When Desi and Minnie were the only Cubans my friends knew anything about
By the winter of 1964, my brother and I were attending school in Wisconsin. It was great and we made friends very quickly.
We used to hear a lot about Ricky Ricardo and Minnie "The Cuban Comet" Miñoso. As my father told us one very cold night back then, Desi Arnaz and Orestes "Minnie" Miñoso were the two Cubans that most of my friends were acquainted with. I mean Cubans not named Castro!
My brother and I were not sensitive, so we'd laughed to tears when they asked if we owned "bongos" like Ricky or stole second like "The Cuban comet." We would give it right back and shock them by saying we ran the bases like Willie Mays or would rather play drums like Charlie Watts of The Rolling Stones.
It was good-natured joking around or something boys used to do before P.C. destroyed humor.
I was reminded of those early days in the U.S. plus Arnaz and Miñoso this weekend.
Desi was born Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III in 1917. His father was a politician and mayor of Santiago de Cuba, or the second largest city on the island.
In the 1930s, Mr. Arnaz sent Desi and his mother to the U.S. He joined them a little later. We understand that Mr. Arnaz had some political problems and decided to take a little "exile" in Florida.
In the U.S., Desi worked in odd jobs and eventually found himself playing "bongos" on stage. In 1940, he met Lucy and they were married quickly. They worked separately for most the 1940s until the idea of I Love Lucy in 1951.
We also remember him for "Desilu," the TV company that changed TV and produced many of the sitcoms that we grew up watching. Desi Arnaz became one of the most successful businessmen and executives of the 20th century.
He died in 1986.
Miñoso, "The Cuban Comet," died three years ago this week.
Many years ago, I watched Miñoso play in Cuba. My father used to take my brother and me to the Sunday baseball games in Havana. It was a treat even if I was too young to understand that I was watching a legend.
Cuban fans were often rough on Miñoso, 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 Miñoso had to save his body for the Major League season up north. My guess is that the White Sox would have preferred to have Miñoso resting in the off season but the pressure to play was so intense. I'm sure that the money wasn't bad, either! Miñoso probably understood what he meant to Cuban baseball and the thousands of fans who adored him.
Like many of the other Cuban players, Miñoso 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.
The great Miñoso died three years ago. He had a great Major League career: .298 average, 1,963 hits, .389 OBP, 186 HR, 1,023 RBI in 1,835 games. He hit .304 in twelve seasons with Chicago.
As a winter storm is scheduled to hit North Texas this weekend, I couldn't help but travel back to those early days in Wisconsin, when talking about Ricky Ricardo and "The Cuban Comet" gave us so much fun.