In a playing career that lasted longer than anyone else’s, Minnie Miñoso still knew how to make a quick impression.
The White Sox legend and member of the 2022 National Baseball Hall of Fame class has one of the most impressive resumes in the history of the game -- one that included stints with Minor League clubs in San Diego, Dayton and Indianapolis.
Born Saturnino Orestes Arrieta Miñoso Armas in El Perico, Cuba, east of Havana, he was the only person to ever play in seven decades. He logged games in three different countries and six different leagues, beginning as a teenager in the local Cuban leagues and ending with his second appearance with the then-Independent St. Paul Saints when he was reportedly 77 years old. He was the White Sox’s first Black player and a pioneer for every Latino ballplayer that followed his path.
“Here's a guy who's willing to walk up to the plate in seven decades,” current Triple-A Saints and Low-A Charleston owner Mike Veeck, who also was a part-owner of the White Sox in the 1990s, said in a phone interview. “Something that -- maybe there's someone in Keokuk, Iowa, who's done it but not anybody that you and I know of. And I just think it's a remarkable feat.”
Miñoso was obviously an incredible player who earned every inning in the more than 3,000 games he played on record after leaving Cuba. He batted .299 with 195 homers, 216 stolen bases and 1093 RBIs over 20 seasons in the Majors. He was a seven-time MLB All-Star and among the game’s best during his first decade in the big leagues, earning Rookie of the Year honors from the Sporting News in 1951.
His longevity in baseball was matched only by the intensity and passion with which he played and a tremendous personality that was central to countless memories for almost everyone with whom he came into contact -- even if it was only briefly.
“You could walk into any joint in Chicago, any dangerous joint, I mean, and because he was darker complexion than most Cubans, you might get a little moment, until, as Keb' Mo' said, that big wide grin happened, and then it was, 'Minnie! Minnie!'” Veeck said. “And he recognized that he was a balm for racism and for stupidity, and he was very patient. Fans loved him and they felt a kinship with him because of his passion for the game.”
The most popular stories about Miñoso’s legendary career and life in baseball rarely include his Minor League playing days. Even the green Cadillac convertible Miñoso drove around Chicago or his superstitious nature comes to mind before his actual introduction to affiliated ball. But his only 11 games at the Class A level proved that a very special player had arrived to the Minors in 1948 with the Dayton Indians.
Miñoso had 21 hits in 40 at-bats over the final two weeks of Dayton’s season, which was good for a .525 average and 1.412 OPS. He homered and tripled once, collected seven doubles, eight RBIs, six stolen bases and 14 runs scored. Then almost exclusively an infielder, he had put the finishing touches on an All-Star season that began with the New York Cubans in the Negro National League.
His three seasons in the Negro Leagues were his first in the United States. Miñoso reportedly turned down what would have been life-changing money from a Mexican League team for a chance to play in the Negro Leagues for a significantly lower salary. After a difficult first season at the plate, he eventually became one of the better players -- twice named an All-Star for the Cubans while compiling a .313 average and .850 OPS over 111 games.
The Cleveland Indians, with an assist from Harlem Globetrotters founder Abe Saperstein, scouted and signed Miñoso during the 1948 season. Cleveland was then owned by Bill Veeck, the Hall of Famer and Mike Veeck’s father, who later owned the White Sox and provided Miñoso his first MLB coaching job and the opportunity to play in his fourth and fifth decades in 1976 and 1980.
In 1947, Veeck signed Larry Doby, who broke the American League color barrier in July of that season, less than three months after Jackie Robinson debuted with the Dodgers. By 1948, Cleveland had three Black players on the roster -- Doby, Satchel Paige and Luke Easter -- before most other A.L. teams began to integrate.
Miñoso made Cleveland’s Opening Day roster in 1949 but didn’t play much to start the year, yielding innings to Ken Keltner at third base. He played in his final Major League game of the season on May 13 and did not return to Cleveland until two years later.
It was in San Diego that Miñoso really broke out in affiliated ball. Playing for the Triple-A Padres of the Pacific Coast League, he batted .297 with an .855 OPS over the remainder of the 1949 season. He hit 22 homers that year, which was second to the 24 he hit with the White Sox in 1958 for the most he ever hit in a single season. Miñoso also added 19 doubles, seven triples, 75 RBIs and 99 runs scored while stealing 13 bases.
Then he was downright dominant during the 1950 season with the Padres. He clubbed 40 doubles, 20 homers and 10 triples with 30 stolen bases while posting a ridiculous .339/.405/.539 slash line, 115 RBIs, 130 runs scored and 203 total hits.
That last season in San Diego was a springboard for a decade of Major League excellence from Miñoso. He broke camp with Cleveland in 1951 but was blocked at third base again, this time by Al Rosen. With nothing left to prove in the Minors, he was traded to the White Sox at the end of April, just 14 at-bats into the season -- during which he already had six hits and been plunked twice.
Miñoso’s well-documented first run with the White Sox from 1951 to 1957 had long been one of the first things cited in his Hall of Fame advocacy. It's where he became the "Cuban Comet" and even became known as "Minnie" instead of Orestes. He was traded back to Cleveland before the 1958 season and was dealt for the second time to the White Sox in 1959 -- by then Bill Veeck had bought the Chicago club from the Comiskey family. Miñoso played the 1962 season with the St. Louis Cardinals and returned to the American League with the Washington Senators in 1963.
By 1964, Miñoso was reportedly 38 years old when he returned to the White Sox on a free agent deal. The club was no longer owned by Veeck, and the beloved figure had a spot on Chicago’s Major League roster for just 30 games. He batted .226 for the big-league club before being released and given a chance to stay in the organization with the Triple-A club in Indianapolis.
Over 52 games with Indianapolis, Miñoso batted .264 with a .720 OPS, four homers, 11 doubles, 26 RBIs and six stolen bases.
The 1964 season was his last in the affiliated Minor Leagues. In a little more than three seasons, Miñoso batted .318 with 47 homers, 77 doubles, 18 triples, 224 RBIs and 265 runs scored. He stole 55 total bases and mostly played before MLB began to track caught stealing in 1951, giving him three on record, all of which came with Indianapolis in 1964.
After Indianapolis, Miñoso’s baseball journey took him to the Mexican Leagues, where he spent 10 seasons as a player, some of which he was also a manager. He returned to the White Sox after Veeck purchased the club for a second time in 1976 and worked with the team in some capacity until his death in 2015.
Mike Veeck gave Miñoso the opportunity to become baseball’s first seven-decade player in 2003. It was the continuation of efforts that began 10 years prior. By 1993, Mike Veeck was the owner of the Miami Miracle of the Florida State League. He had worked out a deal with Miñoso, then apparently 67 years old, to give him a chance to play in his sixth decade -- an idea that was nixed at the Major League level in both 1990 and in 1993. But the idea was shot down again in the FSL.
“That was really when I became interested in 9ndependent baseball,” Veeck said. “I couldn't believe that something as wonderful as having him bat in then his fifth decade could be not in the best interest of baseball. It's a remarkable feat. It doesn't matter what level you played.”
Veeck had also owned the St. Paul Saints, who are now the Twins’ Triple-A affiliate. He’d made a point in his ownership of the independent club to follow in his father’s footsteps by putting the fans and entertainment first, while also honoring the game’s history and its most accomplished figures. In that sense, Miñoso checked all the boxes.
Although Miñoso’s presence can bring a smile to just about anyone’s face, his two appearances with St. Paul were no joke. He nearly rapped a base hit back through the middle in 1993, but the pitcher, Yoshi Seo, made a behind the back snag and got the out. Then in 2003, while sporting his New York Cubans jersey, he drew a walk in his only appearance.
“It was very timely because as my generation grays, gets older, there's more and more emphasis on -- we can do things longer than our parents did, and hopefully [the next] generation will be able to do things longer than we could,” Veeck said. “But this represented a lot to people, that first fine, careless rapture of youth.”
The White Sox and those around Miñoso campaigned for his place in the Hall of Fame long past his death. He was voted in by the Veteran’s Selection committee in December of 2021 along with Buck O’Neil, Bud Fowler and Tony Oliva -- a fellow Cuban who often cites Miñoso as one of his heroes in the game.
Although it took a long time to get him to Cooperstown, Miñoso’s legacy had long been cemented by the quick, personal moments that teammates, coaches, executives and, especially, fans were able to experience.
“The game belongs to the fans,” Veeck said. “And Miñoso represents the fans, and he represents all that's the best about the game.”
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.