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Six Decades After His White Sox Debut, Minnie Miñoso Still a Fan Favorite

At 86—or perhaps 88—the team’s first black player (one-man charm offensive) can often be found at the park surrounded by beaming fans.

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After retiring from big-league baseball, he played eight more seasons in the Mexican League. In 1976, Bill Veeck brought him back to Chicago as a coach and talked him into playing two games, the first as a designated hitter, the second as a pinch hitter. At age 51 (or 53), he managed to scratch out one hit. In 1980, at age 55 (or 57), he made two more plate appearances. By then, it had become a stunt. But the fans loved it, and Minnie, as usual, didn’t mind.

In 1993, at age 68 (or 70), he managed to hit a ground-ball out for the minor-league St. Paul Saints. A decade later, at age 78 (or 80), he stepped to the plate one last time for the Saints and drew a walk.

Now he brags of having played professional baseball across seven decades. But that’s not all he brags about. He’s also proud of his children. He’s proud of his wife of 21 years, Sharon Rice-Miñoso, who serves as his agent and manager. They live in a lakefront high-rise on the North Side. He’s proud that he can still do 150 sit-ups each morning.

Everywhere he goes now, every time he walks the concourse at U.S. Cellular Field or sits at the bar at Sluggers in Wrigleyville or walks through the airport in his black Minnie Miñoso ball cap, he gets the same questions: Who was the toughest pitcher you ever faced? He answers Hoyt Wilhelm, the knuckleballer. Who was the best all-around player you ever saw? He says Willie Mays.

As I stood with him one day on the field before a game, batting practice under way, the splendid sound of bat on ball pealing through the park, I couldn’t help but ask him another one of those routine questions: Does he ever feel like grabbing a bat and taking a few swings? Try to make it eight decades?

“No,” he said, “I’m not going to pretend. I don’t have what I used to have. It’s not my time.”

I wanted to disagree. I think it’s still very much Miñoso’s time. Instead, I asked another question: What would you have been if you hadn’t been a ballplayer?

He paused and looked me in the eyes. It was the first time all day that he didn’t have an easy answer.

Finally, he said, “I don’t know.”

He paused again.

“But I know one thing: I’d be a good gentleman.”
 

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