In 1975 the Chicago White Sox, their owners teetering on bankruptcy, were pondering a move to Seattle when Bill Veeck assembled a group of investors that purchased the club. In January, Veeck attended the annual Baseball Writers of America dinner to receive a “Comeback of the Year” award. His plus-one was the team’s newest coaching hire, Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso.1
Baseball was changing dramatically, and the 1976 season ushered in the beginning of modern free agency. The writing was on the wall for cash-strapped owners like Veeck, but he managed to lure Chicago fans back to Comiskey Park with a relentless series of headline-stealing gimmicks and special events. On August 8 the White Sox took the field for a doubleheader against the Royals wearing shorts. The experiment was a success on the scoreboard, producing a 5-2 win, but it didn’t fly with the players, who changed back into their traditional pants between games.2
Veeck’s biggest newsmaker that year was the announcement on September 9 that Minnie Miñoso would return to the field as an active player.3 Although Minnie’s last major-league at-bat had come in 1964, he had remained active in Mexico through the 1973 season.4 And on occasions when he popped into the batting cage during Chicago’s pregame drills, he was still able to line balls into the left-field seats. In other words, it was a stunt, but not an irresponsible or dangerous one.5
“He’s in remarkable condition,” Veeck assured reporters, predicting, “If he doesn’t get a hit, he’ll get hit by a pitch.”6
Miñoso had been plunked 192 times as a major leaguer and led the league in HBPs during all but one season between 1951 and 1961.
Veeck, who employed Satchel Paige when he owned the Indians and again when he owned the Browns, joked that he obviously didn’t “have anything against older men” and added that Minnie would most likely be limited to DHing, but would be available for whatever “duties” manager Paul Richards — who had previously managed Miñoso four seasons in the early 1950s — deemed necessary.7
“I’m curious to see what they’ll be,” Veeck said with a smile.8
How old was Miñoso? Most records list him as having been born in the winter of 1925, which would have made him 50. His age was reported as 53 at the time, however.9 When Minnie died in 2015, his family confirmed that he might indeed have been two or three years older. At 50 (or even 52 or 53) Minnie’s first appearance would make him the third-oldest active player in history. Paige had pitched at 59 for the Kansas City A’s in 1965 and Nick Altrock — like Miñoso, a working coach — pitched for the Washington Senators in 1933 at 56.10
The White Sox were in Oakland for a three-game midweek series with the A’s when the news about Minnie Miñoso’s activation broke. Not to be outdone, Oakland’s owner Charles O. Finley, age 58, issued a press release that suggested he might activate himself as a DH.11
“I’m in great shape,” the press release quoted him as saying. “I have kept this way the past five years fighting with my players.”12
Clearly, Finley didn’t appreciate being one-upped by Veeck. That being said, he no doubt felt a certain kinship with the Chicago owner. With salaries about to skyrocket, both were endangered species. There may also have been venom in his comments. When Veeck’s initial attempts to purchase the White Sox in 1975 failed to gain approval, Finley was hoping to move the A’s into the Chicago market. And, of course, in June — with free agency about to hit him like a train — Finley had been thwarted by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn in his attempt to sell Vida Blue to the Yankees and Rollie Fingers and Joe Rudi to the Red Sox. He was not above tweaking the powers that be in baseball.13
On Friday, September 10, the White Sox began a four-game series with the California Angels (including a Sunday doubleheader). Ever mindful of filling seats, Veeck and Richards decided to keep Minnie on the bench for the opener, which featured Nolan Ryan on the mound for the visitors. Ryan was on his game, mowing down 18 hitters in a 3-2 California victory. Several times during the contest, South Side fans chanted, “We want Minnie! We want Minnie!”14
On the 11th Miñoso took BP and was in the lineup as Chicago’s designated hitter, batting ninth, behind third baseman Kevin Bell. Unfortunately for Veeck, the large crowd he anticipated did not materialize: The official attendance was just 6,596. In fact, it was a huge disappointment. The previous Saturday day game played at Comiskey — in August against the Orioles — had seen more than 32,000 fans come through the turnstiles.
Those who did make it to the game stood and cheered when Miñoso came to bat with no one out in the third inning. Bell had just lined a triple over the head of Rusty Torres in center, so the mostly empty stadium was legitimately buzzing with excitement as Miñoso stepped into the right-hand batter’s box. Frank Tanana, at this stage of his career just a tick slower than his teammate Ryan, struck out Miñoso on three pitches. Bill Stein, batting behind Miñoso, singled in Bell, but White Sox lefty Ken Kravec had already yielded four runs in the top of the third, so it made the score 4-1.
Much of the third-inning damage had come courtesy of Dave Collins, a switch-hitter batting from the right side. He tripled to the opposite field, scoring Andy Etchebarren from first. After Jerry Remy flied to left, Collins came home on a double by Torres over Chet Lemon’s head. Bill Melton popped to second, but Kravec couldn’t slam the door. He walked Tommy Davis and hit Mario Guerrero with a pitch to load the bases, and then Ron Jackson pulled a double to left, scoring Torres and Davis.
Miñoso’s next at-bat, in the fifth, resulted in a popup to Remy at second base. He was employing a slightly closed stance and clearly wasn’t picking the ball up well out of Tanana’s hand, even though Tanana was a southpaw.15
Miñoso’s third and final plate appearance of the day came in the seventh inning. He led off against Tanana with the White Sox trailing 5-3. He went after the first pitch and lifted a short fly ball to right, which elicited a brief cheer before Danny Briggs came in and put it away with minimal effort. On both of his batted balls, Miñoso busted it down the line. Afterward, Veeck praised him, saying, “I wanted him to show the younger players how to play the game — that’s the same Minnie, all out, on every play.”16
The Angels put the game away in the top of the ninth on a run-scoring single by Briggs. Briggs came around after a single, an error, and a sacrifice fly by Collins. For fans doing the math, an eighth-inning walk to Lamar Johnson meant Minnie might get up again in the ninth. However, when his turn came with two outs and righty Dick Drago on the mound, Richards sent Sam Ewing up to pinch-hit. Ewing tapped a grounder to Remy at second to end the game. Tanana’s record improved to 16-9 and Drago notched his fifth save. Kravec took the loss, falling to 1-3.
Veeck was determined to see his old friend get a hit during his un-retirement, and Minnie obliged the following afternoon in his first at-bat against Angels starter Sid Monge (like Tanana, a left-hander). Batting with a more open stance, he pulled Monge’s second delivery into left field with two men out, sending Chet Lemon to second and bringing the fans out of their seats.17
Minnie batted twice more in his second game back, striking out once. His third and final game of the 1976 season was in Anaheim, on September 30. Minnie came to the plate twice, grounding out and flying out before he was replaced by ex-Angel Jim Spencer.
That November, when baseball’s annual awards were announced, Minnie finished third behind Yankees Dock Ellis and Lou Piniella for Comeback Player of the Year. He received 3 of 25 votes from the United Press International correspondents who generated the award.18
Before 1976 Minnie Miñoso’s last hit as a major leaguer had also been a single to left as a member of the White Sox.19 He finished the season with the White Sox’ Triple-A team in Indianapolis before embarking on a nine-year career in Mexico. Because pro ball in Mexico is a “winter season,” he was able to continue coaching for the White Sox for a couple more years.
He himself once said, “When you come from nowhere — cutting sugarcane in Cuba — and get somewhere, you have to be happy.”20
Minnie Miñoso’s September stint as an active major leaguer made him one of baseball’s rare four-decade players. He had originally played nine games with the Indians in the spring of 1949 before being shipped out to the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League. In 1980 Minnie became only the second five-decade player (Altrock is the other) when Veeck reactivated him for the last two games of the year. He pinch-hit for Greg Pryor and fouled out to the catcher on October 4 and batted for Chet Lemon on October 5, grounding out to Carney Lansford.21
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and SABR’s BioProject biography of Minnie Miñoso.
1 Associated Press wirephoto, “Minnie and Bill,” Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, New York), January 12, 1976.
2 Sam Epstein, “White Sox, Short Pants: Happy Anniversary to MLB’s Most Infamous Uniform,” RollingStone.com, August 8, 2014.
3 Associated Press, “Minnie Minoso Is Reactivated by White Sox,” Mt. Vernon (Illinois) Register-News, September 10, 1976.
4 “Minoso, 53, Goes Hitless,” Charlotte Observer, September 12, 1976.
5 “Minnie Minoso Is Reactivated by White Sox.”
6 “Minnie Minoso Is Reactivated by White Sox.”
7 Associated Press, “Minnie Minoso Is Activated,” Johnson City (Tennessee) Press-Chronicle, September 10, 1976.
8 “Minnie Minoso Is Activated.”
9 “Minoso, 53, Goes Hitless.”
10 United Press International, “Angels Down Sox,” Tyler (Texas) Courier-Times, September 12, 1976.
11 Associated Press, “Finley to Be A’s DH?” Albuquerque Journal, September 11, 1976.
12 “Finley to Be A’s DH?”
14 Richard Dozer, “Minnie’s Debut as DH Delayed,” Chicago Tribune, September 11, 1976.
15 United Press International, “Minoso Blanked as Chisox Lose,” Honolulu Advertiser, September 12, 1976.
16 “Minoso, 53, Goes Hitless.”
17 Associated Press, “White Sox Sweep Pair from Angels, 2-1, 5-1,” Daily Leader (Pontiac, Illinois), September 13, 1976.
18 United Press International, “Ellis Voted Comeback Player in AL,” New Mexican (Santa Fe), November 4, 1976.
19 The hit came off Stu Miller of the Orioles on June 10, 1964. His final game came on July 5, in the second half of a twin bill with the Indians. Minnie had served primarily as a pinch-hitter for Chicago that year.
20 Danny Peary, We Played the Game: 65 Players Remember Baseball’s Greatest Era: 1947-1964 (New York: Hyperion, 1994), 101.
21 “Minnie Minoso Pinch-Hits, Pops Up as White Sox Beat Angels 4-2,” Los Angeles Times, October 5, 1980; Associated Press, “Minnie Minoso, 77, Back on the Field,” Miami Herald, July 18, 2003. Miñoso’s next last hurrah came in 1993, when he signed a minor-league contract with the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League. He batted once and grounded out. The bat and ball from that appearance went to Cooperstown in celebration of professional baseball’s first six-decade player. See Brent Kelley, Voices from the Negro Leagues: Conversations with 52 Baseball Standouts (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1997), 164. Ten years later, on July 16, 2003, Miñoso appeared on a professional baseball diamond for the final time, again as a member of the Saints, making it seven decades. He worked the count to 3-and-0 and tried to steal a walk on the next pitch, which was right down the middle. The umpire made him get back in the box, and he ultimately drew a base on balls, touched first, waved to the fans, and ducked into the home-team dugout for good. See “Minnie Minoso Pinch-Hits, Pops Up as White Sox Beat Angels 4-2,” Los Angeles Times, October 5, 1980.