Pioneer Minoso has passion for life, baseball
Seven-time All-Star, first black Latino player in MLB, will attend Civil Rights Game
CHICAGO -- The door leading to the White Sox executive offices at U.S. Cellular Field pushed open and Minnie Minoso strolled through.
He was greeted warmly by a woman moving in the opposite direction, and Minoso responded with a trademark smile when asked how he was doing.
"I'm here, young lady," Minoso said.
Minoso's birthday is listed on Baseball-Reference.com as Nov. 29, 1925, but some believe he's between 89 and 92 years old. Age doesn't matter: Minoso looks like he's in his 60s, and he has a passion for life and for the game of baseball that's akin to a player who recently retired.
Minoso stood out as a history-maker for more than just his Hall of Fame-worthy contributions on the field. He was the first black player in White Sox history, although Sam Hairston was the first African-American to suit up for the South Siders. Minoso was also the first black Latino to play Major League Baseball.
Both of these special distinctions will be revisited this weekend as the White Sox host MLB's seventh Civil Rights Game, with the actual contest taking place against the Rangers on Saturday night at 6:10 CT. These trailblazing moments mean a great deal to the lively Minoso, but they certainly don't define him.
"My mom and dad used to tell me, 'No color,'" said Minoso during a Tuesday sitdown with MLB.com at U.S. Cellular Field. "It's the sentiment here in your heart, and this is what I am and what I do."
"I don't think Minnie's impact on the franchise has anything to do with civil rights. It has to do with Minnie," said White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf of his friend, who continues to be a team ambassador around the city and the country. "He represents the White Sox. Wherever he goes, people think about the White Sox."
As Minoso walked into a U.S. Cellular Field conference room for the Tuesday interview, he was briefly taken aback by photographs from his playing days hanging on the wall. He pointed to old friends and former teammates such as Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio and Sherm Lollar.
None of them had to deal with the unique set of circumstances faced by Minoso, who also played for the New York Cubans in the Negro Leagues. He debuted with the Indians on April 19, 1949, but was traded to the White Sox as part of a three-team deal on April 30, 1951. That move began his 12-year run with the White Sox -- which sandwiched a year with the Washington Senators and a year with the St. Louis Cardinals -- covering the '50s, '60s, eight at-bats in the '70s and even two in the '80s.
The career .298 hitter made seven All-Star appearances and won three Gold Gloves. Minoso, also known as The Cuban Comet, still ranks in the Top 10 in 11 White Sox offensive categories.
Minoso was struck by a franchise-high 145 pitches, putting him 20 ahead of Fox at second. His high number of HBPs point to the difficulties that he faced as one of the first black players.
"For the first black Latino in the Major Leagues, he couldn't -- just like Jackie Robinson -- respond in kind, to the physical intimidation play," said Adrian Burgos, professor of history specializing in U.S. Latino, African-American and sport history at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "He had to respond with the results on the basepaths and on the field, at the bat, running into walls, playing as hard as possible. That's how he was able to respond.
"Because Minnie is so gregarious and cordial and just exudes the love of the game, [people] didn't realize that ... those who ran businesses, hotels, and restaurants, they would even say, 'Aparicio's fine, but you're not. We won't serve you.' The off-the-field social dynamics that Minoso had to encounter, and to still be an All-Star, and still be one of the top players of the '50s and into the '60s -- that defined what I call 'the integration era' -- it's one of the things that he has not gotten his due credit [for]."
Civil Rights Game activities, starting Friday with a roundtable discussion at the Chicago Cultural Center from 12:30-2 p.m. CT and including MLB's Beacon Awards at the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile on Saturday from 11:30-2 p.m. CT, are on Minoso's weekend agenda.
Minoso knows firsthand about MLB's involvement in the civil rights movement and believes the men who teamed up to break game's color barrier, Robinson and Branch Rickey, serve as a perfect metaphor.
"Those two gentlemen opened the door, one white and one black," Minoso said. "Jackie and Mr. Branch Rickey do that. This is what we are supposed to do -- love and respect each other and protect each other.
"If we protect each other, we [won't] have so many problems. I'm proud to be what God gave me. So, we are human. We are the same color."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. Associate reporter Manny Randhawa contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.