That’s Amaury’s News and Commentary: Orestes (Minnie) Miñoso: Worthy of Cooperstown

February 28, 2017

MLB

AP file photo: Chicago White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez (9) is greeted during introductions while he wears a Minnie Minoso jersey before the White Sox home-opener against the Minnesota Twins, Friday, April 10, 2015 in Chicago. Minoso past away in 2015. (AP Photo/David Banks)

By Amaury Pi Gonzalez

It was on March 1, 2015, two years ago, that Orestes (Minnie) Miñoso was found dead in the driver’s seat of his car near a gas station in Chicago at 1 am, after attending a friend’s birthday party the previous day. An autopsy found that he died from a torn pulmonary artery.He was 91. A pioneer, he was the first Black-Hispanic player in the major leagues, a Cuban Negro League and Major League Baseball player, who began his career in 1946 and became an All Star third baseman with the New York Cubans. In 1948 hit .403 for the NY Cubans and led the team in total bases with 44. Signed by the Cleveland Indians after the 1948 season, just a year after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was inducted into multiple baseball Halls of Fame in Latin America, but never in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, at Cooperstown, New York.He is however, in The Hispanic Heritage Baseball and Hall of Fame in San Francisco, California.

As a kid I remember Minnie playing left field for Tigres de Marianao(Marianao Tigers) of the old Cuban Professional Winter League in Havana at Estadio del Cerro(now Estadio Latinoamericano). He was my favorite Cuban player of all time. I was fortunate to meet him while he was playing in 1980 with the Chicago White Sox on a visit to the Oakland Coliseum. He was wearing those ridiculous black uniforms with shorts as he told me he felt embarrassed because, as he told me in the White Sox dugout hours before a game: “Look, I have ugly looking knees”. He played from 1949 to 1980, five decades, although at the end of his career was more of a promotional thing, he only played two games in 1980.Bill Veeck was the White Sox owner, a promoter and innovator, who came up with the idea of shorts instead of regular pants for his players, he was famous for other controversial promotions like the unforgettable “Disco Demolition Night”at Comiskey Park. Like Charlie O Finley with the Athletics, Veeck was another “piece of work”in a game never short of characters.

In 2007 when I was at US Cellular Field in Chicago traveling with the LA Angels, I asked Minnie if he could to sit with me for a few innings, since my broadcast partner had to go to English television and do most of the game that night. I was doing a solo, and I would love Minnie to join me on the air. Minnie sat with me for almost the whole game, and at one time in between innings (off the mike) he told me: “I feel like I am in Cuba doing the game with you here”.

His anecdotes were great, he had a tremendous sense of humor. He enjoyed every minute.

When he signed a $25,000 contract with the White Sox to play in the late 50’s with the Go-Go Sox, that “high”salary was almost a scandal in Cuba. It was a huge story in Cuba, he drove his brand new Cadillac in the streets of Havana, with droves of kids following him asking to shake his hand. Those Cadillacs of that era where commonly known in Cuba as: “cola de pato” trans: “duck tail” because of its design. He was without a doubt one, -if not-, the most popular baseball player in Cuba’s history. Idolized by kids and adults, as kids in Cuba, we all imitated the way he stood at the plate, really crowding the plate and at one time, for many years, he held the major league record for most ‘hit by pitches’. He was Mr Hustle before Pete Rose began his career, he was one of the first players, I remember, sliding into first base trying to beat a grounder in the infield.

Like the majority of Cuban-born baseball players of that time, left the island because he loved the freedom of traveling to the United States to play ball and then returning back to Cuba to live and play in the old Cuban Professional Winter League, but after the government of Cuba banned all professional sports in the island in 1961, he had no choice but to leave Cuba for good. Most people should understand, that even before Castro with Fulgencio Batista(another dictator)in power, even then, the players had the freedom to travel in and out of the country.

Minnie was your typical ‘old school’ baseball player, he played the way the game was intended to be played. He never liked the designated hitter rule (which began in 1973), he used to say: “Jugar solo para batear, eso no es beisbol” trans: “To play just to hit, that is not baseball”. It has been two years since Minnie left us. He was a great example to all players, especially those that came from Latin America, his presence was always felt, on the field talking to some young rookie, or in the press box/stands in Chicago,as he was always mingling with the media and the fans and always had a kind smile a kind word, and usually a story or two to tell. He was 100X100 pure baseball. He once said “Eso es todo lo que yo conozco, jugar pelota, y siempre lo unico que he querido hacer” trans: “This is all I know, to play baseball and the only thing I ever wanted to do”

2015 was a sad year for both Chicago teams. Minoso, known as Mr.White Sox died five weeks after the Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks. known as Mr. Cub, another of baseball early black stars. But after the regular season, Ozzie Guillen’s White Sox swept the Houston Astros to win their first World Series in 88 seasons, and the third in their history. So at the end, at least for the South Siders 2015 ended on a cheerful note. Too bad Minnie Minoso was not there to see it. Next season 2016, the Chicago White Sox Media Guide was dedicated to Orestes(Minnie)Minoso, as the White Sox honored his number 9 which was on every White Sox players uniform sleeve.

Minnie Minoso played 12 seasons with the White Sox over five decades. The seven-time All-Star was The Sporting News Rookie of the Year in 1951. His number 9 with the White Sox, was retired in 1983. He was the man who defined the Go-Go Sox of the late 1950’s. There still a chance that Orestes(Minnie)Minoso gets elected to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, through veterans committees channels, he could still have a 60% change of making it.

Amaury Pi Gonzalez is the Vice President of the Major League Baseball Hispanic Heritage Museum, the Spanish radio voice for the A’s and the TV Spanish voice for the Angels and does News and Commentary at http://www.sportsradioservice.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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