Last Sunday, Tony Oliva and Minnie Minoso finally made it to Cooperstown. I got to see it on TV. My late father, and lots of Cubans, probably got to see it up in heaven.
As a very little boy in Cuba, my father used to take us to watch baseball games. It was the four-team Cuban winter league, or the cream of the crop in Caribbean baseball. My father saw a young Brooks Robinson, Lefty Tommy Lasorda, and aspiring Major-Leaguers who knew that a good Cuban winter league session would get them noticed in spring training.
It was also the league to catch the Cuban stars like Minoso, Camilo Pascual, Pedro Ramos, Cookie Rojas, etc. I don’t remember all of the details, but there was a lot of cigar smoke in the air and intensity whenever Orestes “Minnie” Minoso would come to the plate. Later, my father told me that Minoso was booed if he didn’t slide hard or dive for an outfield fly ball. Cuban fans heard about his stolen bases up here and wanted the same down there. My guess is that the White Sox did not really want to see their star player play winter ball in Cuba, but the pressure on Minoso was overwhelming.
Years later, our family took a weekend trip to Minneapolis to watch Oliva and the Twins. They were a great team and had four Cuban players: A.L. MVP Zoilo Versalles, the great curve ball artist Camilo Pascual, back-up outfielder Sandy Valdespino, and Oliva. It was such a treat to catch our first Major League game and see Tony Oliva hit a line drive to the wall.
They are now in Cooperstown, and that’s exactly where they need to be.
Saturnino Orestes Armas Miñoso was born in Perico, Cuba, a sugar plantation. It was very common for plantations to have baseball teams in pre-Castro Cuba, and the rest is history:
The White Sox quickly put Miñoso in their everyday lineup, where he finished the season with a .326 batting average, 112 runs scored and an American League-best 14 triples and 31 steals. He finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year vote to Gil McDougald of the Yankees, and fourth in the AL Most Valuable Player voting.
Miñoso quickly demonstrated he could play baseball as well or better than almost anyone else around. Between 1951 and 1957, Miñoso led the league in triples three times, stolen bases three times, scored 100 or more runs four times and recorded at least 100 RBI three times. In those seven years, he was named to five All-Star teams, finished in the top 10 of the AL MVP voting four times and won a Gold Glove Award for his play in the outfield in 1957 — the first year Gold Glove Awards were presented.
Pedro Tony Oliva was born in Pinar del Rio and learned to play baseball on his father’s farm. He was spotted by a Twins scout, and they got him of Castro’s Cuba with his brother’s passport.