Mr. White Sox, the Cuban Comet, Passes Away

Minnie Minoso was the first Afro-Cuban player in major league history.

Minnie Minoso was the first Afro-Cuban player in major league history.

By Glen Sparks

Chicago has lost another baseball legend. White Sox outfielder Orestes “Minnie” Minoso, one of the game’s most-complete players throughout the 1950s, died Sunday at the age of 89. Minoso’s death came just weeks after the passing of Cubs great Ernie Banks.

Banks was famous for his smile, humor and enthusiasm while playing for the north side Cubs. Minoso was the south side version of that. He played 12 of his 17-year career with the White Sox. Former teammate Billy Pierce said, “I don’t think he ever said a nasty thing about anybody. It was always good, always friendly.”

The baseball stats say Minoso hit .298 with a robust .389 on-base percentage. Bill James, one of baseball’s top analysts, rated Minoso as the 10th best left-fielder of all-time in 2001. I wrote a post in December about Minoso’s qualifications for the Hall of Fame. He was one of 10 so-called Golden Era nominees up for induction. Minnie got eight votes. He, like everyone else, needed 12. No one got elected.

Here is another rundown of Minoso’s qualifications: He made nine All-Star teams, with both the White Sox and Cleveland Indians, and finished fourth in the MVP voting four times. The Cuban native hit for some power (186 home runs in 17 seasons, at least 20 home runs four times) and a solid average (.298 lifetime, at least .300 nine times).

He could run (205 lifetime steals, leading the American League in thefts three times; to be fair, he led the league in caught stealing six times.), and he could drive in runs (1,023 career RBI, four seasons with at least 100). In 1954, Minoso led the league in total bases with 304.

Finally, he also had a high pain threshold. Minoso topped the league in getting hit by a pitch 10 times. “I remember him getting hit in the head and playing through it,” said Pierce, who was another Golden Era candidate. “He played through many injuries. He was a real, 100 percent ballplayer.”

They called Ernie Banks “Mr. Cub.” They called Minnie Minoso “Mr. White Sox.” Minoso did community relations work for the team for decades. During his playing days, some people called him the “Cuban Comet.” He was the first Afro-Cuban player in the major leagues and the first black player in White Sox history. The New York Cuban of the Negro Leagues signed Minnie in 1946; he hit .309.

Cleveland brought up Minoso for a cup of coffee in 1949. He didn’t play his first full season until 1951 when he was 25, after a trade to the White Sox. Minoso hit .326 as a rookie with a .422 on-base percentage and a 151 OPS+.  (Minoso went back to the Indians for the 1958-59 seasons before heading back to Chicago.)

Minoso retired following the 1964 season with a career 130 OPS+ and 50.1 WAR points. He made some celebrated comebacks with the White Sox, as a 50-year-old in 1976 (one hit in eight at-bats) and a 54-year-old in 1980 (hitless in three at-bats). In 2003, as a member of the independent St. Paul Saints of the Northern League, a 77-year-old Minoso concluded his playing career by drawing a walk. James has written, “had he gotten the chance to play (major league ball) when he was 21 years old, I think he’d probably be rated among the top thirty players of all time.”

And in the Hall of Fame.

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