Major league baseball legend Minnie Miñoso, known as the Cuban Comet and Mr. White Sox, has died. Miñoso, who hailed from Havana, Cuba, played 12 of his 17 seasons with the Chicago White Sox, after getting his start in the majors with the Cleveland Indians in 1949.
The left fielder hit 135 homers and 808 RBIs for the White Sox. His number 9 was retired by the team in 1983, and today there's a statue of Miñoso at the field where the White Sox play.
Miñoso was one of the major league's first black Latino stars. The peak of his fame came in the 1950s, but his career stretched into the 1980s, with stints in the Mexican League, coaching gigs and occasional returns to bat in the US majors.
In a statement issued by the White Sox, Jerry Reinsdorf, chairman of the team, said, ""Our organization and our city have suffered a heart-breaking loss today ... We have lost our dear friend and a great man. Many tears are falling."
The statement elaborated on Miñoso's groundbreaking career:
"Miñoso was widely regarded as the first Cuban-born black player to reach the big leagues (records of distinction based on birthplace and/or skin color weren't kept). When the White Sox acquired him from the Indians early in 1951, four years after the debut of Jackie Robinson, they identified him as their first black player."
After he joined the White Sox, the team notes, he "became so popular that the club saluted him with a 'day' late in his fine rookie season."
The White House issued a statement Sunday honoring Miñoso's life. In it, President Obama said Miñoso had to overcome particular obstacles as a black man in major league baseball:
"Minnie came to the United States from Cuba even though he could have made more money elsewhere. He came up through the Negro Leagues, and didn't speak much English at first. And as he helped to integrate baseball in the 1950s, he was a target of racial slurs from fans and opponents, sometimes forced to stay in different motels from his teammates. But his speed, his power — and his resilient optimism — earned him multiple All-Star appearances and Gold Gloves in left field, and he became one of the most dominant and dynamic players of the 1950s."
Miñoso, whose full name is Saturnino Orestes Armas Miñoso Arrieta, was born near Havana, Cuba, in a town called El Perico. His parents worked in sugarcane fields; the White Sox website says Minnie also did the same work before he started playing baseball.
The Chicago Tribune says Miñoso died early Sunday morning "from a tear in his pulmonary artery caused by 'chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,' an autopsy found Sunday afternoon." There are conflicting reports on Miñoso's age, but his family has concluded he was 90 years old when he died, according to the Tribune.
In an interview last month with ESPN, Miñoso looked back on his career and the hardships he faced as a black baseball player decades ago. He said the fans were more important that any insults he had to deal with:
"The most important thing in my life? The fans. To have a smile, and pay them back with a smile. Sometimes, they might say something bad, and you don't like it? Will you let that get you? No, just smile. That's what I used to do when I was playing. I never thought I was going to do so many things, do so much for the team. I just wanted to play the game and do the best I can, for the fans, for my family, and for the country that I came from, to open the door for somebody else. Sometimes I have to take a lot of things, but I did not want to do anything to hurt somebody who might come to a game the next week."