To some extent, most people want to leave a legacy. Making an impact on those around us, bringing joy whenever we can and, for some, making history.
Minnie Miñoso’s legacy received the long-awaited gold star next to it Sunday when he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
We could argue for days about how anyone feels about the Hall of Fame election process, but it’s created by and for humans, so it’s subject to error. We never will fully understand who gets in and who doesn’t. It’s a process with standards that are unable to be calculated by those of us on the outside.
And while for some it doesn’t validate worthiness, being inducted mattered to the person whose opinion was most important — Miñoso himself. In what would be his last interview, Miñoso told ESPN, “Don’t tell me that maybe I’ll get in after I pass away. I don’t want it to happen after I pass. I want it while I’m here, because I want to enjoy it.”
Miñoso died March 1, 2015. He was 90. We missed our chance. He never got to answer his call to the Hall.
We all want to be remembered, and one thing that many of us get wrong is we remember too late. We fail to honor our elders while they’re living instead of waiting until they’re no longer with us to sing their praises, share stories or pay homage.
In her speech Sunday afternoon at Cooperstown, his wife Sharon Rice-Miñoso reminded us of it.
“Minnie has been inducted to other esteemed Halls of Fame, including in Cuba and the Dominican Republic,” she said. “It would have meant the world to Minnie to be here himself, knowing he was inducted to the Cooperstown Hall of Fame alongside baseball’s greatest players.
“And what makes today’s recognition especially bittersweet is that Minnie faced many obstacles to arrive at this day. As a dark skinned Afro-Latino in the height of segregation, he knew of the racial and cultural challenges that he would endure coming to the United States. He tolerated them so he could play professional baseball and fulfill his own American dream. Little did he know as a pioneer that he was opening doors for countless others behind him, some of them who sit proudly on this stage.”
Miñoso was electrifying. In 20 seasons of professional baseball, he hit .299 with 195 homers,1,089 RBIs and 216 steals and had a .387 on-base percentage. He became the face of the Chicago White Sox during his multiple stints on the South Side. For decades White Sox fans rallied behind him and he returned their love and affection until he died.
Both a Negro Leagues and major-league All-Star, Miñoso was as known for his smiling face and willingness to sign autographs as his base running and clutch hitting. He is considered the Jackie Robinson of Latino players and one could say his baseball legacy was on display last Monday as Latino players took part in the home run derby.
After years of remaining upbeat despite not being inducted, Miñoso started to speak out. He told reporters how much it hurt. He spoke of seeing those with shorter careers — and numbers that weren’t as good as his — make it before him.
On opening day in 2011 he told the Tribune, “I’m mad because it seems a lot of people ignore a lot of things I do in baseball.” In December that year, Cubs legend Ron Santo was elected, but Miñoso was three votes shy in a Golden Era Committee vote. Then, when he appeared again on the ballot in December 2014, no one was elected.
It’s nice to think that perhaps Miñoso was looking down on the ceremony, finally happy to get the recognition he earned. But it would’ve been better to see him accept his well-deserved place among his peers in-person.
Miñoso lived a long life, inspiring generations of players and fans, but multiple committees assembled throughout the years failed to elect him. After all of the challenges he faced as a player, he still had one more hurdle for acceptance. And though a wrong was righted Sunday, it doesn’t ring as loudly as it could have.
“He was a great ambassador for the game of baseball and the city of Chicago. Baseball was his life,” Rice-Miñoso said.
One of baseball’s great ambassadors deserved better from the game.