When thinking of Minnie Miñoso, the first thing that comes to mind shouldn't piss you off.
We saw what that looks like when Hall of Fame voters let their bizarre displeasure with his post-career comeback attempts overshadow his immense contributions to baseball, especially in Chicago. It's just unseemly.
Granted, the wound of his most recent Hall of Fame snubbing is fresher than ever. When the Golden Era committee failed to enshrine Miñoso in Cooperstown in 2010, we wondered if he'd make it to the next one. He did ... and that just made the subsequent failure sting even more, because Lord knows he wanted it, and we wanted it for him. Now that he's dead, it's something all of us will never experience.
We shouldn't let the voters off the hook, because it's indeed a travesty. We just shouldn't let something awful define him, because he wouldn't allow it, either during his career ...
"My father and my mother taught me there was a way to pay somebody back, if they tried to break your arm or break your face: Pay them back on the field with a smile on your face. I used to keep my teeth clean all the time, just to make sure that's how I gave it back to them that way all the time."
"I don't think he ever had an unhappy day,'' [Jerry] Reinsdorf said Sunday. "If he did, he never let anybody notice. He was always upbeat. He always had a smile. He always had something nice to say to somebody. He never hesitated to sign an autograph, never hesitated to answer people's questions. He never complained. In the 35 years I've known him, he never complained about anything. Even the two times we thought he was going to get into the Hall of Fame and he didn't, I was tremendously down and he picked me up.''
"Hall of Famer" is, reductively speaking, a really convenient shorthand. It conveys a vetted, extraordinary level of talent befitting of the player. Without it, you have to work a little harder to explain it, using identifiers like:
- The first black player in Chicago
- Baseball's first Latino superstar
- Seven All-Star appearances
- Three Gold Gloves
- 1,963 hits, a lifetime .389 on-base percentage and a 130 OPS+
- Second-highest WAR among American Leaguers from 1951 to 1961
And Miñoso did all that despite a late entry into Major League Baseball due to the color of his skin, as well as additional harassment for speaking little English early on. This all requires more time to properly absorb than the Cooperstown stamp of approval, and some just couldn't do it, or never had the opportunity.
Consider ourselves lucky that we paid attention. We know all of that, and a lot more. We know that Miñoso turned the pitchers' paradise that was Comiskey Park into his playground, and his brand of baseball attracted fans back to the South Side after decades of dormancy. He crowded the plate to take away the inside corner, then he pounded the ball to the opposite field ...
"You think you can fool him, but he'll cross you up every time. He's a right-handed batter, so you pitch him inside, figuring he won't pull the ball down the left-field line. But then he hits it out to the right-field wall. No wonder they pitch at him instead of to him."
-- Washington Senators manager Bucky Harris
... and he ran like hell, always:
"Minoso always upsets the infield. You know you have to field the ball cleanly and rush your throws when he's at bat or on base. He just doesn't give you any chance to relax, mentally or physically. He gives you the jitters."
-- Phil Rizzuto
From the archives
From the archives
We know that Miñoso loved the game, and would never refuse an opportunity to wear the uniform. We knew that he loved the White Sox, as did anybody who saw his car. We knew that he loved the fans, because every fan who met him felt it.
Miñoso radiated love and joy and energy and warmth. Forget baseball -- he was the greatest things of everything, and you can strive to be like him even if you can't run, hit or throw. When you know that, you'd know exactly why he took the field when opportunities were presented to him in 1976 and 1980, and came close in 1990 and 1993. His best days were never behind him.
I'm guessing he'll have one more great day left, whether it's because the wonderful tributes wake up voters who slept on him, or because the Hall of Fame finally figures out a committee approach that finally starts to clean up the BBWAA's misses. His legacy is larger than most everybody knows, and eventually it will be officially recognized with baseball's greatest honor. It's a damn shame he won't be around to see it, but it should be celebrated nevertheless.
Until that day comes, those of us who know him shouldn't let that dominate his identity. Everybody in the White Sox community got the best of Miñoso, so it's only fitting to make sure the ignorance of others doesn't get the best of us.