Long before Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, if you wanted to get a sense of his important role in the game’s history, all you had to do was visit the Hall itself.
Within the museum’s excellent ¡Viva Baseball! exhibit highlighting the history of Latin Americans in the sport, there was a TV monitor playing the oral histories of Hall of Famers Juan Marichal, Tony Pérez, Rod Carew and Orlando Cepeda.
When asked who was the most significant figure who initially got them interested in baseball, every one emphatically answered: Minnie Miñoso.
As the first Black Cuban to play in organized baseball after the color barrier was broken, Miñoso was a trailblazer and hero to Latin Americans throughout the game. This will justifiably be highlighted and emphasized leading up to his induction next year.
But what isn’t as well known is that Miñoso is also a hero to LGBTQ sports fans. In 2015, on the one year anniversary of his death, Miñoso’s son Charlie Rice-Miñoso wrote a tribute to his father on Outsports. And through it we learned that Miñoso had been a Hall of Fame dad to his gay son.
It’s such an authentic and moving glimpse as to who Miñoso was as a human being that whoever ends up giving his induction speech should use his son’s piece as a template for how to properly celebrate his life:
“Thank you, Daddy, for always telling me to be myself, no matter who told me I should change. Thank you for accepting all of who I am, even if it took some time for you to understand certain parts of me. I’m not perfect, as you weren’t either, but somehow we made our complex and goofy relationship work.”
Any LGBTQ child can attest that those are some of the best words you can say about a parent. Even as someone who was celebrated for decades as a Latin American baseball hero and a Chicago White Sox icon, Miñono never became consumed by his own exalted status as a public figure and clearly still knew that his most important role in life was to be the dad his son needed.
As I wrote about Tommy Lasorda at the beginning of the year, that particular quality can be sadly all too rare with famous baseball fathers. Which is a major reason why it’s such a cause for celebration to see Miñoso get his just due in Cooperstown at last.
Miñoso’s role as a Latino barrier breaker will understandably get the lion’s share of public attention during his induction. But it’s also worth noting that the prejudice he dealt with as a Cuban immigrant throughout his career eventually helped him empathize with the societal pressures his son would face as a gay man.
Rice-Miñoso remembered that when he came out, his father was initially hesitant in his response. But he came to understand that this was because Miñoso feared he would endure similar cruelties that he experienced, telling his son that, “I didn’t come to America and go through those things for my family to be treated the way I was treated then. That’s not what America is about. I don’t want that for you.”
What Miñoso eventually came to realize was that he couldn’t protect his son from the pain he experienced by sheltering him or asking him to live a lie. So instead, he chose to show his son the unconditional support and love he deserved for being his authentic self. It made all the difference in the world, with Rice-Miñoso declaring, “I felt so lucky to have you as my father.”
So as baseball fans everywhere celebrate Miñoso’s historic role in integrating the game on the major league level and making it a better sport for fans everywhere, let’s also remember that he set a sterling example for how one of the game’s legends could embrace the LGBTQ community.
Being the father his son needed is one of the most important parts of Miñoso’s life story and by amplifying that, we can all see the positive impact his life had on multiple marginalized populations.
All of which further emphasizes what Cooperstown finally acknowledged on Sunday: Miñoso is one of the most sterling of examples of a life well-lived in baseball history.