When seven new members are officially inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Sunday, at some point, Dayton, might be mentioned in the ceremonies.
Dayton is where the late Saturnino Orestes Armas “Minnie” Minoso started in “organized” baseball, in 1948, playing briefly and spectacularly for the Dayton Indians.
“Dayton was a pretty good little town,” said Minoso in an interview with the Dayton Daily News in 1990, from his home in Chicago. “It was very quiet, and the people were very decent. They fell in love with me.”
There was a lot to love if you were a baseball fan of the Dayton Indians. Minoso, a black Cuban, saw a path to the major leagues after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color ban with the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers, and Larry Doby was signed by the Cleveland Indians later that season.
Major league teams were still slow to sign black players, but Minoso said he turned down a $30,000, three-year offer to play in Mexico to play instead in 1946-48 for the New York Cubans in the Negro Leagues.
Near the end of the 1948 season, Cleveland signed Minoso – a third baseman and shortstop then – and dispatched him to their Class A affiliate in Dayton.
He arrived on Sept. 2 and both the Dayton Daily News and Dayton Journal Herald called him Areste Minoso, leaving the “s” off the end of his first name and never mentioning “Minnie,” for which he would become famous later.
In 11 games for the Dayton team, Minoso cranked out 21 hits in 40 at-bats, hit a homer, triple and seven doubles, knocked in eight runs and stole six bases.
His batting average was an eye-popping .525 with an on-base percentage of .587 and a slugging percentage of .825.
About halfway through his tenure here, Dayton manager Joe Vosmik – who hit .307 in 13 major league seasons – told The Daily News, “If he can keep going like we have seen him go, he’s definitely in the wrong league. The boy can field, throw, hit and run.”
Minoso kept going on a team that finished 84-55 in the old Central League and had two other brief-term future major leaguers on the roster - first baseman Herb Conyers and pitcher Jose Santiago.
Conyers hit .333 with Cleveland over seven games in 1950 and Santiago won two games in 1955 with a 2.48 ERA. Santiago also appeared in one Cleveland game in 1954.
All that pales next to Minoso’s record of a .299 batting average, 195 home runs and 1,089 RBIs spread over 20 major league seasons.
Minoso originally retired in 1964 but appeared in three 1976 games and two in 1980 with the White Sox so he could play in five decades. Over his career, he also played for Cleveland, St. Louis and Washington.
Because of his record and longevity, he has long been a Hall of Fame candidate and died at age 91 on March 1, 2015, well before the Veterans Committee voted him into the Hall.
Two long-time members of baseball’s Hall of Fame – third baseman Mike Schmidt and pitcher Jesse Haines – have clearer ties to the Dayton area - Schmidt was born and raised here and Haines was born in Clayton, living most of his life in nearby Phillipsburg.
And in the future, if Reds first baseman Joey Votto gets the call, he’ll have parts of two seasons with the Dayton Dragons on his resume.
But there’s no denying where Minoso got his start.
Before he died, he didn’t want to regret not making it to the Hall of Fame in his lifetime.
“I never want to be in something people don’t think I deserve,” he said in 1990. “I am not going to say I belong in the baseball Hall of Fame. I would like to be there, but if I don’t, I’ll still be happy.”
He’s in the Hall of Fame now and so, in a way, is Dayton.
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