Baseball’s populartiy may be on the ropes, but it’s agency for social change is forever stamped in American history. It was a public venue for racial integration, as well as an arena for women to play sports during World War II.
Last week, Minnie Miñoso, Major League Baseball’s first recognized black Cuban player, passed away. Born Saturnino Orestes Miñoso, and later dubbed the “Cuban Comet,” and “Mr. White Sox”, Miñoso played first for the Cleveland Indians, and then for the Chicago White Sox. He joined the major leagues in 1948, the year after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball.
According to Seattle University professor in the Matteo Ricci College Dr. Wilson Edward Reed, the first people of color to play baseball were met with significant challenges and abuse. But their love of the sport and persistence to play helped to set up the rest of society for the process of integration.
“Baseball was a place to start,” said Reed. “Baseball early on brought people together.”
According to Reed, there was eventually no room for segregation within the sport. The best players made it to the top, and if they weren’t all white, so be it.
“The game was bigger than the segregationists,” said Reed. “I think that truthfully sports has been an instrument for change in our society.”
Dr. Alvin Sturdivant is Assistant Vice President for Student Development at Seattle U, and also teaches about deconstructing hate. He says that players like Miñoso and Robinson were trailblazers.
“I think they have helped to suggest that the level of talent between the white males who at that time were playing in the Major Leagues and this sort of newcomer being the black person in the Major Leagues—that we could play at the same level as those folks,” said Sturdivant.
And in playing the game despite enduring racial slurs and other abuse, Miñoso was one of those catalysts for change.
Miñoso played a whopping 12 seasons for the White Sox—17 seasons for the Major Leagues in total. He was named an All Star seven times. During his time in the League, he made 186 home runs and docked a batting average of .298.
Miñoso did not get elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but for many, his achievement surpasses official recognition.
“Minnie may have been passed over by the Baseball Hall of Fame during his lifetime, but for me and for generations of black and Latino young people, Minnie’s quintessentially American story embodies far more than a plaque ever could,” said President Barack Obama in a statement about Miñoso.
According to Seattle University Professor Dr. Marc McLeod, Miñoso was especially significant for the Cuban community.
“The success that Miñoso had in Major League Baseball was certainly a source of pride for Cubans in general, since baseball had emerged as Cuba’s most popular sport going back to the struggle against Spanish colonialism in the late nineteenth century, but he was most significant in terms of breaking down racial barriers for African Americans as well as Cubans,” said McLeod in an email statement.
Sports today are integrated, but Sturdivant says that the narratives of these early pioneers are still important since there is still discrimination across a wide variety of demographics that tends to inhibit opportunity. And also, to move forward, it is essential to understand where we’ve been.
“I think honestly that in order for us to understand where we’re headed, we absolutely must understand our past and our history,” said Sturdivant. “We stand on the shoulders of giants.”
While Mr. White Sox certainly left the world of baseball a legacy of impressive plays, he left the rest of the world a legacy of even greater significance.