Monday, March 2, 2015

Mexico, Cuba beisbol officials gave Miñoso an honor U.S. officials haven’t

I don’t expect the death Sunday of 1950s-era Chicago White Sox star Minnie Miñoso will get quite the lasting attention that the passing back in January of Cubs star Ernie Banks did.

For one thing, there probably aren’t the extenuating circumstances concerning his estate (only $16,000) and the fight over whether to cremate his remains (and scatter the ashes at Wrigley Field like some fans would want to see happen) that Banks has. Minnie was less controversial in that aspect.

WE’RE NOT LIKELY to see the statue of Miñoso inside of U.S. Cellular Field moved for a week to the Daley plaza near the Picasso. Then again, I don’t think hard-core White Sox fans would care much about such a gesture.

It’s kind of like the whole attitude of White Sox fans toward their team – they know how great Miñoso was, and think it’s the rest of the world’s loss that they couldn’t appreciate it.

Just as the continued failure of officials with the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., to recognize Miñoso’s U.S. major league career with hall of fame induction – most recently for this year.

The committee that was considering ballplayers from the 1950s through the 1970s wound up picking nobody for induction this year, including Miñoso despite his many American League All Star team appearances and the Rookie of the Year honors the Sporting News gave him in 1951. He also was the first black Latin American ballplayer in the U.S. major leagues (although the first African American ballplayer with the White Sox was Sam Hairston, who came along a few months after Miñoso).

THE CONSOLATION, SO to speak, is that with Miñoso passing away now, he would not have been around for the induction ceremonies to take place in July. That will lessen the sting a little bit.

Then again, it doesn’t mean the baseball career of Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso (a.k.a., the Cuban Comet, el Charro Negro and Mr. White Sox – to try to match up with Banks’ Mr. Cub) didn’t get some recognition during his lifetime.

Back in 1996, the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame in Monterrey inducted Minnie because after retiring from U.S. baseball following 1964, he went to Mexico and served as a ballplayer and, later, a manager in the Mexico Pacific League through 1975 – and excelled there too.

Then last year, baseball officials in Cuba decided to resurrect their long-dormant Hall of Fame in Havana by picking 10 new members (no one had been inducted for more than half a century).

AMONG THE TEN picked was Miñoso, who started out his baseball career playing in Cuba’s professional league – where he kept playing during the winters of the 1950s simultaneous to being with the White Sox. He kept playing there until the Castro “revolution” caused the old professional leagues to be shut down in 1960, and Miñoso decided he’d rather be an exile in the U.S. rather than live in his now-Communist country.

He became a U.S. citizen in 1976 – the same year he returned to the White Sox as a coach and also had the first of several at-bats that allowed him to claim to have been a professional ballplayer in parts of six decades.

Which, sadly enough, may be the only thing a younger generation of baseball fans remember him for; being the oldest ballplayer to actually get a base hit in a ballgame (off Sid Monge of the California Angels – who coincidentally enough is also a Mexico Baseball Hall of Fame member inducted in 2004).

Banks and Miñoso have one thing in common – athletic careers tied so closely to Chicago ball clubs that they never got the chance to play for a championship team. No World Series appearances for either.

BANKS WAS A part of that 1969 Cubs team that collapsed in September to the New York Mets, while Miñoso had just been traded away (to Cleveland) when the White Sox managed to win an American League championship in 1959.

Although Miñoso was a White Sox employee when the team won the World Series in 2005 – and it was a kick to be able to see him in that team parade that wound its way from the ballpark and Chinatown north to the Loop.

Now, both are gone. Although if it turns out in the near future that Miñoso does get U.S. Hall of Fame induction, he’ll be compared to another Chicago Cub – Ron Santo, who got inducted in 2012 right after his death.

And the next time I work my way out to U.S. Cellular Field for a ball game, perhaps I’ll have to go find that little concession stand near third base where they sell Cuban sandwiches (pork and ham, with pickles and Swiss cheese on toasted French bread) in honor of the “Cuban Comet” himself.


No comments: