in by the Early Baseball Era Committee. Gil Hodges, Minnie Miñoso, Tony Oliva, and Jim Kaat were elected by the Golden Days Era Committee.
Fowler is regarded as baseball’s first African-American pro player. He played 10 seasons of organized professional baseball in the latter part of the 19th century. The street leading to Doubleday Field in Cooperstown is named in his honor.
O’Neil was a first baseman in the Negro Leagues who later became MLB’s first Black coach, and as a scout he signed future Hall of Famer Lou Brock for the Cubs. He later became one of the greatest ambassadors for the sport and was best known in his later years for his appearance in the Ken Burns documentary, Baseball.
We mentioned it being a great day to celebrate defense. O’Neil was heralded for his glovework. It was a key talking point for Negro League Hall of Fame president Bob Kendrick in promoting O’Neil’s election.
“There were very few who played defense like Buck O’Neil,” Kendrick said.
The election was a long time coming for Hodges, whose candidacy had been considered since his first appearance on the BBWAA ballot in 1969.
Hodges hit 370 home runs and won three Gold Gloves in an 18-year career in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, then won a World Series managing the 1969 Mets. He likely would have won more Gold Gloves had the award existed in the earlier part of his career. He was a three-time leader in a predecessor to Defensive Runs Saved, Total Zone Runs (found on Baseball-Reference.com).
As a hitter, Hodges’ prime years were with the Dodgers from 1950 to 1957, during which he hit .283 with an .897 OPS and averaged 33 home runs and 107 RBI. He won a World Series with them in 1955 and 1959.
Miñoso is another player who would have won more Gold Gloves than the three he copped in the latter part of his prime years. Including three seasons in the Negro Leagues, he hit .299 with a .387 on-base percentage for his career, primarily with the White Sox. He played from 1946 to 1964 then had a couple of plate appearances in cameo appearances in later years).
Miñoso led his league in triples four times, stolen bases three times, and hit by pitches 10 times. He was a 13-time All-Star whose No. 9 was retired by the White Sox in 1983.
Oliva was a base hit machine in his prime with the Twins, the only team he played with over 15 seasons. He led the AL in hits five times in seven seasons from 1964 to 1970 and he won the batting title three times. Like Hodges, he was a three-time leader in Total Zone Runs. He won a Gold Glove in 1966. Newspaper stories from the time salute his “rifle arm” and defensive improvement due to hard work.
Oliva’s longtime teammate, Kaat, won 16 Gold Gloves as a pitcher in a career that lasted from 1959 to 1983. He ranks 17th all-time in games started, 25th in innings pitched, and he won 283 games with five teams. In a 2018 interview with Cardinals broadcaster Dan McLaughlin, Kaat said he modeled his fielding after a pitcher he grew up admiring, Bobby Shantz of the Philadelphia Athletics, throwing a baseball against a garage door to practice his reactions.
Congratulations to all the new Hall of Famers!