Minnie Minoso, who started his MLB career with the Indians and later represented the team in the All-Star Game, passed away late last night in Chicago. He pulled over while driving home from a friend's birthday party and passed away in the vehicle. Family members believe a heart condition was responsible, though the official cause has not yet been named. Minoso has been listed as 90 years old, though as with many players from his era, there exists some uncertainty about his actual date of birth. In any event, it seems fair to say Minoso lived a long, full life.
Born in Havana, Minoso came to the United States in 1945 and played in the Negro Leagues for three seasons before Bill Veeck purchased his contract and brought him to Cleveland. He appeared in 9 games for the Indians at the start of 1949, but then spent most of the next two years playing for the Tribe's Triple-A affiliate in San Diego. Early in 1951 he was sent to the White Sox as part of a three-team deal that brought left-handed pitcher Lou Brissie to Cleveland. (Oops)
Minoso then became Chicago's first black MLB player (homering in his first at bat for the White Sox), and went on to become one of the top players in franchise history, finishing 4th in the AL MVP voting three times in his first four seasons with the team.
At the end of 1957 the Indians reacquired Minoso, and over the next two seasons he partnered with Rocky Colavito to lead the team. His combined line for those seasons was .302/.380/.476, and he hit 45 home runs and 57 doubles. In 1959 he represented the Indians in the All-Star Game.
At the end of that year he was traded back to Chicago (who were owned by Veeck at that point). He played two years there, then one for the Cardinals, then one for the Senators, then one more for the White Sox. He retired after the 1964 season, but in 1976 was brought back by the team (at the listed age of 50) and appeared in three games, managing to collect a base hit. Those games in the 1970s gave him appearances in four different decades, and as a publicity stunt to give him a record five decades, he was given two at bats during the 1980 season. There were talks of having him appear in 1990, but MLB wasn't having it. He did appear in one game for the independent St. Paul Saints in 1993 and 2003.
Minoso's career MLB batting line was an impressive .298/.389/.459 in 7,712 plate appearances. He scored 1,136 runs and collected 1,023 RBI, to go with 186 home runs and 205 stolen bases. Those numbers weren't enough to get him into the Hall of Fame, but along with Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams, Minoso was one of the three greatest players in the American League during the 1950s.
I have been fond of Minoso ever since getting to meet him at a White Sox/Indians game at Comiskey Park when I was in high school. I asked for his autograph and handed him my program. He was happy to oblige, but in the process of signing he spilled the glass of milk he'd been drinking. I felt terrible, but he reassured me by smiling, "It's only milk."
Rest in peace, Minnie.