The Death of Minnie Miñoso, The First Black Latino in MLB

History

On March 1st 2015, we received the sad news of the death of one of baseball’s all-time great Latino players, the Cuban Minnie Miñoso. In 1949, he became the first black Hispanic player to play in the major leagues.  Miñoso made his debut on April 19th, with the Cleveland Indians. His performance was ephemeral, as he just completed 16 innings that year.  Remember that during this time, racism against blacks was still rooted and Jackie Robinson had just broken the racial barrier when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers (today from Los Angeles) just on April 15, 1947.

At the end of the 1950 season with the San Diego Padres, an AAA team of the Cleveland Indians, Miñoso had an outstanding performance, finishing as a top player in the League with 203 hits, 40 doubles, and a RBI of .339. Consequently, by the end of the season, he was acquired by the Chicago White Sox. The Cuban player, made his debut with the team on May 1, 1951. On the first pitch of his first at bat against the pitcher of the Yankees, Vic Raschi, he hit a home run.  He was an instant star, and started a decade of glory, becoming the greatest Latino player in the 1950s, as well as one of the star of the big show in that golden era.

Miñoso played 12 of his 17 campaigns of MLB in Chicago, batting .304, with 135 home runs and 808 RBIs for the White Sox. In 1983, the team retired his number 9.  Consequently, the White Sox put a statue of Miñoso at U.S. Cellular Field, the new name for Comiskey Park. The relationship of Miñoso to the White Sox was always extraordinary, a genuine Idol, for all the Chicago fans.

Saturnino Orestes Armas Miñoso Arrieta (his birth name), was born in a place called Finca La Lonja, el Perico in Matanzas, Cuba, a suburb of Havana. Many believe that he was born in 1923 others in 1925, the truth is that he had a great life, dying at approximate age 90.  In 2012, I had the privilege to spend time with the first black MLB Hispanic star, when we were in the ceremony of the Latino Hall of Fame in Altos de Chavon, Dominican Republic.

It was a historic morning, we had breakfast together along with Tom Lasorda, Rafael Avila, Pat Gillick, among others, and we had a great time. During this occasion, we remembered his two Caribbean Series won with the Tigers of Marianao, on 1957 and 1958, as the first team to win the event in consecutive years. Also, we talked about his great years in Chicago playing alongside Alfonso “chico” Carrasquel. Precisely, in 1951, Chico was the first Latino to participate in a MLB All-Star Game, and during that game in the 6th inning Miñoso came to batting following him.  In 1951, Miñoso finished with a batting average of. 326. He led the American League in triples with 14 and 31 stolen bases. With this numbers he was elected the American League Rookie of the year. But, as it used to happen at the time, the award was given to Gil McDougald, who had lower numbers, but played for the New York Yankees. Oh, and he was white. Hmm!

Miñoso played most of his career guarding the left field. In 1957 he was the first Latino to win a gold glove award. It was the year when the award was created and was given to the entire league, in 1958 it began to be awarded in both leagues. The Cuban is just one of two players to play at a major league match in five different decades.

He had his last hit in 1976 at the age of 53 and left 2-0 in a game in 1980 against the White Sox, who had worked diligently for many years trying to induct the Cuban player into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  “When I saw play Minnie Miñoso, I always thought that I was watching a player from the Hall of Fame,” said the owner of the White Sox, Jerry Reinsdorf. “I never understood why Minnie was not elected.”

Miñoso played in the golden age of baseball, despite being difficult years for black players, especially in the treatment that they received while they were traveling, hotels, restaurants, etc. Many black players could not stay in the same hotel with the rest of the team instead they stayed in houses of black families.  “During my first years in the League my ears heard terrible things, but I told them that everything entered by one ear and came out the other.” Stated Miñoso, who knew how to cope with the time.

The man did everything: ran, fielding, batted with power, touch and steal bases, he was an exciting player who could pack a punch for the game. He was selected to nine MLB All-Star games and won three gold gloves awards. In addition, he retained for many years the record of being the player with most hits by pitches, with 192. “It was not easy, and many of them were obviously intentional, I acted as if nothing happened.  I got hit and walked to first.” He said.

He ended his career with an average of  .298 (6.579 – AB, 1963-H), He led the American League in triples, three times, one doubles, one in hits and three times on shortchanged bases.

Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso left, but left us a legacy. The first African blood player born in the Pearl of the Antilles, who was able to play in the league with the best baseball in the world, and did so with an outstanding performance. May God have you in his glory.

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