*Jackie Robinson is considered to be the first African American to play Major League Baseball but this isn’t entirely true. In 1884, Moses Fleetwood Walker played in the American Association, which was considered the major leagues at the time, so Walker really was the first African American to play in the major leagues.
Minoso was a standout in the Negro Leagues. He led his team to a Negro League World Series championship in 1947 and was an all-star in 1947 and 1948. That’s when the Cleveland Indians came calling. The Indians were owned by Bill Veeck, one of baseball’s all-time great characters. Veeck had wanted to bring African American players to the major leagues for some time, but was rebuffed in his earlier attempts to do so. In the same year that Jackie Robinson became the first African American player to play in the modern major leagues, Larry Doby debuted with the Cleveland Indians, becoming the second African American in the major leagues and the first in the American League. The following season, Veeck signed Negro League legend Satchel Paige, who was *41 years old at the time, and the 23-year-old Minnie Minoso. Minoso was sent to play in the minor leagues with the Dayton Indians and hit .525 in 11 games.
*During his long playing career, Satchel Paige claimed many different birth years, depending on what benefited him at the time. If he needed to be older, he’d say he was born as early as 1900. If it was more beneficial for him to be younger, he’d claim as late as 1908. Throughout his career, no one really knew the truth. In 1948, Cleveland owner Bill Veeck traveled to Mobile, Alabama with Paige’s family to obtain his birth certificate, which stated his actual birthdate as July 7, 1906.
In 1949 and 1950, Minnie Minoso played primarily with the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League (this was not the current San Diego Padres of the major leagues, who didn’t come into existence until 1969). As a 23-year-old in 1949, Minoso hit .297/.371/.483 with 22 homers and 13 steals. He also made his major league debut with the Indians that year, getting into 9 games and coming to the plate 20 times. The next year he came into his own, hitting .339/.405/.539 with 20 homers and 30 steals for the Padres.
Minoso started the 1951 season with the Cleveland Indians but was part of a three-team trade on April 30 that landed him with the Chicago White Sox. He immediately proved he was ready for big league action by being named to the All-Star team, finishing fourth in MPV voting and second in the Rookie of the Year balloting to Gil McDougald of the New York Yankees. Take a look at the stats for these two players:
That 1951 season was the start of a great run for Minoso. From 1951 to 1960, Minoso was a seven time All-Star, led the league in steals three times, finished fourth in the MVP voting four times, and won three Gold Gloves. His average line for this stretch of ten seasons:
After this stretch of excellence, Minoso’s career started to wind down. The 1961 season was Minoso’s last year of full-time play. He played in 152 games as a 35 year old and hit .280/.369/.420 with 14 homers and 9 steals. In 1962, now with the St. Louis Cardinals, he suffered a fractured skull and broken wrist from crashing into the outfield wall and hit .196 in 39 games. He played the 1963 season with the Washington Senators but hit just .229/.315/.317. Finally, he returned to the White Sox in 1964 as a 38-year-old pinch-hitter and hit .226 in 31 at-bats.
Even though Major League Baseball was done with Minnie Minoso, he was not done with baseball. He went down to Mexico and played and managed until 1973. He was known as “El Charro Negro” (“The Black Cowboy”) and hit .360 and .348 in his first two seasons. In his final season in Mexico, he hit .265 at the age of 47.
In 1976, Minoso became a coach with the White Sox and also made three appearances for the Sox in September of that year, getting a base hit at the age of 50, becoming the oldest player ever to get a hit in the major leagues. In 1980, he was activated once again for two games as a pinch-hitter but failed to get a hit. He did become the second player in major league history to play in five decades (1940s to 1980s). He wanted to make it a sixth decade in 1990, at the age of 65, but MLB overruled that idea. In publicity stunts orchestrated by Bill Veeck and his son Mike, Minoso did get into a game with the independent St. Paul Saints of the Northern League in 1993 as a 67-year-old, then again in 2003 at the age of 77 to become the only player to appear professionally in seven different decades. Some people were critical of these shenanigans, but you have to give the guy credit for just loving the game that much.
In his later years, he was an ambassador for the White Sox and was honored on numerous occasions for the joy he brought the fans for so many years. He has a statue at U.S. Cellular Field and is in the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame.
One of the lasting regrets for the fans of Minnie Minoso is his exclusion from the Baseball Hall of Fame. Minoso was first eligible in 1970 but fell off the ballot for a lack of support. At the time the Hall of Fame voters did not take into account the accomplishments of players who had played in the Negro Leagues. Minoso got a second chance on the ballot in 1980 but there were few writers still voting who had seen him play in his prime in the 1950s. Minoso peaked with 21.1% of the vote in 1988 but never came close to the 75% needed for induction.
More recently, Minoso was on the ballot of the Golden Era Committee in 2011 and 2014. This committee is made up of 16 voters and a player needs to receive at least 12 votes to be inducted. The mathematical possibilities for a player to be inducted based on this setup are very low, particularly if there are a number of quality players on the ballot. More on this can be read here. Minoso received 9 votes in 2011 and 8 votes in 2014. Before the 2011 voting, Minoso said, “My last dream is to be in Cooperstown, to be with those guys. I want to be there. This is my life’s dream.” It’s a shame that he didn’t get to realize that dream.
Minnie Minoso loved baseball and was one of the best players in the game during his prime in the 1950s. His infectious smile warmed the hearts of fans for many years after his playing days were over. Late in his life, he said, “When I die, I want to be playing baseball. Truly. They don’t bury me without my uniform.” Hopefully, he’ll get to wear that number nine one last time.
Stats from FanGraphs, biographical information from ESPN, Wikipedia, and the Chicago Tribune, picture from grabsomebench.com.