The Sunday afternoon that I saw Orestes "Minnie" Minoso play
We learned today about the passing of 92-year-old Minnie Minoso. I've always had a place in my heart for him.
My brother and I were very fortunate to have a dad who took us to the ballgame every Sunday afternoon in Havana. We sat with a bunch of other fathers and sons, got to eat like crazy and smell that constant cigar odor in the air.
Let's call it Cuban baseball, or the world before the PC crowd spoiled everything. (I remember getting home, and my mom would say to my brother and me that "you smell like cigars...go take a shower.")
Prior to communism, Cuba had the best of all the winter leagues. There were four teams, and many U.S. players passed through, such as Brooks Robinson and Willie Mays. They'd often play in the winter league just prior to joining the major league team in spring training. (The Pride of Havana is a great book for those who want to take a flight back in time and read about the pre-Castro baseball leagues.)
The Caribbean World Series, a tournament between the winners of the winter leagues in Cuba, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Mexico, was dominated by the Cuban team. They had the most major-leaguers, and it showed on the field, specially pitchers like Camilo Pascual, Pedro Ramos, and others. Of course, those Cuban teams also had Minoso in the outfield.
One Sunday afternoon, my brother and I joined my dad at the ballpark. I was about 7 when my dad pointed out Minoso, who was waving to all the kids in the crowd. My father said something like "that's the great Minoso."
Cuban fans were often rough on Minoso, who was a bit careful in the winter leagues. He didn't slide as hard or take the extra base as he did in the majors. He was sensational in the outfield, and I recall a running catch that afternoon. The fans loved and hated him. They understood that the great Minoso had to save his body for the major league season up north. My guess is that the White Sox would have preferred to have Minoso resting in the offseason, but the pressure to play was so intense. I'm sure that the money wasn't bad, either! Minoso probably understood what he meant to Cuban baseball and the thousands of fans who adored him.
Like many of the other Cuban players, Minoso moved north when the professional league was dissolved by the communists. He played a few more years until his retirement with the White Sox in 1964. He was retired by the time we got here.
Over his career, Minoso had a .298 batting average and led the league in stolen bases several times. He was known as "The Cuban Comet" because he was quick and flashy. He was one of the best ball players of his era, according to MLB.COM:
His production from 1953-60, extrapolated over 162-game seasons, yields averages of 20 home runs, 103 RBIs, 32 doubles, eight triples, 186 hits, 18 steals and 76 walks. His hitting line over that period was .308/.397/.480. Two of his three Gold Glove Awards were earned in those years, when he was primarily an outfielder.
I wish him that I had seen him in his prime or when he was the top professional athlete in Latin baseball. Before Cepeda, Oliva, Clemente, Aparicio, and Marichal came to the majors, there was Minoso wearing #9!
RIP Minnie Minoso.