Miņoso deserves more recognition as player, pioneer
Posted: Wednesday February 22, 2006 1:35PM; Updated: Wednesday February 22, 2006 4:30PM
Minnie Miņoso is said to be the first Latin black player in the major leagues.
John G. Zimmerman/SI
Minnie Miņoso Profile
Batted .299 in the Negro Leagues primarily as a leadoff hitter. Ran with speed and hit for power. Paced the offense for the 1947 Cubans squad that defeated the Cleveland Buckeyes for the Negro League World Series title.
Started at third base for the East squad in the 1947 and 1948 East-West All-Star games, going 4-14 in the four contests.
The first (acknowledged) black Latino to perform in the majors, in 1949 with Cleveland, Minoso pioneered the integration of the White Sox on May 1, 1951, as its first black player.
Selected American League Rookie of the Year by The Sporting News in 1951.
Ranked in the top 10 in American League MVP voting five times.
A seven-time All-Star, led the American League in stolen bases his first three full major league seasons (205 lifetime steals); league leader three times in triples and 10 times in hit-by-pitches.
Among top 10 league leaders in RBI five times, in slugging percentage six times, in batting average eight times, and nine times in on-base percentage, runs scored and stolen bases.
Converted to a left fielder as a major leaguer and won three Gold Gloves.
Next week, a panel of experts will select some of the great all-time Negro League players to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Buck O'Neil, the eloquent elder statesman of the Negro Leagues, is sure to be among the inductees. Yet there is another goodwill ambassador who should be enshrined, a man who shared O'Neil's boundless sense of enjoyment and hope for the game. The difference is that this man, Saturnino Orestes Armas Arrieta Miņoso -- more commonly known as "Minnie" -- is remembered primarily for his clownish pinch-hitting stunts in 1976 and 1981, which he did as much to qualify for a pension as for the giggles.
Miņoso became the embodiment of Garret Morris' "Beseball been berry, berry good to me" bit on Saturday Night Live, and his legend descended into self-parody. As a result, Miņoso's great ability on the field has been largely overlooked.
But in light of the upcoming World Baseball Classic, which will highlight the dominance of Latin players in the modern game, it is appropriate to recognize Miņoso, who was the first black Latino to play in the major leagues.
"Believe me when I say that Minnie Miņoso is to Latin ballplayers what Jackie Robinson is to black ballplayers," Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda wrote in his autobiography. "As much as I loved Roberto Clemente and cherish his memory, Minnie is the one who made it possible for all us Latins. Before Roberto Clemente, before Vic Power, before Orlando Cepeda, there was Minnie Miņoso. Younger players should know this and offer their thanks. He was the first Latin player to become a superstar."
It raises a simple question: Why is the Latin Jackie Robinson not in the Hall of Fame?
On Jackie's heels
Miņoso was part of the first wave of minority players who arrived shortly after Robinson and Larry Doby in 1947. He faced the same kind of brutal racism that black players encountered, plus he had the added hindrance of not being able to speak the language. In 1948, Miņoso played briefly at Dayton, Ohio, of the Central League, breaking the color line in that city. He was harassed but remained undeterred.
Already a legend in the Cuban Winter Leagues (where he would continue to star until the early '60s), Miņoso played in the Negro Leagues for the New York Cuban Giants for three seasons (1946-48). A squat, compact man with dark skin, Miņoso possessed speed, power and intelligence. He batted .294 in 1947 and helped lead the Cubans to the Negro League championship; Miņoso was an All-Star in both '47 and '48.
Just two seasons after the color line had been broken in the majors, Miņoso was signed by Bill Veeck's Cleveland Indians in 1949. Along with Doby and slugger Luke Easter, Miņoso stayed with black families during Spring Training. Still speaking little English, Miņoso started the '49 season with the big league club, but the Indians sent him (and Easter) to the Pacific Coast League.
While out West, Miņoso performed like a pro. By 1950 he was the best all-around player in the PCL. Despite Miņoso's steady numbers, it was Easter, with his mammoth home runs, who captured the imagination of management. It was an early example of baseball's tendency to overlook Miņoso's accomplishments, but not the last.