Today, Latin American ballplayers make up almost one third of all big leaguers.
They can all thank Minnie Miñoso, whose talent on the field and courage off it redefined the National Pastime.
“Minnie Miñoso is to Latin ballplayers what Jackie Robinson is to black ballplayers,” wrote Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda in his autobiography. “Minnie is the one who made it possible for all us Latins. He was the first Latin player to become a superstar.”
Saturnino Orestes Armas Miñoso, was born in Perico, Cuba on Nov. 29, 1923. Miñoso grew up on a sugar plantation, collecting cane during the week and playing ball on weekends. He quickly established himself as a star with Negro League teams like the New York Cubans, but – as a black-skinned Latin American – was denied the chance to play in the American League or National League until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.
Miñoso signed with the Indians just before the 1948 season, making his debut on April 19, 1949 to become the first acknowledged dark-skinned Latin player in AL/NL history. It was in Cleveland where he was first called “Minnie.”
He spent most of the 1949 season and all of 1950 with San Diego of the Pacific Coast League, hitting .339 in the latter season, then played eight games with the Indians at the start of the 1951 season before being dealt to the White Sox in a three-team trade with the A’s.
The White Sox quickly put Miñoso in their everyday lineup, where he finished the season with a .326 batting average, 112 runs scored and an American League-best 14 triples and 31 steals. He finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year vote to Gil McDougald of the Yankees, and fourth in the AL Most Valuable Player voting.
Miñoso quickly demonstrated he could play baseball as well or better than almost anyone else around. Between 1951 and 1957, Miñoso led the league in triples three times, stolen bases three times, scored 100 or more runs four times and recorded at least 100 RBI three times. In those seven years, he was named to five All-Star teams, finished in the top 10 of the AL MVP voting four times and won a Gold Glove Award for his play in the outfield in 1957 – the first year Gold Glove Awards were presented.
The White Sox traded Miñoso back to the Indians following the 1957 season, receiving Early Wynn and Al Smith in a deal that would propel the team to the 1959 American League pennant. Miñoso hit .302 in both his seasons in Cleveland while averaging 22 homers and 86 RBI per year, then was traded back to the White Sox before the 1960 season. He led the AL with 184 hits in 1960 and won his third Gold Glove Award in the outfield.
Miñoso’s average dropped to .280 in 1961, and the White Sox sent him to the Cardinals for the 1962 season. There, Miñoso suffered a fractured skull while diving into the Sportsman’s Park wall in pursuit of a ball on May 11, 1962, and appeared in only 39 games that season. He finished his career as a big league regular with a stint with the Senators in 1963 and another with the White Sox in 1964.
Miñoso, however, continued to play and manage in the Mexican League following his big league career. In 1976 at the age of 50, Miñoso appeared in three games with the White Sox when team owner Bill Veeck brought the Chicago hero back to the South Side. Miñoso recorded one hit in eight at-bats to become a four-decade player, then became a five-decade big league player when he appeared in two games for the Sox in 1980.
Miñoso appeared in games in the Northern League in 1993 and 2003, making him a seven-decade pro baseball player.
It was his play at the game’s highest levels however, that set Miñoso apart. In what amounted to 11 full seasons in the AL, Miñoso hit better than .300 eight times, was named to nine All-Star Games, captured three Gold Glove Awards and led the league in getting hit by pitches 10 times.
He retired with a .299 career batting average, including 2,110 hits, 1,225 runs, 1,093 RBI and 216 stolen bases.
Miñoso passed away on March 1, 2015.