In his native Cuba, Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso was more than just a popular baseball player, the first Latino superstar in the majors.

He was also a cultural icon, sharply dressed and driving around Havana in his signature Cadillac. His baseball exploits were even immortalized in a popular 1954 Cuban song, “Miñoso al bate” (Miñoso at bat), the lyrics proclaiming how the ball “dances the cha-cha-chá” whenever he came to the plate, whether with the Chicago White Sox or in Cuba’s winter league.

Miñoso died in 2015 at age 92, but his significance in baseball sailed well beyond Cuba’s shores for decades, impacting Latino players — both Black and white — in several countries.

In his 1998 autobiography, Puerto Rican-born Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda gave voice to Miñoso’s impact, writing he “is to Latin ballplayers what Jackie Robinson is to Black ballplayers. As much as I loved Roberto Clemente and cherish his memory, Minnie is the one who made it possible for all us Latins. Before Roberto Clemente, before Vic Power, before Orlando Cepeda, there was Minnie Miñoso.”

In this 1957 file photo, Chicago White Sox outfielder Orestes

After three seasons with the New York Cubans of the Negro National League, Miñoso broke into the majors with Cleveland in 1949, two years after Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. Miñoso was traded to the White Sox in 1951, making nine All-Star Game appearances in that decade.

“When someone like Orlando Cepeda, who saw Josh Gibson, who saw Satchel Paige as Negro leaguers coming to Puerto Rico, when he says that Minnie was our Jackie Robinson, this is not just hyperbole,” said author and University of Illinois history professor Adrian Burgos, Jr., who was the founding editor-in-chief of La Vida Baseball. 

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