Former Chicago White Sox player Minnie Minoso attended the unveiling of a life-size sculpture of him on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2004, at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
When the integration of Major League Baseball is mentioned, most thoughts go to Jackie Robinson. If you want to stretch the thought, Larry Doby may enter the conversation.
Larry was the second African American to enter the MLB and the first in the American League, coming from the Great Lakes team 11 weeks after Jackie made history. Larry went to Cleveland, and since he spent many evenings with my family, I was an Indians fan as well as a Dodgers fan.
Rooting for the Indians was an exercise in futility. The Senators were known as the team from Washington that was first in peace, first in war but last in the American League, yet they would always find ways to keep Cleveland from the pennant.
It was said of Indians owner Bill Veeck that he would sign a gorilla if it could chase down a fly ball. Veeck was on a hunt to find a quality player of color before Jackie’s signing. He was advised against it by Sam Lacy, who reminded Veeck that the owner had previously had a giant, a midget and several other oddities play for him, and a player of color may be viewed as another act in Bill Veeck’s “circus.”
After the color barrier was broken and the Indians’ signing of Doby was in the history books, Veeck continued his quest for a player to help the Indians win a pennant. It was then that he signed Orestes “Minnie” Minoso, the Cuban Comet, in 1949. With this new acquisition, the Indians won the World Series as Minoso patrolled left field and made a substantial contribution.
During this period of my life I was fortunate enough to attend spring training with Sam. Books and homework made the trip, but I still had as much freedom as any kid could want wandering around among the great MLB players.
Usually, these trips were to Florida, where the Dodgers trained, but this time it would be different. This time we were going to Tucson with the Indians. Since Jim Crow was still a major force in America, we were housed away from the white players on the team. Instead, we lived with a family in a home approved by MLB.
My roommates were Sam, Doby and Minosa. On the train ride to Tucson, I learned to appreciate the charm of Minnie. On this trip, I thought it was cool to hang out in the club car with Micky Vernon and some of the other players drinking Shirley Temples. It was quite a bit past my bed time when Sam showed up, and he was more than a little steamed at my newfound independence. Minnie came to my rescue, and saved me from a life sentence by reminding Sam that I was just a kid.
When we took our meals I marveled at the way Minnie mixed everything on his plate together. His only comment was, “It’s all going the same place.”
While in Tucson, I made friends with Billy Norsworthy. In the evenings I would join him and his gang for some mischief. Amongst his friends was a girl named June, and I was stone-cold in love with June. For this reason, when it was suggested that we slip over the border to Nogales, Mexico, I was all in. We got busted, and Minnie saved my butt again. He didn’t use these words when he talked to me, but it was similar to, “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape.”
Minnie remained an active MLB player as late as 1976, when at the age of 53 he made a handful of plate appearances for the Chicago White Sox.