By James Fegan
The Catbird Seat
More than three years ago now, in the weeks leading up to what wound up being Minnie Minoso’s second-to-last shot at the Veteran’s Committee vote for the Hall of Fame, the White Sox went through the exercise of a full-blown press event to stump for his candidacy. ESPN’s Pedro Gomez hosted, fellow Cubans Luis Tiant and Tony Perez appeared and spoke alongside a collection of former teammates led by Billy Pierce. In the US Cellular Field conference room, Gomez acted as prosecutor, running through testimonies with the goal of proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that Minnie deserved to be in the Hall of Fame.
The defense rested.
So fervent was the Sox push, that there was even a cadre of bloggers present; myself included, and just to even further curry favor of the audience, the Sox presented us with an elaborate lunch before the testimonies started. Not knowing the protocol, a group of us hung back, until Minnie rolled by himself and extolled us to get started. It was kind of his party after all, and we weren’t matching his intended vibe.
Placed aside token rattling off of Minoso’s statistics, the testimonies strained a bit after lauding his five-tool skillset; they were attempting to articulate something abstract and hit upon the urgent necessity of his career. Minnie was older than everyone present, but it was striking how everyone, both fellow Cuban players he blazed the trail for, and white teammates, talked about him like a patriarch. That tone picked at the motivation for the ceremony: Minnie was old, no one was talking about his death, but it was time to start acknowledging that he couldn’t wait forever. The Hall of Fame is a museum, but the ceremony is for the individuals involved. As much as Minnie wanted it–and he did, sincerely–his friends wanted to be with him for his culmination.
It’s hard, not to be angry.
There’s an injustice, an indignity, for a man at the end of a brilliant, unrepeatable career and life, to be transformed into a resume-stuffer, stacking up accomplishments to place alongside “First black Latino in MLB,” “integrating Chicago baseball,” so it can be accounted for its worth. Minoso’s legacy faces the same obstacles as any conversation about racism today, a misunderstanding of integration to be like prohibition; something that was lifted at a specific date and done, rather than an agonizing process, with “hit-by-pitches” being the only vague statistical measure that can communicate staring down racial hatred so visceral it took the form on assault on Minoso’s very body with no guarantee anyone would have his back when he dusted himself off.
But Minoso never wore these frustrations. He was not built to. Of the challenges and insults he faced, it was insignificant. He traveled from Cuban sugarcane fields, toiled in the Negro Leagues, sat behind lesser white players until he got his shot, kicked everyone’s ass at a Hall of Fame level for a decade, lived out his retirement as a conquering hero counseling dozens of Cuban ballplayers he kicked in the door for, taking in Sox games whenever he felt the notion, and pushed his Cadillac around his city until his heart gave out.
Minoso said on record, many times, that his dream was to be in the Hall of Fame. It’s a construct, an artificial and arbitrary honor, but Minoso believed as much as anyone in the code of ethics and tradition built around this game. But the failure to honor and completely recognize Minoso before his leaving us is our own, not his.
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James Fegan is on Twitter at @JRFegan.