When baseball fans talk about Hispanic players before 1960, what they really mean are the Cubans, from an era when scouts prowling Latin America focused their attention on Havana, scouring the Caribbean island for talented ballplayers.
The era that saw 121 "Cubanos" become major leaguers ended abruptly when political tensions prompted Fidel Castro to cut off the talent flow to the United States, which now relies on the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico for the bulk of its Hispanic talent.
But the Hall of Fame's veterans committee could pay tribute to the Cuban era Wednesday when it names its newest members. The 26 ballplayers getting a "second chance" at the Hall include three of Cuba's best baseball exports.
Former Minnesota Twins outfielder Tony Oliva and Minnie Minoso of the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians are both being considered, as is Adolfo Luque, a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants who was the first Hispanic ballplayer to have an extended playing career in the United States.
Oliva was the last Cuban ballplayer signed before Castro shut out the United States. The 27 Cuban-born players since then are U.S.-raised children of exiles such as Jose Canseco or defectors like Orlando Hernandez.
The only reason Oliva was not released after a poor first year in the minor leagues was that the Twins did not want him to have to return to communist Cuba.
Oliva went on to become a Twins star during the 1960s and early 1970s, winning three batting titles. He suffered severe knee injuries that ended his career after 11 full seasons. His statistics fall short of Hall of Fame players, whose careers lasted as many as 20 seasons.
Samuel Regalado, a California State University-Stanislaus history professor who studies the Latin American presence in U.S. baseball, said he thinks Oliva's record is worthy.
"He came in strong during his career," Regalado said.
Others think it is appropriate to extrapolate what Oliva could have done with four or five more seasons as a player.
"If he had not had the problems with his knees, he definitely would have gotten 3,000 hits," said Roland Hemond, who has worked in the front offices of the Boston and the Milwaukee Braves, Los Angeles Angels, Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles and Arizona Diamondbacks during five decades in baseball.
"That (Oliva) could still play with bad wheels was proof he had the ability."
Extrapolation is also needed for Minoso, who played a significant role in the racial integration of baseball.
While Hispanic players had been around since 1902 and the first Cubans played in the Major Leagues in 1911 (Rafael Almeida and Armando Marsans of the Reds), they were all light-skinned. The old Washington Senators were notorious for their use of Cuban ballplayers (39 in all) to fill out their rosters as inexpensively as possible.
But dark-skinned Hispanics who wanted to play professionally in the United States were relegated to the Negro Leagues. One of Cuba's greatest players, Martin Dihigo, was a Hall of Fame contemporary of Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige.
Minoso played in the United States for two years for the New York Cubans of the Negro National League. That's where he was when Jackie Robinson broke the Major League color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, followed by Larry Doby with the Cleveland Indians in the American League in 1948.
When combined with his time playing professionally in Cuba, Minoso was a highly experienced "rookie" when he first played in the majors with the Indians in 1949. But he didn't get a chance to play regularly until traded to the White Sox two years later at age 27, immediately becoming their star of the 1950s.
"If he would have been in the majors at 20 or 21 instead of having to do those other things like Cuba or the Negro Leagues, he would have had the extra statistics to put him in the hall," Hemond said. As it was, Minoso played in seven All-Star games, won three stolen base titles and three Gold Gloves during the 1950s.
Some believe Minoso should get credit for his two years in the Negro Leagues, noting Doby's Hall of Fame biography includes his four years with the Newark Eagles, as well as his time with the Indians, Detroit Tigers and White Sox.
"If they could put Doby in, why not Minoso?" asked Bill "Moose" Skowron, a first baseman for the New York Yankees back when they dominated the American League and Minoso's White Sox and Indians teams usually finished in second place.
Going against Minoso is that he fell short of 2,000 base hits (only 1,963) and never played for a pennant-winning team. "Minoso doesn't have the numbers to warrant the Hall," Regalado said. "He is popular in Chicago but doesn't have the kind of support elsewhere."
Minoso also is hurt by pinch-hitting stints he did for the White Sox in 1976 and 1980, which make him the only player to appear in games during parts of five decades. It causes a younger generation to think of Minoso as a curiosity, rather than as one of the best ballplayers of the 1950s -- one who Skowron said would have been good enough to start alongside Mickey Mantle and Hank Bauer in the Yankees outfield of that era.
Minoso won't tout himself, saying, "I played the only way I knew how." But he thinks Luque, who won 194 games from 1916 to 1935 and is one of the longest-lasting pitchers ever in U.S. baseball, is worthy of the Hall of Fame.
Luque, nicknamed "The Pride of Havana," is the first Hispanic to lead the league in wins, earned run average and winning percentage. He also is the first Hispanic to pitch in a World Series (1919, for Cincinnati against the White Sox).
"He was a special player who lasted for so many years," Minoso said. "That should count for something."
(Hispanidad is a weekly column about the culture of Hispanics and Latinos in the United States, written by Greg Tejeda, a third-generation Mexican-American. Suggestions for topics can be made to firstname.lastname@example.org)