Adios, Señor White Sox - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Adios, Señor White Sox

So far, 2015 has been hard on Chicago baseball greats, and on true gents of the Second City. Just five weeks after the death of “Mr. Cub,” aka Ernie Banks, we have the sad news of the weekend death of Minnie Minoso, Mr. White Sox.

The two recently departed stars (comet in Minnie’s case) had a lot in common. Both the first blacks on their Major League teams. Both exceptional players. Both cheerful men who loved baseball and understood at the deepest level that the game is supposed to be fun for players and for fans. Both men loved their adopted city of Chicago and were much loved in return by Chicagoans, a tough audience by any measure. Both are now gone, but neither will be forgotten. Both have statues of themselves outside of their respective ball yards.

Banks is a member of Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Minoso isn’t, but many of Minnie’s fans, and there are plenty of these around decades after Minoso’s ball-playing prime, believe he belongs in Cooperstown. Minoso finished his career with a .298 lifetime batting average, 1,963 base hits, 186 home runs, and 1,023 RBIs. Thanks to segregation and years in the Negro League, Minoso was already 28 in 1951, his first full year in the bigs. A year when he batted .326, the second highest average in the American League. If Minoso had enjoyed a few more years in the majors, and he was surely ready to play there before 1951, his numbers would have been at a Cooperstown level.

Even without the years that the color of his skin robbed him of, Minoso still hit .300 or better eight times. He drove in 100 or more runs four times. Minoso was not a big man, but strong. He was less than six-feet tall and played most of his career at about 170 pounds. He still hit 20 or more home runs four times. He played most of his career in left field and won three Gold Gloves there.

Minoso could not only hit, field, and throw, but he could run as well. He led the league in stolen bases during his first three full seasons, finishing his career with 205 steals. Saturnino Orestes Armas Minoso Arieta was born in the town of Perico, just 90 miles from Havana. Easy enough to see how he came by his nickname of “The Cuban Comet.” And easy to understand why the White Sox retired Minnie’s uniform number, nine. 

Unlike Banks, who played his entire career with the Cubs, Minoso’s Negro League contract was originally bought by Bill Veeck, then owner of the Cleveland Indians, in 1948. Minoso made his first big league appearances with the Indians late in the 1949 season, but then spent the 1950 season with the San Diego Padres, then of the Pacific Coast League. He started the 1951 season with the Indians but wound up with the White Sox early in the season after a three-way trade. Minoso spent a couple of more seasons with Cleveland in the late fifties, but it’s his 12 seasons as Señor White Sox that made Minoso part of Chicago sports history forever.

Like Banks, it wasn’t just Minoso’s play that set him apart and made people like him, though his play was remarkable enough. But his cheerful personality is also part of his legacy. Banks’ famous refrain was “Let’s play two.” (Even though most of the woebegone Cubs teams Banks played on would probably have lost both.) Minoso probably never said “jugamos dos.” (Minoso learned English, but to his last days spoke with a pronounced accent.) But he would have been happy to play two.

And while we’re at it, Minnie probably didn’t say, “Beisbol has been berry berry good to me.” That was Saturday Night Live comic Garrett Morris doing his Chico Escuela shtick. But the message was there all the same. Minnie loved to play baseball, never wanted to do anything else with his life, and it showed when he took the field. A black Latin star who came along a few years after Minoso broke in, Roberto Clemente, often played with a chip on his shoulder. Minnie, like Clemente, always played with abandon, but always with a smile on his face. If Minoso nursed any grievances, and how could a black Major League player in the early fifties not have some, he never let the fans see them.

I consider it a privilege to have seen Minoso play in the spring when the White Sox trained in Tampa in the fifties. I also caught his act in a couple of regular season games in Comiskey Park on a family vacation in 1957. He was the kind of player your eyes sought out on the field.

By most measures, Minoso led a charmed life. He was of course lucky to have left Cuba before El Jefe Maximo came down out of the mountains, stole the island, and made it a prison. He got to play baseball and was well paid for doing so, as least as these things were measured in his day. Because of his game, and because of the man he was, Minoso was showered with love in his adopted city. But late last Saturday, or early Sunday, Minnie’s luck ran out. 

Driving home by himself from a friend’s birthday party in Chicago (probably not a good idea at Minnie’s age), Minoso apparently began to feel ill and pulled to the side of the road. He was found unresponsive behind the wheel of his car by police in the Lakeview neighborhood. He was pronounced dead at the scene. There was no sign of trauma or any indication of foul play. An autopsy performed Sunday revealed that Minoso had died from a tear in his pulmonary artery caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. 

Minoso was somewhere between 90 and 92, depending on which of Minnie’s relations you choose to believe. The DOB on the back of those baseball cards I collected back in the day said 1923. Put some arithmetic to that and you could end up with 92. Minoso deserved a better end. But what a life. What a man. RIP number nine.

Larry Thornberry
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Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.
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