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'Minnie Minoso,' First Black Latin Professional Baseball Player, Dies

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

There is a statue at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, the ballpark where the White Sox play, that represents the player they used to call the Cuban Comet and Mr. White Sox. He was known in this country as Minnie Minoso, a dynamic seven-time All-Star left fielder who hit for average, hit for power and stole bases. Early Sunday morning, Orestes Minoso died. It's believed that he was 90 years old. Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria is a Yale professor of Hispanic and comparative literatures. He was born in Cuba, loved Cuban baseball and wrote "The Pride Of Havana: A History Of Cuban Baseball."

Welcome to the program.

ROBERTO GONZALEZ ECHEVARRIA: Well, thank you very much. I'm glad to be here.

SIEGEL: And you should explain - Minnie Minoso, as I grew up knowing of him, was a star of Cuban baseball, later Major League baseball, but also American Negro League baseball. It's a very important part of the story, isn't it?

ECHEVARRIA: Absolutely, and it's left out. He played three years for the New York Cubans in the Negro Leagues. And they even won the championship of the Negro Leagues in 1947. They played at the Polo Grounds when the Giants were on the road, so it's very important part of his career.

SIEGEL: And in fact, when he finally came to bat in the Major Leagues, it's believed that he was the first black Latin Major Leaguer.

ECHEVARRIA: The first black Latin Major Leaguer, that was Minoso.

SIEGEL: Describe Minnie - as one should have said - Minoso, as a player.

ECHEVARRIA: He was a solid player. He could do it all. He was a good fielder, had a good arm. He ran very fast. He was a line drive hitter. He could also hit home runs. He could bunt. He played Cuban-style baseball, which was not flashy, reckless baseball as Americans tend to believe. Cuban baseball tends to be conservative, small ball. And so he could do the things that are required for that kind of baseball. So he was a complete player and was revered by the fans.

SIEGEL: You remark in your book about Cuban baseball that the nicknames that Cuban or other Latin players were given in the U.S. were often infantilizing or vaguely racist - a lot of Chicos - and Minnie Minoso was quite a jump-down from what his real given name was.

ECHEVARRIA: That's right. A bit demeaning, somewhat feminizing and diminutive. And yes, there were so many Chicos because we call each other in the Caribbean - oh yeah, Chico, hey. It has nothing to do with being small.

SIEGEL: Orestes Minoso is quite a much more elegant, classical name.

ECHEVARRIA: In Cuba he was never, never known as Minnie Minoso. Of course, it was Minoso with the (pronouncing sound).

SIEGEL: I gather his license plate said Minnie. That is, he - you know, it was the identity that he was given...

ECHEVARRIA: Yeah, he had adopted it. He was a man who was at peace with whom he was. And I remember him saying recently something that moved me and it's very profound. He said, there are people here who are trying to promote me for the Hall of Fame and say that I should go as an Afro-American. I'm not an African, I am a Negro from Matanzas, Cuba. Which was - I thought was brilliant.

SIEGEL: He was at peace with his identity as he had grown up with it.

ECHEVARRIA: Yeah, he was just a Negro from Matanzas, Cuba. That's what he was.

SIEGEL: Professor Gonzalez, thanks a lot for talking with us.

ECHEVARRIA: It's been a tremendous pleasure, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, historian of Cuban baseball and professor of comparative literature at Yale. We were talking about the late Orestes Minoso, known in this country to his fans as Minnie Minoso. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.