Minnie Miñoso was this typist’s favorite player

Surely it wasn’t the first name. Saturnino Orestes Armas Miñoso Arrieta had no trace of exotic sophistication for a cartoon-fed seven-year-old in 1960. But Minnie’s moniker grabbed and held. Always does.

Minnie Miñoso is back in the news this weekend. He will be inducted by committee into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, years or decades late and there is no third chance. His exclusion, so far, was one of those historic head shakers, like Cary Grant who never won an Oscar.

Except Minnie is in the game and that matters to this old fan, who remembers first seeing the player they called the Cuban Comet at Cleveland’s long-lost Municipal Stadium while on a baseball trip. father-son just 62 years ago.

The years that followed evaporated too quickly, but not the memories. What a baseball player this man was, though he perhaps disproportionately remembered an old age slapstick that certainly didn’t enhance his dignity.

What is being celebrated now is his status as the first Afro-Latino star in the major leagues. He led the first generation of Latino players to All-Star status and was the Chicago White Sox’s first black player – four years after Jackie Robinson pulled back what was called the cotton curtain of the Chicago White Sox. baseball in Brooklyn.

In other words: in more than six decades of following baseball and sometimes very closely, Minnie Miñoso was this typist’s favorite player. Period.

Modern baseball accountants, who claim that the poetry of the game can be explained by sometimes impenetrable numbers, often distill capacity into a number called WAR, or win above replacement. Alumni note that during Minnie’s heyday in the 1950s, he led the American League in hat-tricks and steals three times apiece, averaging over .300, won a Gold Glove and perfected the “flight first”. Nine times he led the league in being hit by pitches. There are other stats, but if you prefer WAR, the league leaders in the 1950s were Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams, who you might have heard of. Third on this list is Minnie Miñoso.

Other accountants have guessed that in the majors, minors, Negro League, Cuban leagues, and winters in Mexico, where he still played well into his fifties, Miñoso racked up more than 4,000 lifetime hits. Needless to say more about the big league stats, beyond this kicker: he didn’t fully reach the majors until he was 29 (more or less). His stat peak was greatly flattened by the fusion of skin pigment and organized ignorance.

Miñoso was born in November 1922, or possibly 1923, in El Perico, not far from Havana. (The date is still uncertain.) His parents worked in the sugar cane fields. Orestes – Minnie’s nickname came years later to the United States – grew up loving baseball and in particular Martin Dihigo, probably the greatest player in Cuba (some would say in the hemisphere). He graduated as a teenager from cutting the cane to rolling cigars for a living, but his baseball talent led him, in 1946, to the New York Cubans of the Negro National League, the great era of the superb ball players excluded from the big leagues. He spent three years with the Cubans, including once winning the Negro League World Series, before Bill Veeck, who owned the Cleveland Indians and had already signed the great Larry Doby, his league’s first black player, failed. put Miñoso under contract. But the Indians were loaded; they won the World Series in 1948 (none since) and whether or not there was a quota for black players – the evidence is inconclusive but suspicion abounds – there was no room for Cleveland for Miñoso beyond a 1949 handful at bat.

After dominating the minor leagues for two seasons, he was traded to Chicago. The rest is history; second in 1951 in the rookie of the year vote, made the all-star team and eight others, and soon, with his utter hustle, earned another nickname: Mr. White Sox.

The best description of him came from a delightful article called “The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book”. He felt that Miñoso “sprayed shots all over the pitch, never swung on bad ground, cluttered the plate, cushioned, stole bases, broke double plays, made diving catches and always, but still, hit the cutoff man. He loved to play baseball. Even a seven-year-old could see it.

This adult shook hands with Minnie one day in old Comiskey Park, where he did the Sox ambassador thing of the 80s and 90s. He was used to fanboying, wielded it gracefully and loved reminiscing. He could also be liberal with his home phone number; we had some nice long distance discussions. He once said he couldn’t remember exactly where the nickname came from; another time he said his maximum salary was $28,000, although a reliable website says he had reached $40,000. No matter; the comparative shortage was a minor reason why, when he was (approximately) 53, some 12 years after his 1964 “retirement”, he suited up for a weekend with the White Sox and hit a hit sure in eight shots. He tried again in 1980, when he turned 60, and went 0 for 2 before the tut-tutting commissioner’s office stopped the promotion. By then he had appeared in the majors in five different decades. In 1993 and again in 2003, now 80, Minnie pushed him to appear in seven decades of professional ball hitting for independent league St. Paul Saints. He drew a walk his last time.

It was those mature cameos (the sentiment goes here) that cost Miñoso in his previous Hall of Fame ballots. Maybe voters only called him back for the gag gigs. He always got that vote, but never topped 21% even though no one has ever been so badly stuck in the age vise between segregated and integrated baseball.

Minnie died, aged 93, when her heart gave out on a winter’s day in 2015 as he was returning home from a friend’s birthday party. Whatever lingering disappointment at his denial of Cooperstown disappears this weekend. Miñoso is finally in his place.

All these years later, here comes Minnie.

Dave Perkins is a retired sportswriter and columnist for the Toronto Star.

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