Commentary: 'Beisbolero' receives tribute


CHICAGO, Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Prior to the Anaheim Angels playing the Seattle Mariners Monday night, baseball fans endured a brief ceremony honoring the Angels' all-star outfielder, Vladimir Guerrero -- one of three ballplayers chosen as Latino Player of the Year.

Hispanic Heritage Month activities also will take place this month at Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field when New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and Chicago Cubs infielder Aramis Ramirez get similar honors.


But for those people interested in paying tribute to the achievements of Latin American ballplayers, a significant moment was a low-key ceremony Sunday on Chicago's South Side.

While many fans at U.S. Cellular Field were busy purchasing beer or hot dogs prior to the game against the Detroit Tigers, the Chicago White Sox unveiled a statue honoring the career of Orestes "Minnie" Minoso, their outfielder from the 1950s who remains among the team's all-time great ballplayers.


Minoso, a Cuban native who quit returning home when Fidel Castro's communist government took control of the island nation and who later became a U.S. citizen, now is immortalized in bronze just beyond center field at the White Sox' stadium.

His is the second such statue to be erected by the White Sox as part of a plan to add character to their stadium by paying tribute to the team's history. Team founder Charles Comiskey was the first.

Just looking at the numbers, Minoso was a good (if not immortal) ballplayer, with a lifetime batting average just under .300 and falling just short of 2,000 hits and 200 home runs.

But the significance of Minoso is that he is a key in the evolution of Hispanic athletes from being treated like foreign freaks to being given the respect their play on the field deserves.

Minoso is far from the first Hispanic player in the major leagues. That honor goes to Judd Castro, who played infield for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1902 and 1903.

Minoso also was not the first Hispanic to have a lengthy career. Adolfo Luque, a Cuban native, pitched in the major leagues for 20 seasons and was the first Hispanic 20-game winner (in 1923 with the Cincinnati Reds).


But Minoso was one of the first to gain much in the way of respect for his play.

The Washington Senators used to employ significant numbers of Cuban ballplayers primarily because they would work cheap -- they would eagerly play for the major-league minimum pay and would help the Griffith family to keep expenses down.

Luque is remembered primarily for a hotheaded temper rather than any on-field achievements.

And then there was the affect of the color barrier that used to keep American-born black players out of the major leagues. Dark-skinned Hispanics also suffered. Two of the greatest Cuban ballplayers of all time, Cristobal Torriente and Martin Dihigo, never got the chance to play in the major leagues.

Dihigo was relegated to the Negro leagues, while Torriente decided to remain in Cuba rather than subject himself to the "Jim Crow" standards of the United States.

Minoso also suffered in the beginning of his career, playing his first two years of baseball in the United States with the New York Cubans of the Negro National League.

But he was approaching his prime years as a ballplayer when Jackie Robinson cracked the racial barrier and joined the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Minoso signed with the Cleveland Indians organization and eventually was traded to the White Sox, where he became the first black ballplayer in Chicago.


Some go so far as to label Minoso the "Latin Jackie Robinson," noting that as the first dark-skinned Hispanic ballplayer, he had to deal with the prejudices of the era against black people while also dealing with the difficulties of a Latino adjusting to life in the United States.

With the White Sox, Minoso was a significant part of the "Go-Go Sox" teams that won an American League pennant in 1959 and achieved 17 consecutive winning seasons throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

When combined with his stints with the White Sox in 1976 and 1980 that make him the only ballplayer to play parts of five decades in the major leagues, generations of White Sox fans have fond memories of Minoso.

In many ways, it was Minoso's success that caused baseball people to quit thinking of Hispanic athletes as roster filler and instead as significant ballplayers upon whom teams could be built.

Without Minoso, there likely would not have been Roberto Clemente or Juan Marichal, who led to Tony Perez and Rod Carew, followed by Fernando Valenzuela, all of whom set the tone for today's era, where more than 20 percent of major-league players are foreign born and nearly 40 percent are of Hispanic ethnicities.


People who think Minoso belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., say the early years of his baseball career should somehow be factored in to adjust his major-league statistics into figures that would match the high standards of the ballplayers enshrined in the hall.

For his part, Minoso says he is not overly concerned whether he ever gets a bronze plaque in Cooperstown, saying he thinks his new statue at Cellular Field -- designed by Chicago-based Cuban-American sculptor Maritza Hernandez -- is a significant honor in and of itself, ensuring that White Sox fans will not forget him.

"That is my twin brother," Minoso said. "Now, when God wants me to play for the other team up there, my brother is going to stay here.

"So you're going to see me for quite a while," Minoso said. "You're not going to tire of me. One way or another, I'll be there watching in center field."


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