Yesterday Minnie Minoso, the great White Sox left fielder, died. Only Frank Thomas surpassed Minoso's popularity with Sox fans, and only Thomas surpassed Minoso's greatness in the modern era. And while Thomas might be a first ballot Hall of Famer—Minoso, despite being hampered by his late career start in a segregated era, still has a good case—Thomas would have to hang around Sox games for another thirty-plus years to match Minoso's longevity as a local icon.
Minoso's expansive personality belies the fact that he could be difficult—and also explains how he could be so beloved while being difficult, especially in the eyes of then-vice president Chuck Comiskey, the man in charge of paying him.
He never put up eye-popping numbers, only breaking 20 homers twice with the Sox. Instead, he relied on a combination of decent power and good speed; in 1954, he hit just 19 home runs, but still had more total bases than Mickey Mantle (27 home runs) on the strength of a major-league leading 18 triples. He also had a great eye, typically walking more than he struck out while leading the league in hit-by-pitches. ("I crowd the plate to hit. If I no hit, I no eat," Minoso told the Tribune in 1975.)
Minoso knew his value, though. In 1956 he had the second-best season of his career, hitting .316 with a .425 on-base percentage and 21 home runs. Fangraphs has him as the fourth best hitter in baseball that year, behind Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, and Duke Snider, and ahead of Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. So Minoso, no stranger to extended contract negotiations, wanted his worth. When he didn't get it, he wrote Comiskey.
"Dear Mr. Comiskey
"I am sending this contract you sent to me because I guess you was wrong about it. It looks like a contract which belong to me for year of 1953 or 1954, not for Minoso after fine 1956 year I have.
"I can't think that this contract belong to me, it belong to another player on the club. This salary has expired and is no good for me next season. Contract for me should have more money than one sent by mistake for next season.
"Please send me correct contract.
Minoso got a $2,500 raise on top of his $32,500 salary, the equivalent of almost $300,000 today, between Duke Snider money and Al Kaline money. According to the Sox's press agent, it went like this:
MINOSO—"Wha' you have in mind, Chuck?"
[Comiskey gave Minnie a figure.]
MINOSO—"Well, add [censored] and me sign."
The Indians lured Minoso with a $40,000 contract for 1958, but he returned in 1960 for two years, again in 1964, and famously in 1976 and 1980 for a total of ten plate appearances in his 50s, eventually driven to stay.
"I love this city," Minoso told the Tribune's David Condon in 1976, before his next-to-last season with the Sox. "Always I tell my wife that in baseball I travel a lot and if I die, maybe in accident, to bring my body back to Chicago. Now I back alive. I don't think they push me out again. Some day I'm going to die in the city I love."