By Ross Forman
His autograph was one of the most distinctive ever, from any athlete in any sport – with his two creative, clever and flowing Ms. He was meticulous and the autograph was always the same, often aided by an index card or separate sheet of paper that he used to line up the bottom portion.
Minnie Minoso was class personified – at the countless autograph signing sessions he’s attended over the past few decades, during his illustrious, five-decades-long playing career or in recent years and decades as an ambassador for his beloved Chicago White Sox.
Minoso, a legendary, longtime baseball player and the first black player for the Chicago White Sox, died unexpectedly on March 1. He was 89.
Minoso died from a tear in his pulmonary artery caused by “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” an autopsy found, according to the Chicago Tribune. Minoso went out on Feb. 28 for a friend’s birthday party when he apparently fell ill and pulled over in a Chicago north side neighborhood, according to police and family, the Tribune reported. He was found unresponsive in the driver’s seat of his car near a gas station around 1 a.m. Sunday, according to police.
His son, Charlie Rice-Minoso, a Chicago resident, said that his dad had been “in great health and great spirits.”
“Dad never looked at people’s labels; people were just people,” said Rice-Minoso.
Minoso was born in Cuba and began his professional career in the Negro Leagues before breaking into the majors with the Cleveland Indians in 1949. He played for the White Sox for 12 years with stints in St. Louis and Washington. He was a nine-time All-Star whose uniform number (9) has been retired by the White Sox, and the team dedicated a statue of him at U.S. Cellular Field in 2004.
“For South Siders and Sox fans all across the country, including me, Minnie Minoso is and will always be ‘Mr. White Sox,’ ” President Barack Obama said in a statement released by the White House.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel released a statement hours after Minoso’s death: “With the passing of Minnie Minoso, the City of Chicago has lost a legend on and off the field. He went from playing in the Negro Leagues to reaching the very top of the major leagues, becoming the first African-American to play for the White Sox in 1951. His heroics, combining speed and power, brought joy to generations of fans on the South Side, and his infectious enthusiasm forever solidified his place as a Chicago icon for the ages. I send my deepest condolences to his family, his friends and his legion of fans. Soon it will be spring, the Sox will take the field and ‘The Cuban Comet’ will be looming large in spirit. Thank you, Minnie for the many great memories.”
Minoso, a member of the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame, was a White Sox coach after playing and served as a team ambassador, if not a representative for all of baseball and sports, with his gracious, caring, loving, heartfelt ways. He never turned down autograph seekers and always posed for photos. Minoso signed autographs in late January at the annual team-run convention, SoxFest, held at the Hilton Chicago – believed to be his last public signing session. Minoso also signed autographs last June at the Fanatics Authentic sports memorabilia convention held at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.
George Johnson, who ran card shows in Chicago for approximately 20 years, including the twice-a-year Chicago Sun-Times Shows, said Minoso only appeared at one show – in the late-1990s, and he was a free autograph, part of the VIP package. “He was very nice and cordial to everyone,” Johnson said.
Johnson noted that Minoso had a “beautiful signature that was big and bold; he always took time, to make the signature look like a piece of art.”
Johnson recalled Minoso’s distinctive “M” and speculated that “he lined up his Ms and wanted them to be perfect, like Mickey Mantle did.”
Brian Schwartz, president of Schwartz Sports Memorabilia based in Morton Grove, Ill., had Minoso sign autographs at three shows and for two in-store appearances over the past decade or so. Schwartz, like Johnson, recalls Minoso’s distinctive autograph, particularly his use of an index card for every signature “to make sure (it was) perfectly straight across.”
“Clearly, he was a perfectionist, and he definitely took pride in how his signature looked,” Schwartz added.
Schwartz said Minoso often added “Mr. White Sox” or “Cuban Comet” inscriptions to his autograph, and wge as a great story-teller to fans seeking his signature.
Minoso appeared once, in 2008, at Jim & Steve’s Sportscard Shop in Waukegan, Ill. Store owner Steve Wilson recalls the former Sox standout as “very nice” and said he used a ruler “so his signature was nice and straight.” Plus, he was wearing his 2005 World Series Championship ring. “And he let everyone take a picture with it,” he added.
Wilson said Minoso-signed baseballs sell for about $50, while signed 8-by-10 photos are about $30.
Those prices, though, certainly will spike if Minoso finally gets the call to the Hall.
“Minoso signed a lot around here; his autograph is plentiful around here,” Wilson said. “But if he gets in (the Hall), I think there will be a lot of people elsewhere, particularly on the East Coast, who will start buying up his stuff. Minnie Minoso was to the White Sox what Ernie Banks was to the Cubs.”
Minoso’s MLB rookie cards were released by Topps (No. 195) and Bowman (No. 5) in 1952, though he has card-like memorabilia dating back to 1945, when he appears on a Caramelo Deportivo Cuban League product (No. 27). He appears on relics in 1947-48, too, and then 1952 Berk Ross (No. 41), Red Man Tobacco (with and without tabs, No. 15a), Star-Cal Decals Type 1 (No. 73e) and Victoria Cuban Professional League (No. 106).
Other relics from his career include 1954 Red Heart Dog Food (No. 22), 1959 Kahn’s Wieners (No. 24), 1961 Post Cereal (No 25), 1977 O-Pee-Chee (No. 262), 1989 Pacific Legends (No. 51) and 1991 Topps Archives 1953 Reprints (No. 66).
Kevin Savage, a longtime sports collectibles seller, based in Maumee, Ohio, said Minoso’s 1952 Topps and Bowman cards are his “most sought-after.” Savage said he last sold a ’52 Bowman (PSA 7) for about $100, while a ’52 Topps (PSA 7) went for about $200.
Kip Ingle, a veteran dealer, based in Acworth, Ga., noted that one of Minoso’s rarest collectibles is his 1963 St. Louis Cardinals postcard, issued by the team. “That set, of all the sets issued by the team from the 1940s through the 1990s, is the most challenging, hardest to locate, in any condition,” Ingle said.
The set sells for about $50.
More than 1,600 Minoso-related items were being sold on eBay the day after he passed away, including Minoso’s personal, used and signed seven-decades player hat. The seller said that the hat “was given to me directly by Minnie after a deeply personal moment was shared. I promised not to sell it while he was alive.”
The seller added that it is “possibly the most personal item you will find of this great man.” The seller also stated that if a member of the White Sox organization contacts him, “a donation may be possible.”
Other interesting offerings on eBay include:
– 1962 Salada Tea Coin Junket (No. 39), PSA 10, for $1,500 or best offer.
– 1956 PM 15 Yellow Basepath pin, PSA 9, for $900 or best offer.
– Minoso-signed replica New York Cubans jersey, for $499 or best offer.
– 1954 Dixie Lids Sealest Ice Cream (PSA 6), for $500 or best offer.
– 1960 White Sox team-signed ball, with Nellie Fox and Minoso, among others, for $328.
– 2014 Topps Tribute card -- Topps Certified Autograph Issue (1-of-1), for $275.
– 1959 Associated Press photo of Minoso and Fidel Castro, for $199.95 or best offer.
Minoso’s last media interview, conducted in mid-February, was with Chicago sportswriter Christina Kahrl, Rice-Minoso said.
“They really connected,” Rice-Minoso said of his dad and Kahrl. “He really enjoyed her, and loved, loved the story she wrote for ESPN.com.”
Kahrl, on March 1, said, “Among the gifts the game of baseball gives to all of us, one of its greatest was to give to Chicago and to fans everywhere a man like Minnie Minoso. There was no one more willing to embrace people through a shared love of baseball, and no one more unselfish with himself for the benefit of fans across generation after generation.”
Jeff Book, a White Sox fan from Chicago, said Chicago lost “a great baseball legend” with Minoso’s passing. “Minnie Minoso was timeless and played across five decades, which we will never see again. Hopefully he will be inducted to the Hall of Fame posthumously,” Book said.
Schwartz added, “He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame; his stats show that he is deserving of getting in. It’s just a shame that it now will be posthumously.”
The White Sox released a press release about Minoso’s passing, and team Chairman
Jerry Reinsdorf said, “Our organization and our city have suffered a heart-breaking loss today. We have lost our dear friend and a great man. Many tears are falling.
Minoso is survived by his wife of 30 years, Sharon, sons Orestes Jr. and Charlie, and daughters Marilyn and Cecilia.
“Minnie truly was the heart, soul and smile of the White Sox,” Christine O’Reilly, vice president of community relations for the White Sox, said in a statement. “We saw him every day at the ballpark and he loved the fans and the White Sox dearly. Nothing made him prouder than to be at the ballpark.”
The Minoso family also released a statement: “Our entire family appreciates the kind expressions of concern, sympathy and compassion from so many of our friends and fans of the White Sox during this most difficult time. Minnie lived a full life of joy and happiness, surrounded always by friends and family. It is during moments like these that love matters most. Minnie enjoyed nothing more than to be at the ballpark cheering on his White Sox. For Minnie, every day was a reason to smile, and he would want us all to remember him that way, smiling at a ballgame. As he so often said, ‘God Bless you, my friends.’ ”
Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.