By David Krival
(This article appeared in the Fall 1994 issue of HardBall Magazine)
|Minnie Minoso during his White Sox days.
||Minnie Minoso in June 1993 at Comiskey Park.
Minoso to Compete in MSBL World Series
One of the great players of his time, Minnie Minoso, was introduced to the MSBL by Jose Cardenal in 1989, when they joined an MSBL touring squad for an exhibition series in the Dominican Republic.
"We had a ball,” the ageless Minoso said. "Steve Sigler does everything first class.” Minnie and Steve were among the honored guests at the 1993 Rawlings Golden Glove Awards Dinner. "How are you, Mr. Commissioner?” Minnie greeted Steve with a grin. "How would you like me to play on your team in Arizona?”
The Cane Fields
Minnie was born in Matanza Province, Cuba on November 29, 1922. He learned to read in a one-room schoolhouse. After school he worked on a small ranch, where he mastered the art of breaking horses.
He led the cane field boys in pickup games against sugar company teams. Minnie learned to throw the curveball by watching older players, and soon developed a following among provincial fans.
At eleven, he joined his brother on a company team, earning $5 a day. At fourteen, a Havana factory team signed him. Minoso played a year there, then two in Oriente Province. In 1940, he moved up to the Mariano Club of the Cuban Major League. For five years, he was the toast of the Island.
The Color Line
In 1945, Minnie sailed north to play for the New York Cubans. He was the Negro League All Star third baseman in '47 and '48. After Jackie Robinson broke the color line, Cleveland signed Minoso.
Despite tearing up the Pacific Coast League in 1949, Minnie remained in the minors, converting to the outfield. Third baseman Al Rosen was a fine player, but many believe that Cleveland had filled its quota of black players with Larry Doby and Luke Easter. Minoso didn't get a real shot until 1951 with Chicago.
For a decade, Minnie was a star. Like Mantle and Mays, he could hit, run, throw, field and hit with power. In 1951 he hit .326 and led the American League in triples and stolen bases. The Baseball Writers named Gil McDougald Rookie of the Year. "If it didn't happen in the Big Apple,” Minnie's agent John Wasylik recalls, "no one noticed.”
Minoso led the AL in steals in '52 and '53, triples in '54 and '56, and doubles in 1957. Eight of ten years he hit over .300; he drove in over 100 runs four times. A seven-time All Star, his running catch saved the 1957 game for the Americans. He won four Gold Gloves. "In my day, the fans came first,” says Minoso. "Without the fans there is no Game. We always gave them one hundred percent.”
The Sox traded him in 1958, so he missed their only World Series since 1919. Back with Chicago in 1961, his last productive big league season, he hit .280 and drove home 105 runs.
Released in 1964, Minoso signed with the Mexican League. He hit .350 and won the MVP Award. Five years later, at 46, Minnie hit .359 to win the batting title. In all, he played and managed ten years in Mexico.
Chicago owner Bill Veeck brought Minoso back to coach in 1976. Veeck, the showman, reactivated Minnie twice. By pinch-hitting in 1976 and 1980, Minoso became the only player in big league history to play for five decades. Fans loved it when he lined a hit at the age of 53; critics called it a "sideshow.”
In 1990, Bill Veeck's son Mike put Minnie on the roster of his St. Paul Saints in the Northern League. By appearing there, Minoso became the only man in professional baseball history to play in six decades.
Minoso married for the second time on his birthday in 1989. His wife Sharon (34) bore him a son, Charlie, soon after. Jose Cardenal is Charlie's godfather.
His book, "Just Call Me Minnie: My Six Decades in Baseball,” co-authored by Herb Fagen, is a compelling account of an amazing baseball odyssey. (Published by Sagamore Publishing, the book was offered on sale at the 1994 World Series Trade Show, with Minnie on hand to autograph copies.)
Minoso belongs in the Hall of Fame. Had he not lost six years to Jim Crow, he would surely have produced 3,000 hits, 300 home runs, and 1,500 rbi. Everywhere—Cuba, the Negro Leagues, Minor Leagues, Major Leagues, Mexico—Minnie was a star. The best-loved player ever to wear the White Sox uniform, he played professional baseball full time for thirty years!
"Don't put me in the Hall after I'm dead,” Minnie said. "I want to taste it, like a good steak. I want to enjoy it.” Sounds reasonable to me.