As all the White Sox don the number 9 and wear their 1950s-era throwbacks, they do more than honor the baseball legacy of Minnie Minoso. They heard him crack jokes and give pointers, saw him stroll through the locker room and be more than just a franchise legend.
They knew him as a man.
“I think Minnie, historically of what he meant to the franchise is one thing, and I think that’s an important thing. But a lot of these guys knew him,” manager Robin Ventura said. “When he was around, he was here pretty much daily. And I think the guy is more important for who we know.
“I know people understand his significance as far as when he came in the league and how important he was to the White Sox. But I think for these guys, it’s special to them because he was a part of the family and he was in here a lot. A real special guy, very upbeat and energetic to come in and talk to guys.”
Minoso, who joined the Sox in 1951 and played for the team in four decades, died March 1 at age 90. He was the team’s first black player and a pioneer for Cubans in American baseball.
The Sox players knew that and undoubtedly cherished his role in the sport’s history. To them, however, he was more than that.
He’s a friend that’s been missed this year.
“It’s always going to be hard because Minnie was so special for us, for everybody here in the White Sox organization,” Alexei Ramirez said through a translator. “It’s always going to be hard when you walk through the clubhouse and you can sometimes be reminded of some of the jokes that he made. It’s going to be hard, but that’s life.”
Jose Abreu echoed that. He said it’s been “very, very difficult” to be without Minoso this year and how he loved his personality.
Asked about the advice Minoso gave him, Abreu said “if I told you all of it I would spend hours because he gave me so much advice.”
“But I think the most important one was we have to respect the game and respect the country we are from,” Abreu said through a translator. “Between all the advice, that’s the most important, that we have to respect the game.”
When the Sox and Cubs honored the memories of Minoso and Ernie Banks in July at Wrigley Field with throwbacks, the Sox kept their regular numbers while the all the Cubs wore 14. This time, all the Sox are wearing 9, a chance Ramirez relishes.
“It’s very special. It’s an honor for me especially and a privilege,” Ramirez said. “I will want to wear this jersey for the whole season. But it’s just for today and it’s good. It’s good because it’s an honor for us and an honor for Minnie, Minnie’s memory.”
The Sox are also paying tribute to Billy Pierce by keeping a 19 patch on their left arms. Pierce died July 31 at age 88 after a battle with gall bladder cancer. Like Minoso, he wore the original version of Friday’s throwbacks.