OPENING DAY: Remembering Minnie

Minnie in 1956 Spring Training, thanks to Sports Illustrated.

Minnie in 1956 Spring Training, thanks to Sports Illustrated.

When the White Sox take the field in US Cellular Field for their home opener, there will be less sunshine than there has been in years past. Part of their ceremonies will have to include saying goodbye to Minnie Minoso.

Orestes “Minnie” Minoso was born in Cuba in 1922, and began playing baseball in Cuba before coming to the United States in 1946 to play for the New York Cubans in the Negro National League. He played third base for the Cubans for three years, playing in the East-West All Star Game in his future home, Comiskey Park.

After the 1948 season, Bill Veeck signed him for the Cleveland Indians. Veeck had already signed Negro Leaguers such as Larry Doby and Satchel Paige, and the Indians won the World Series in 1948, the first integrated team to do so.

When Minoso played his first game for the Indians, he became the first black Cuban to play in the major leagues, getting the chance that greats like Martin Dihigo never got. He played a handful of games for Cleveland in 1949, and a few mre in 1951 before being traded to the Sox.

He then had an outstanding rookie season, hitting .324 with 10 home runs and 14 triples playing in cavernous Comiskey. He finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year race to Gil McDougald, despite having a statistically superior year. He also outshone another Yankee rookie, Mickey Mantle.

Minoso became one of baseball’s most exciting players, combining speed and power to become the Sox version of Mantle or Willie Mays. He never put up the huge numbers those players did, particularly home runs, but he still managed 4 years where he finished top 5 in MVP voting, and he (along with the oother members of the Go-Go Sox) were responsible for bringing the stolen base back as an offensive weapon.

He played with the Sox until December 1957, when he was traded along with Fred Hatfield back to Cleveland for Al Smith and Early Wynn. While that trade took away Minoso’s opportunity to play on the 1959 pennant winners, the team may not have made it to the World Series withut Smith or Wynn.

He was traded back to the Sox in December 1959, and his once-again owner Veeck gave him an honorary American League Champion ring. He had his last great season in 1960, hitting .311 and winning his third Gold Glove.

After the 1961 season, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. He spent a year there, then was sold to Washington. In the 1964 season, the Sox brought him back for his third tour. He played 30 games, mainly as a pinch hitter, before being released during the season.

You’d think that would be it, right? Minnie went to Mexico and played and coached there until 1973, when he came back to the Sox as a coach. When Veeck re-bought the Sox before the 1976 season, he signed the 50 year old Minoso to a player contract. Minnie played 3 games, going 1-for-8 as a DH.

Minnie also was activated in 1980 at age 54, and was hitless in 2 at bats. This meant he played in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. He also played in the 90s for an independent minor league team owned by Veeck’s son.

After his playing days were done, he was an ambassador for the Sox, always livening up the ballpark. He was also an elder statesman among Cuban baseball players, bridging the eras between the Negro Leagues and players who came later, like Tony Oliva and Luis Tiant, then Freddy Garcia and Jose Canseco, then Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu.

He’s got a statue outside US Cellular Park, and he’ll always be beloved among Sox fans.

Thanks Minnie.

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