Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso: “El pelotero que le abrio la puerta a muchos cubanos”

We say Happy Birthday to Minnie Miñoso. He is either 88 or 90 depending on what story you read.

He was a lot more than a baseball player to those of us who love Latin American baseball and the very special contribution of “latinos” in the majors.

Like Jackie Robinson, Miñoso opened the door for all of the great Latin players who win MVP’s and other awards these days.

He had a huge impact on Cuban and other Caribbean players who wanted to play in the majors

It was Miñoso who opened the door for Orlando Cepeda, the Alou brothers, Tony Oliva, Juan Marichal, Mike Cuellar, Luis Tiant, Roberto Clemente and so many others who came after.

As a boy growing up in Cuba, it was Miñoso drew the large crowds and the #1 topic baseball topic.  He played for Marianao and the top player in the Cuban winter leagues.

Beyond his numbers, a .304 hitter during a 12-year career with the White Sox, his biggest contribution is that he was the Jackie Robinson of black Latin players:

“Jackie Robinson carried the weight of America’s racial animus and of its contradictions on his shoulders as he undertook the task of dismantling organized baseball’s institutionalized culture of racial discrimination. He also bore the hopes of African-Americans in realizing their civil rights aspirations.

Since he was not African-American, Minoso did not fully enjoy the unflagging enthusiasm and wholehearted support that sustained Robinson through the transformative years of integration. This made the trail blazed by the “Cuban Comet” as the Major Leagues first black Latino and as the barrier breaker in Chicago all the more difficult.

Before Roberto Clemente came Minoso. The significance of the Cuban’s entry and success in the Majors was not lost on Hall of Fame outfielder Orlando Cepeda, a native Puerto Rican:

“Believe me when I say that Minnie Minoso is to Latin ballplayers what Jackie Robinson is to black [American] players. … As much as I loved Roberto Clemente and cherish his memory, Minnie is the one who made it possible for all of us Latins.”

Indeed, Minoso truly opened the door of opportunity for all Latinos into the Majors. Other Latin Americans came before him, but they were lighter-skinned Latinos who passed organized baseball’s racial litmus test to maintain its color line. A comparison of the Latinos who performed in the Negro Leagues and those allowed into the Majors reveals that the overwhelming majority of the era’s most talented Latinos toiled in the Negro Leagues.

Minoso’s diamond exploits meant that others like him could follow; it was a critically important step in what ultimately developed into the Latinization of baseball from the 1960s until today.”

We say “thumbs up” to Minnie Miñoso  and wish him a lot more birthdays. He was a lot more than a baseball player. He was a civil rights leader who set the table for so many stars today.