Minnie Minoso was one of the best players of the 1950s. He had a Hall of Fame career, although he will never be voted into the Hall of Fame.
Minnie was born in Havana, Cuba in 1922 (or as some believe, 1925) and played his first full major league season with the Chicago White Sox in 1951. Saturnino Orestes, as he didn't like being called, played eight games for the Indians in 1951 when he was traded to the Sox in a three-team deal also involving Philadelphia.
Minnie batted .326 with 10 home runs, 76 RBIs, a .500 slugging average and a .422 on-base average in his rookie season of 1951.
"What Can I Say, I'm Black"
Minoso was the first black to play for the White Sox, and like other black players, he was reminded of his skin color. He tells the story of the time he hit a home run off Hall of Fame left-hander Hal Newhouser.
The next time Minnie faced Newhouser, the left-hander threw a fast ball right at him. The pitch broke the sunglasses Minnie had in his pocket, and Newhouser shouted, "You n-----, you're not supposed to hit a homer."
When he was asked about it after the game, Minnie responded. "What can I say? I'm black."
Minoso Was Fearless
The game and attitudes were different. Minoso led the league in hit by pitches 10 seasons, due in part to the fact that he hit out of a crouch and stood close to the plate.
His manager, Paul Richards, said that Minnie was fearless and that he didn't care if he got hit. In those days, pitchers wouldn't let batters crowd the plate and hitters who were thrown at would usually retaliate.
Jackie Robinson and Minnie Minoso Retaliated Differently
Jackie Robinson was not a man to throw at. If he thought a pitcher was throwing at him, Jackie would push a bunt between the mound and first base, forcing the first baseman to field it and making the pitcher cover first base.
For some reason, Robinson often crashed into the pitcher on such a play.
Minnie Minoso went about things differently. Minnie sometimes had a problem holding onto his bat, which usually occurred after a pitch came close to his head. Halfway through his swing, Minnie would inexplicably lose his grip on the bat, sending it flying towards the pitcher.
Minoso Broke the Precedent in Memphis
In 1954, the White Sox were playing an exhibition game against the Cardinals in Memphis. It was the first time that black players faced white players in that city.
The New York Times reported that "A Negro outfielder, Minnie Minoso of the White Sox, broke the precedent when he took the field in the first inning. A crowd of more than 11,000 made no demonstration when Minoso's name was announced in the starting lineup. The fans mostly cheered when Minoso took his first time at bat."
A Better Season Than Gil McDougald?
From 1951 to 1961, Minoso hit .305 with a .395 on base average and a .471 slugging percentage. He averaged 16 home runs, 89 RBIs and 18 stolen bases a season.
If the 1922 birth year is correct, then Minoso lost many seasons to racism. He was the Sporting News 1951 Rookie of the Year, out-hitting the Baseball Writers Association of America winner Gil McDougald, .326 to .306, outslugging Gil .500 to .488 and topping Gil in on base average, .422 to .396.
Only Williams and Musial Were Better
While there is doubt with respect to Minoso being a Hall of Famer, there is no doubt that he was a great player.
He was the third best left fielder in baseball, behind Ted Williams and Stan Musial during the 1950s—and he was to Hispanic players almost what Jackie Robinson was to American players.
Minnie Minoso belongs in the Hall of Fame.
"White Sox Use Minoso, a Negro, In 6-to-2 Triumph at Memphis; Crowd of 11,000 in Tennessee City Takes Breaking of Precedent Calmly During Cards' Game -- Braves Win, 5 to 3." New York Times. 9 April 1954, p. 28.