By Glen Sparks
Orestes “Minnie” Minoso grew up in El Perico, Cuba, outside Havana, and loved to watch the great Martin Dihigo play baseball.
Dihigo hit for power, hit for average and ran fast. Former Dodgers executive and legendary scout Al Campanis once told the team’s Spanish-language broadcaster Jaime Jarrin, “’Jaime, the best player that I have ever seen in my life is Martin Dihigo, but he never came to the Major Leagues.”
The four-time Cuban League MVP could pitch, too. Dihigo batted .387 for Aguila de Veracruz of the Mexican League in 1938 and went 18-2 with a 0.90 ERA on the mound. Dihigo ripped line drives and especially liked smacking pitches to the opposite field. Fans nicknamed him El Inmortal, The Immortal. Minoso patterned his own game after Dihigo’s.
The Negro League Committee elected Dihigo (pronounced “DEE-go”) to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977. Many baseball experts say Minoso also should be enshrined.
Minoso, born Nov. 29, 1922, was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1948 following several pro seasons in Cuba and in the U.S. Negro leagues. He debuted with the Indians on April 19, 1949. By 1951, Minoso had established himself as a star. The Chicago White Sox traded for him early in that campaign.
Later in his career, Minoso returned to Cleveland (1958-59) before going back to the White Sox (1960-61). He also played for the St. Louis Cardinals (1962) and Washington Senators (1963) and then retired (sorta) as, yes, a White Sox player once more, in 1964.
Minoso 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. He led the American League in thefts three times.), and he could drive in runs (1,023 career RBI, four seasons with at least 100). Adept at drawing a walk, Minoso retired with an on-base percentage of .389 and enjoyed six full seasons with percentages of .408 or higher.
The left-fielder made nine All-Star teams, with both the Indians and White Sox, and finished fourth in the MVP voting four times. He also had a high pain threshold. Minoso led the league in getting hit by a pitch 10 times. He took a bruising for the team.
Minoso topped the A.L. in hits one time, doubles one time and triples three times. Oh, and he scored at least 100 runs in a season four times. So, how did one of the best all-around players of the 1950s do in the Hall of Fame voting? Not well at all. In 15 years on the ballot, Minoso topped 20 percent just two times. … Huh?
Bill James in his 2003 Baseball Historical Abstract ranked Minoso as the 10th best left-fielder in baseball history. He wrote that if Minoso had gotten the opportunity to play in the majors when he was 21 years old, “he’d probably be rated among the top 30 players of all time.”
Unfortunately, many people remember Minoso more for how he retired than how he played. Or, more precisely, how he didn’t retire. He left the White Sox after 1964 to go to the Mexican League as a player-manager. He was “El Charro Negro,” the Black Cowboy.
In 1976, Minoso went back to the majors and to the White Sox as a coach. The big club activated him in September; he went 1-8 at the age of 50. He also pinch-hit twice in 1980 for the White Sox, going 0-2. He is major league baseball’s only five-decade players, appearing in a game in the 1940s, ’50, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. (His streak didn’t end there. In 1993, at the age of 67, Minoso grounded out as a member of the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League. He drew a walk for the Saints in 2003, an 87-year-old ballplayer. Minoso is a seven-decade man.)
Some baseball people argue that those comebacks actually hurt Minnie’s Hall of Fame chances. They criticize them as publicity stunts. Which they probably were. So, what?
The White Sox retired Minoso’s No. 9 in 1983 and unveiled a statue of the beloved former ballplayer outside U.S. Cellular Field in 2004.
Last year, baseball included Minoso on the Golden Era ballot, comprised of former players and managers who mostly played from 1947-73. The 16-person Golden Era committee gave Minoso eight votes, one fewer than he earned on the 2011 Golden ballot. He needed 12 for induction.
Minoso died in Chicago on Feb. 28, 2015, of chronic pulmonary disease at the age of 92. The man dubbed “Mr. White Sox” had been working for the team in community relations for decades.
He already is a member of the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame, the Hispanic Heritage Museum Hall of Fame, the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in Exile and the Mexican Professional Baseball of Fame. Will Minoso ever make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.?