Minnie Minoso’s first game

March 30, 2013

Baseball returns to the Windy City this week, even if spring weather has been slow in coming. Monday the White Sox take on the Kansas City Royals at the Cell. The Cubs open April 8 against the Milwaukee Brewers.

In honor of the occasion, let’s revisit another important day of firsts in Chicago baseball.

The date was May 1, 1951, and on that day 26-year-old Cuban third baseman Orestes Arrieta made his Major League Baseball debut at Comiskey Park.  You may know him better, of course, by his American nickname: Minnie Minoso. And when Minoso stepped up to the plate that day he was doing more than playing ball: He was also breaking the color barrier. Minoso was the first black man to play for the White Sox.

In 2006, Minoso sat down with former WBEZ host Steve Edwards to reminisce about his career. He offered this account of that fateful day. You can listen in the audio above, or check out the transcript below:

For me, [my favorite on-field moment] was May 1, 1951.

I lived in 6409 [S.] Maryland [Avenue]. We went [to the game] by streetcar. I didn’t have a car; I had no money for a car.

When I stepped at the plate, [White Sox first baseman] Eddie Robinson called me up. I hit third, he hit fourth.

He said, “Eh, Minoso, do you know this guy?” It was [pitcher] Vic Raschi, number 17  rest in peace, he died – for the New York Yankees.

I said, “No, I don’t know [him]. I’ve never faced [him].”

[Robinson] said, “Good fastball, good curveball, and pretty good slider. And he’s fast.”

But you know, I’m a funny guy. I look around. I don’t know [Yankees catcher] Yogi [Berra]. And I said, “This ugly man -- can he see?” [Editor’s note: Among Berra’s many famous quotes is this gem: “So I’m ugly. So what? I never saw anyone hit with his face.”]

And now Yogi gets up. “Hey, Minoso! You don’t know me. Why you call me ugly? My wife, she says I’m nice looking.”

I said, “Well, you’re lucky you’re married. I’m not married. My grandmother used to say I’m a good Indian guy, nice looking, but she died. And now nobody calls me nice looking anymore.”

So anyway, the umpire said, “You two get out of here.”

I said OK. I step on the plate. I say, "Eddie! I’m going to swing three, no matter what happens. If I miss it, then next time. If I make contact, I have a chance.”

I get up there, the way I used to hit it.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the first pitch!” [says the announcer over the loudspeaker.]

I get prepared. I’m swinging! And I run like a deer to first base. And the umpire says like that [makes a gesture] but I don’t know whether [Yankees outfielder] Mickey Mantle had caught it.

And what I said I don’t want to repeat. I said, “Did this son-of-a-gun catch it?” [The umpire] said, “No, it’s a home run!”

I slow down. I’m passing second base. I come home. The people shake my hand. 

That was a great day – and a beginning. Because I was the first black player in the city and the first one for the Sox. The first one! And the first pitch! I hit it in the bullpen – 439 feet.

I never dreamed it. I used to weigh 176 lbs.

I have this ball. This guy caught it, and I still have this ball at my house.

Dynamic Range showcases hidden gems unearthed from Chicago Amplified’s vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Minnie Minoso spoke at an event presented by the Chicago History Museum in October of 2006. Click here to hear the event in its entirety.

Robin Amer is a producer on WBEZ’s digital team. Follow her on Twitter @rsamer