Last December, the Golden Era Committee of the Hall of Fame, which considers players whose primary contributions occurred from 1950 through 1969, met and finally righted a wrong.
Those years marked the time when the baseball world was introduced to the dynamic Orestes ‘Minnie’ Miñoso, the Cuban Comet, whose exploits in the outfield and at bat were finally recognized by the committee for enshrinement last month.
Until that moment, he was the best player waiting outside 25 Main Street in Cooperstown, New York, 13326.
Too bad he couldn’t live to see it. Having passed away in 2015, his wife and family members represented him at the induction ceremony.
Consider this: From 1951 through 1961, he was second only to Mickey Mantle in runs scored, extra base hits and total bases. Mantle, Willie Mays and Stan Musial are the only players who matched Minnie during that time in average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He ranked third in hits behind Nellie Fox and Richie Ashburn. Miñoso had more steals and a better OPS than both and each preceded him into the Hall. He also received nine All-Star designations and three Gold Glove Awards.
Inspired by Jackie Robinson’s signing in 1945, Minnie Miñoso emigrated from his native Cuba. He then spent three years in the Negro National League, where he helped win a championship for the New York Cubans.
Before the 1948 season, Cleveland owner, the great Bill Veeck, bought Miñoso contract for $15,000. But the major league club was so talented, ultimately winning a World Series that season, Miñoso spent two years tearing up the Pacific Coast League.
Bill Veeck’s son, Mike, the long time, highly successful baseball executive, told me this year, “I don’t think Miñoso thought that playing in the major leagues was possible until Jackie Robinson. He certainly realized that maybe there was that opportunity for him.”
Once he arrived in 1951 for good, Miñoso began blazing a trail for Black and Latin American athletes to come. A player who had looked to Jackie Robinson’s example, he became a similar source of inspiration for his community.
But that opportunity came at a price. In his first full season, Miñoso was hit by a pitch 16 times. He led the majors in that category nine times in his career.
While other Cuban and Latino players had made it to the majors before him, Miñoso’s dark skin made him subject to much of the same racism Robinson faced. But just a few years removed from his life in Cuba, he didn’t have the command of the English language to respond.
“He was the recipient of flagrant racism,” said Veeck. “But he had very little vitriol in his system. He never acted as if he was dealt a bad hand even though one could argue that he was. And the way he played, he was a huge inspiration for younger players, running out every ground ball, no matter what.”
As the White Sox prepare to take on the Guardians this Sunday on Peacock, it’s worth remembering that Miñoso was a pivotal and memorable figure for both teams.
He was traded by Cleveland to the White Sox early in 1951. After the 1957 season, he was dealt back to Cleveland where he played two years before returning to the White Sox after they lost the 1959 World Series to the Dodgers.
That team was now owned by Bill Veeck.
The younger Veeck told me of the dynamic between the two franchises: “In the old days, this was a tremendous duel of the titans. There was a huge rivalry between Chicago and Cleveland. Miñoso wasn’t in the ’59 World Series and yet, my dad gave him an American League championship ring as a token of their esteem.”
Minnie Miñoso retired after the 1964 season and remained in Chicago as a team ambassador.
Bill Veeck sold and later reacquired the White Sox and had an idea in 1976: letting Minnie Miñoso, by then working in the club’s community relations department, suit up once more to become a four-decade player.
At age 52, he went 1-for-8 and struck out only twice.
Bill Veeck wasn’t done.
1980 was the dawning of a new decade so it was time, once again, to reactivate Minnie Miñoso.
At age 56, he went 0-for-2 but didn’t strike out in becoming a five-decade player.
When Mike Veeck became an owner of the minor league St. Paul Saints, Miñoso made another cameo in 1993, having his name written in the scorecard in six different decades.
Then, in 2003, Miñoso became the first player to play professional baseball in seven decades when he returned to St. Paul.
He walked…at age 77.
Minnie Miñoso never forgot what Bill Veeck did for him.
“When my dad died,” Mike Veeck said, “Minnie showed up as the highest-ranking official from baseball. He showed up in the ’76 White Sox uniform.”
Saturnino Orestes Arrieta Armas Miñoso got a late start in the major leagues at age 25. But he made up for lost time, his best years putting him in the company of the game’s eternals, Mays, Mantle and Musial.
On the South Side of Chicago, “Mr. White Sox” was bigger.