The lasting impact of six former players was finally, formally recognized on Dec. 5 with their small-committee selections to the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022.
Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Miñoso and Tony Oliva were elected by the Golden Days Era Committee, and Bud Fowler and Buck O’Neil were chosen by the Early Baseball Era Committee in voting that took place in Orlando, Fla. They will all be honored, along with Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot electee David Ortiz, at the July 24, 2022, induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Among the six players selected, only the 83-year-old Kaat and the 83-year-old Oliva are still living. Kaat and Oliva were teammates on the Twins from 1962-73.
“This is truly a gift,” Kaat said. “I truly never thought this day would come. But the added happiness I have is 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. For us Minnesota Twins, it’s going to be a great summer.”
This was the first meeting of both the Early Baseball Era and Golden Days Era Committees. The Early Baseball Era Committee considered candidates who made their contributions to baseball prior to 1950, while the Golden Days Era Committee considered candidates from 1950-69.
Hodges was an eight-time All-Star in an 18-year career as a first baseman for the Dodgers and Mets. He won three Gold Gloves and led the Dodgers to seven National League pennants and two World Series titles. Hodges’ 370 career homers were the third most by a right-handed hitter at the time of his retirement in 1963. He managed the 1969 Miracle Mets to the World Series title. Hodges passed away in 1972.
“He was one hell of a first baseman -- the prototype for a first baseman,” said Cleon Jones, who played for Hodges on those ’69 Mets. “For that alone, he should have been in [the Hall of Fame]. I know for a fact that he would have been a Hall of Fame manager had he lived.”
Kaat pitched 25 seasons with the Senators, Twins, White Sox, Phillies, Yankees and Cardinals. He won 283 games over four decades from 1959-83 and was a member of the 1982 World Series champion Cardinals. Kaat’s 625 career games started rank 17th all-time, and his 4,530 1/3 innings rank 25th. He is currently a broadcaster for MLB Network.
“I never was a No. 1 pitcher,” Kaat said. “The Hall of Fame rewards dominance. [Sandy] Koufax, [Bob] Gibson, [Juan] Marichal. I wasn’t dominant. I was durable, I was dependable. I was your No. 2 guy or No. 3 guy. But I’m grateful to the committee that they chose to reward some durability.”
Miñoso played 17 seasons with Cleveland, the White Sox, Cardinals and Senators. He was a nine-time AL/NL All-Star and four-time Negro Leagues All-Star, a three-time Gold Glove winner as an outfielder and a prominent member of the “Go-Go” White Sox of the 1950s and 60s. The Cuban native began his professional career in the Negro Leagues and blazed a trail for Latin American players in the big leagues. In an MLB career that spanned from 1949-80, he was only the second player to appear in a game in five different decades. He passed away in 2015.
Oliva, also a native of Cuba, played 15 seasons for the Twins. He won three batting titles and led the AL in hits five times. He was an eight-time All-Star and won the 1964 AL Rookie of the Year honor. He received AL MVP votes in each year from 1964-71. Oliva had missed enshrinement via the Golden Era Committee by just one vote in 2015.
“To be able to get that call. … You know, I’m 83 years old,” said Oliva, “to be alive and to be able to say hello to the people and thank you to the people means a lot to me.”
Fowler, who passed away in 1913, is often acknowledged as the first Black professional baseball player. He pitched and played second base for teams in more than a dozen leagues throughout his career. He actually spent part of his youth in Cooperstown before eventually helping form the successful Page Fence Giants barnstorming team.
O’Neil’s selection comes 15 years after he was controversially not among those who entered the Hall via the 2006 Special Committee on the Negro Leagues. O’Neil died shortly after that omission, and a life-size statue honoring him stands near the entrance to the Cooperstown museum. O’Neil played 10 seasons with the Memphis Red Sox and Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League and was named to three All-Star teams. He went on to become a scout and in 1962 became the first Black coach in the AL or NL with the Cubs. In his later years, he was a beloved ambassador for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.
At a Negro Leagues Baseball Museum watch party, the room erupted when O’Neil’s name was called.
“It is a lot of jubilation,” NLBM president Bob Kendrick said. “We had a tremendous gathering of folks who came out to hang out with us today. … There’s a lot of relief, obviously. We’re thrilled that Bud Fowler has gotten the call. And as you can imagine, we’re just ecstatic that our very own Buck O’Neil is now taking his rightful place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.”
The meeting of the Early Baseball Era Committee marked the first time since the 2006 Special Committee on Negro Leagues that Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues candidates were up for vote. The 2006 committee election had resulted in 17 Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues candidates earning election. Now, with the selections of Fowler and O’Neil, the total number of primary Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues legends chosen for the Hall of Fame is 37. This increase comes one year after MLB announced that a number of Negro Leagues will be formally recognized as major leagues in the record books.
To be selected in the committee-election process, a candidate had to appear on at least 75 percent (12 votes) of ballots cast by the 16-member committees.
Golden Days Era candidates who were not selected included Dick Allen (one vote short), Ken Boyer, Roger Maris, Danny Murtaugh, Billy Pierce and Maury Wills.
The Golden Days Era Committee voters were Hall of Famers Rod Carew, Fergie Jenkins, Mike Schmidt, John Schuerholz, Bud Selig, Ozzie Smith and Joe Torre; Major League executives Al Avila, Bill DeWitt, Ken Kendrick, Kim Ng and Tony Reagins; and veteran media members/historians Adrian Burgos Jr., Steve Hirdt, Jaime Jarrin and Jack O’Connell.
Candidates on the Early Baseball Era ballot who were not selected included Bill Dahlen, John Donaldson, Vic Harris, Grant “Home Run” Johnson, Lefty O’Doul, Dick “Cannonball” Redding, Allie Reynolds and George “Tubby” Scales.
The Early Baseball Era Committee voters were Hall of Famers Bert Blyleven, Jenkins, Schuerholz, Smith and Torre, Major League executives DeWitt, Kendrick and Reagins and veteran media members/historians Gary Ashwill, Burgos, Leslie Heaphy, Jim Henneman, Justice B. Hill, Hirdt, Rick Hummel and official MLB historian John Thorn.