Yes, baseball has been very good to Minnie Minoso.
For a man that is nearing 90, the game continues to shower him with gifts. Earlier this month, he held court with President Barack Obama at the White House, and just this weekend, he was honored by Major League Baseball at the annual Civil Rights Game in Chicago.
The Cuban-born Minoso, who had his start in the Negro Leagues, represents a narrowing group of the living Latin American ballplayers that faced the indignities of racial and cultural segregation in the shadow of Jackie Robinson in their attempts to play in the major leagues in the 1940’s and 1950’s. He stood tall in the face of Jim Crow segregation, and turned that in to a professional baseball career that spanned seven decades.
“I gave my whole life to baseball and I don’t have any regrets,” Minoso said.
Documentarian Tom Weinberg has used his almost 40-year-long relationship with Minoso to produce an hour long documentary, “Baseball’s Been Very, Very Good To Me: The Minnie Minoso Story.” Weinberg effectively captures Minoso’s welcoming and sincere spirit and gives him the recognition that he dearly deserves as a pioneer for Latin Americans in baseball.
“Minnie was Jackie Robinson for all Latin Americans,” Miami radio show host Jose “Chamby” Campos said during the documentary.
The program aired on Chicago television station WTTW in December with the hopes that it will be distributed by larger media outlets. With all of the recent attention surrounding Minoso’s role in bridging baseball’s integration, there is a sense of urgency to tell his story to a wider audience.
As the documentary further investigates Minoso’s career, his place in baseball’s history becomes ever more apparent. When he debuted with the Cleveland Indians in 1949, he became the first black Latin to play in the major leagues, effectively opening the door to all Latin Americans in baseball. His ability to persevere in baseball when both the laws and language were unfamiliar makes Minoso’s accomplishments even more impressive.
During the peak of Minoso’s career (1951-1961), he was second in the American League in hits, runs scored, extra base hits and total bases, ranking above Hall of Famers such as Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Nellie Fox in those categories.
Minoso disappointingly missed a chance for redemption when was passed over for induction to the Hall of Fame with the most recent Golden Era ballot in 2012, the voting members only posthumously electing Ron Santo. He wondered if he would meet the same fate as his cross-town counterpart in Santo, receiving his due when he will be not be around to enjoy it.
“How come baseball forgets the past?” he asked. “They only mention [them] when they pass, they forget about those guys when they’re alive.”
Minoso, who is set to turn 90 in November according to his own admission in the documentary, plans to still be around in 2014 when the Golden Era Committee reconvenes. He still performs 150 sit-ups each morning before leaving for his job at U.S. Cellular Field working in community relations for the Chicago White Sox. He says his work with the White Sox is what keeps his engine going.
“I don’t think I’m ever gonna go,” he said. “If you have an obligation, you’ll never get old and you’ll never ever get tired to be living. Each day I feel like my life is starting over.”
To see a trailer of the documentary, click here.
Nicholas Diunte is an educator, writer and member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) living in New York City.
A former college baseball player, coach and university professor, Diunte has merged his love for baseball and scholarship by chronicling baseball’s history through oral interviews with those who played through baseball’s golden era of the 1940′s and 1950′s.
He is currently working on a book entitled “We Played with Ray,” which features the stories of Major and Minor Leaguers playing through baseball’s era of integration. Follow him on Twitter at @Examinebaseball.