CLEVELAND — When Black History Month meets America’s Pastime, Jackie Robinson is the first name that comes to mind…and for good reason.
By breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier in Brooklyn, he opened the game to an entire community that had been aggressively kept out.
But soon after, Cleveland played a central role in opening the door even wider and keeping it open for more players from more parts of the world. This year, when the Baseball Hall of Fame enshrines its 2022 class, Minnie “The Cuban Comet” Miñoso will finally clear his last barrier.
Growing up, it took a while for Charlie Rice-Miñoso to realize his dad wasn’t quite like the other dads.
“I always just thought it was dad going to work,” said Rice-Miñoso. “He was an extremely humble guy and he was from a ranch in Cuba.”
By the time Rice-Miñoso was growing up, Minnie Miñoso’s playing days were behind him as a third baseman for the Negro League's New York Cubans, and outfielder for the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox. By then, he was traveling the United States and North America as an ambassador for baseball.
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick says it was a job Miñoso was great at.
“Once you met Minnie, you just fell in love with Minnie,” said Kendrick. “He had an energy, a charisma that was so very infectious.”
That’s despite everything Miñoso faced just to play the game he loved. He started in the Negro Leagues because when he came to the United States to play baseball in 1946, that was the only place where he could play.
“And here’s Minnie, coming from another country, speaking an entirely different language, having to adjust from his native homeland of Cuba to life in the Negro Leagues, being called the n-word...when he had no idea what the n-word even meant,” said Kendrick. “These athletes were literally carrying the weight of a race of people, and in Minnie’s case, the weight of two peoples.”
A few months after Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, Miñoso won the Negro Leagues World Series. His New York Cubans beat the Cleveland Buckeyes in six games, including a match-up at both Cleveland Municipal Stadium and League Park in Cleveland.
Two years later, Miñoso would return to Cleveland, this time playing for the Indians as the first Afro-Latino player in the Majors, joining other Cleveland legends Satchel Page, Larry Doby and Luke Easter. Still, prejudices of the time were often made clear, no matter how good those players were.
“Minnie, Satchel, and Larry Doby were all part of the Cleveland Indians team. They’re playing an exhibition game in Texas, and the three of them had to walk almost two miles to the ballpark because no cab would give them a ride,” said Kendrick. “And they’re walking in their uniforms because they couldn’t change into their uniforms at the stadium.”
The relatively large number of non-white players on the Cleveland roster is at least part of the reason Kendrick says Miñoso didn’t get a fair shot in Cleveland.
“I think there were those within the ranks of the Cleveland organization that went, ‘Uh oh, that’s too many Black folks on this team, we can’t have a fourth guy,” said Kendrick.
In 1951, Miñoso was traded to the Chicago White Sox, where his #9 uniform jersey number was retired in 1983 and a statue was unveiled in the early 2000s. He was elected to the Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.
Seven decades later, about a quarter of Major League Baseball’s players are Latino, including the only modern-era Hall of Fame Inductee elected by baseball’s writers in 2022, David Ortiz. Ortiz was born in the Dominican Republic, and Charlie says that connection isn’t lost on the Miñoso family.
“He would just be very proud of the fact that he was able to open doors and be the first for many and inspire many,” said Rice-Miñoso.
The irony is that a career partially defined by breaking barriers couldn’t clear the final hurdle into the Baseball Hall of Fame before Miñoso died in 2015.
“Minnie Miñoso wanted to be in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and he deserved to be in the National Baseball Hall of Fame,” said Kendrick.
Kendrick says Miñoso’s stats and role breaking down barriers should have made him a lock. Baseball players and historians lobbied for The Cuban Comet, but he stayed on the outside looking in until the Golden Days Era Committee voted Miñoso in for the 2022 induction ceremony.
Miñoso is going in right alongside fellow Negro Leagues stars Buck O’Neil and fellow Cuban, Tony Oliva.
The Baseball Heritage Museum at League Park assisted with this story by making their Minnie Miñoso memorabilia available to News 5 Cleveland.
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