Family, friends, fans remember 'Cuban Comet' Minnie Minoso
Mar. 06, 2015
CHICAGO (AP) — Along with the hugs and that Cadillac with the White Sox flags, Ron Kittle will simply miss being around Minnie Minoso.
In that sense, he is hardly alone.
Minoso, part of a wave of black players who helped integrate the sport, was remembered Friday as much for his warm demeanor as his accomplishments on the field. A long line of family, friends and fans paid their respects at a public visitation at Chicago's Holy Family Church. A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, with the procession afterward taking the "Cuban Comet" past U.S. Cellular Field and old Comiskey Park's home plate.
"He's gonna be dearly missed by the whole city of Chicago and pretty much the baseball world because he made an impact," said Kittle, the former White Sox slugger.
The game's first black Latino star, Minoso died early Sunday. He was believed to be 90. His passing comes on the heels of the loss of Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, who died on Jan. 23 at age 83.
"You lose him, you lose Ernie Banks, two instrumental people in Chicago," Kittle said. "It's a tough year."
Minoso played 12 of his 17 seasons in Chicago, hitting .304 with 135 homers and 808 RBIs for the White Sox. The White Sox retired his No. 9 in 1983 and there is a statue of him at U.S. Cellular Field.
His absence from the Hall of Fame is a sore spot for his admirers. But there were as many smiles as there were tears on Friday for a player who — like Banks — connected with fans in a way that stretched way beyond the numbers. They felt like they knew him. He was always around, always willing to sign every last autograph.
He was a pioneer, a player who paved the way for generations of Latin American players.
He endured insults from opposing players and the indignity of not being welcome in certain restaurants, yet he never became bitter.
"He was great on the field," said his son, Orestes Minoso Arrieta Jr. "I don't have to say that. But he was also great off the field — doing good to others, seeing the good in others, understanding the times that he lived in and being able to excel under such difficult situations."
To younger son Charlie Rice-Minoso, 26, he was simply an eccentric and lovable father, a great cook and the best driving instructor a kid could have.
The fact that he happened to be a baseball pioneer?
"It's difficult to try and make that correlation between the man we knew at home — the man who never knew how to cook for two people but always fed an army," said Rice-Minoso, his voice cracking. "It's strange to see that he was the person that the community just gravitated toward, loved. And the fact that he made those contributions, it's so surreal for us to wrap our minds around."
Mary Lally recalled going to the ballpark once a week in 1951 when she was about 14. Minoso was always the last player signing autographs and she got to know him a little bit.
Toward the end of the season, she asked him if she and some other girls could start a fan club. Two weeks later, he gave them all "Cuban Comet" jackets, and the "Cuban Comets" were born. By the following season, the club had fans from Cuba and other Latin countries as well as one from Germany.
The club would meet at the members' homes and Minoso showed up. Lally remembered Minoso bringing her mom and brother gifts.
She also recalled him taking the club out to dinner.
"He was so kind to us," Lally said. "We were a bunch of kids. You know how screaming teenagers are, and he was our hero. But he made us feel special. That was the truth. We thought he was the hero, and he treated us like queens."
Kittle recalled his tryout with the White Sox at Comiskey in 1978. Leading him through it was Minoso, then a coach.
An iron worker at the time, Kittle had long blond hair and a dark tan. Minoso told him, "You don't look like no ballplayer. You look like a movie star."
From that day on, Minoso always called Kittle "Movie Star" — not "Ron" or "Kittle."
"It's heartbreaking, but this is a celebration," Kittle said. "This is a guy that had a tremendous life, loving everybody."