Orestes “Minnie” Minoso — the “Cuban Comet” who broke barriers for Latin baseball players in America — was remembered Saturday as a pioneer for Chicago’s immigrants, a loving family man and a true baseball fan long past his playing days.
At Minoso’s funeral Saturday, family members, friends and former teammates offered tales of the man who loved the Chicago White Sox so much he refused to change his clothes when the team had a winning streak.
His family had to deal with his superstitions, his son Charlie Rice-Minoso told mourners at Holy Family Church — like taking the same route to the baseball park, eating the same food and talking to the same people “in the exact order.”
Minoso, Chicago’s first black major leaguer, died March 1 at 90.
Billy Pierce, who pitched for the White Sox, called Minoso a “complete ballplayer” and described his old teammate as having been as genuine on the field as off.
“One time, he missed the ball,” Pierce said. “About two days later, he comes up to me and says, ‘Bill, I’m sorry.’ I say ‘Why?’ [He says] ‘I should have caught that ball.’”
Born in Cuba, Minoso played 17 seasons in the big leagues and was a seven-time All-Star. He batted .298 with 186 career homers. But he didn’t make the Baseball Hall of Fame in his lifetime, being denied entry in December.
“When the man upstairs calls him, he will be calling a true Hall of Famer in every sense of the word,” Pierce said, to applause.
Howard Pizer, senior executive vice president of the White Sox, spoke of Minoso’s humility and empathy even in the face of discrimination.
Pizer talked about how Minoso made sure a little boy, stricken by polio and using crutches, got a baseball during an exhibition game in Memphis in 1955. Minoso saw the boy, who was white, and had the pitcher call him over to hand him the ball. The boy thanked the pitcher, but then he pointed to Minnie and told him to thank him — “the only black player in a field of white,” Pizer said.
“In [the] segregated South in the 1950s, a black player could never be so bold as to give a white child a baseball,” Pizer said. “Minnie had noticed this boy on crutches and cared, so he sent the boy a gift indirectly because societal norms demanded separation. That was our Minnie in a nutshell, caring…always looking to make someone else feel better.”
That little boy was U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Tennessee who shared the tale and his personal homage to Minoso on the House floor last week.
Zach Strauss, a longtime family friend, talked aboutf the many hours Minoso spent at his father’s Wrigleyville bar, Sluggers, even though he didn’t come there to drink.
“He went there to talk to everyone about anything and everything, and everybody loved him,” Strauss said. “Especially the guys in the kitchen.”
That’s where Minoso would whip up Cuban favorites like oxtail soup, okra and arroz con pollo.
“He would sit outside on the patio at Sluggers, watching the people walk by, and he loved to stop and talk to them about life and baseball. It would be the UPS guy, the mailman — even the Cubs fans,” Strauss said, to laughs.
Minoso was a pioneer for Chicago’s immigrants, historian Adrian Burgos said.
“Minnie was the future of baseball,” Burgos said.
Statements also were read from current Sox players Alexei Ramirez and Jose Abreu, two of the many Latin players Minoso mentored over decades.
“We will miss his knowledge, his insights, his passion for the game and of course his smile,” Ramirez said. “Just as he paved the way for Latino ballplayers, he has left us with the responsibility to carry on his legacy.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke of Minoso’s place as the first Latin superstar in baseball and the obstacles he overcame.
“Minnie’s passing is heartbreaking, but Minnie’s life was a lesson in overcoming heartbreak with a smile,” Emanuel said.
Others in attendance included White Sox Hall of Famer Frank Thomas and former player Ron Kittle, White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams and former Cubs Hall of Famer Billy Williams, as well as mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Outside the church, Williams called Minoso a “ballpayer that left nothing on the field.”
Thomas said he’ll miss seeing his friend at the ballpark: “He was there every night. He’s a fixture at the stadium. He’s going to be missed.”
Minoso’s own words were played over the church’s loudspeakers at the end of his funeral, as a recording was played in which he said, “Brothers and sisters, I love you, and God bless you.”
Afterward, the funeral procession carried him past his favorite playground at 35th and Shields one last time.