White Sox Great Minoso Found by Tribe
Vince Guerrieri | On 02, Mar 2015
In 1948, Indians scout Bill Killefer turned in a scouting report that legendary Plain Dealer sports editor Gordon Cobbledick said was so delirious, it was almost incoherent.
Killefer, a baseball lifer, was instrumental in the signing of Larry Doby from the Newark Eagles, and he continued to prowl the Negro National League. Cobbledick said if Killefer was high on Doby, then he soared into the clouds when he recommended a player for the New York Cubans, Orestes Minoso.
“He said the boy could chase any third baseman in the major leagues out of his job,” Cobbledick wrote breathlessly. “He said he could hit anything that the human arm could throw. He said he was so fast that by comparison, Doby and Dale Mitchell would look as if their feet were set in concrete. He said he could knock first basemen down with his throws.”
Minoso, more popularly known as Minnie, died early Sunday morning at an uncertain age (going by his autobiography, he was 89, but there were reports that he was as old as 92). Although it was the Indians who found him, he became known as Mr. White Sox.
Minoso wowed minor-league crowds throughout 1948, and appeared in nine games for the Indians in 1949. He spent 1950 in the minor leagues, and in April 1951, after appearing in eight games that season for the Tribe, he was traded in a three-team deal to the White Sox. The Chicago general manager who swung that deal was Frank Lane, one more reason why his name remains a curse word in some Cleveland area households.
Minoso became the first black player for the White Sox, and hit .326 for them as a rookie. He finished second in the Baseball Writers Association of America Rookie of the Year balloting to Gil McDougald of the Yankees, and won the Sporting News’ Rookie of the Year Award.
Over the following six years with the White Sox, Minoso never played fewer than 139 games, and his batting average never dropped below .281, including four seasons where he hit .310 or higher. He led the league in stolen bases twice and triples twice, and doubles once.
After the 1957 season, he returned to Cleveland in the deal that sent Early Wynn to Chicago. Minoso missed out on the White Sox’ pennant-winning season of 1959, but after that year, he returned to the South Side of Chicago. He spent a year with the Cardinals and another with the Senators before returning to the White Sox in 1964. He played in 30 games before being released.
All told, he appeared in seven All-Star Games and won three Gold Gloves, finishing with a career batting average of .298. Minoso continued to play in Mexico after his major league career was over, and in 1976, Bill Veeck – who then owned the White Sox again – signed Minoso and put him on the active roster. Veeck put him on the roster in 1980, making him one of just two five-decade players in the major leagues. In 1990, the White Sox’ last season at Comiskey Park, Minoso was put on the active roster, but Commissioner Fay Vincent wouldn’t let him play, depriving him of the opportunity to become baseball’s only six-decade player.
By then, Veeck’s son Mike had gotten into the ownership game, and he signed Minoso to play for the independent St. Paul Saints. Minoso got into a game in 1993 and another in 2003, to mark seven decades of playing professional baseball.
Although he’s memorialized in bronze at U.S. Cellular Field, and the Indians noted him as one of the team’s 100 best in their centennial year, Cooperstown never came calling. He never got more than 21 percent from the writers, and in December, he was a candidate for the new Golden Era committee, but neither he nor any of the other candidates were elected.
Minoso, like so many other African-American players of his time, was unable to get into the majors until later in his career. Bill James said if Minoso had started in the majors at the age of 21, he would probably be regarded as one of the 30 best players of all time.
But while he was annoyed about his exclusion from the Hall of Fame, he remained a fan of baseball until the very end.
“When I die, I want to be playing baseball,” he said. “Truly. They don’t bury me without my uniform.”
Photo: Getty Images