Minnie Minoso -- The triumph of the 53-year-old 'rookie'
At least one sports scribe delivered his eulogy for Minnie Minoso's major league baseball career during the middle of the 1964 season.
David Condon wrote on July 15, "There comes a dim day of truth for every athlete: he must be told he has had it."
Days before, during a July 5 game at White Sox Park, manager Al Lopez inserted Minoso as a pinch hitter for left fielder Gene Stephens against Cleveland starter Tommy John.
With a runner in scoring position and one out, it was an excellent opportunity to drive in a run. But Minoso hit the ball to right fielder Tito Francona and went hitless in two more at-bats, striking out once.
The Sox won 5-0, completing a doubleheader sweep, blanking the then-Indians in both games, and moving into second place. But it would be Minoso's last game in the majors.
Or so it seemed at the time.
On July 13, the White Sox removed pitcher Ray Herbert from the disabled list and obtained Moose Skowron from Washington for Joe Cunningham, who had been acquired by the Sox from the Cardinals in a trade for Minoso in 1961.
Minoso, a nine-time all-star and three-time Gold Glove winner and one of the heroes of the Go-Go Sox era, had been signed that year as a free agent. Now, hitting only .226, he was suddenly expendable -- the Sox requested waivers on the Cuban Comet.
Condon reported that Minoso took the news stoically.
"Yet instead of deep brooding, he went to catch batting practice for his recent teammates."
Days later, between games of a doubleheader against Kansas City on July 19, he stood on the field at White Sox Park with other Sox notables, including Jimmy Dykes, Zeke Bonura and Monty Stratton, as part of a homecoming ceremony. It seemed he was officially an old-timer.
But Minoso did not go gentle into baseball's good night. He would continue to play, setting the stage for one incredible final act.
On the same day as the homecoming, Minnie, given his unconditional release, would sign with Sox affiliate Indianapolis of the Pacific Coast League -- the Sox would bring him back as a coach in September after buying him back from Indianapolis, a move overruled by Commissioner Ford Frick, who said the Sox violated the intent of the rules on player transactions.
For the next decade, Minoso, who once said, "When I die, I want to be playing baseball," would defy those who would put an expiration date on his career.
In 1965, Minoso, playing for Jalisco, was second in the Mexican League in hitting with a .360 batting average and led the league with 106 runs and 35 doubles.
He would continue playing baseball in places like Orizara, Puerto Mexico and Torreon until 1973.
By that time, Minoso had accumulated an impressive hit total. As researcher Scott Simkus wrote, "When you add together Minoso's Major League (1,963), minor league (429), Cuban League (838), Mexican League (715) and Negro League hits (at least 128 documented), he winds up with a career total of 4,073 professional hits." It was Minoso's ex-boss, Bill Veeck, who brought Minoso back to the big leagues in 1976 as a coach with the White Sox -- his manager would be his first skipper in the big leagues, Paul Richards.
The 52-year-old Minoso told reporters in March, "I feel like a rookie again. For 13 long years I wait."
Then on Sept. 10, 1976, the announcement came -- Minoso was placed on the active list as a player and would see action as a designated hitter against the California Angels.
Veeck said the 53-year-old Minoso was "in remarkable condition. I've watched him slamming balls in the left-field stands in batting practice."
For his part, Minoso said, "I'm not going to feel like an old man. I'm going to feel like a rookie."
Veeck, the press noted, had already made a similar move when he activated the ageless Satchel Paige both with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Browns.
On Sept. 11, 1976, Minoso stepped to the plate at Comiskey Park for the first time since that July 5, 1964 game against Cleveland.
He went 0-for-3 as the designated hitter. Facing Frank Tanana, he struck out, popped out and flied out.
The next day, against the Angels' Sid Monge, the miraculous occurred. You can see for yourself on YouTube, with Harry Caray on the call, as Minoso, taking a powerful swing, hits a line shot into left field. Caray declares, "Boy, there was nothing fluky about that hit, was there?"
After the game, Minoso said, "Yesterday, I didn't see the ball too well. Today, I opened my stance and it was just like 1951 again."
It would be his last MLB hit, number 2,113, but perhaps there had been none sweeter.
In three games as a DH in 1976, Minoso went 1-for-8. Veeck gave him another chance in 1980, in the last two games of the season, which turned out to be Veeck's last as an owner. Once again, the opponent was the Angels, the only opponent he faced in his post-1964 major league career. Minnie went 0-for-2.
It had been quite a run, a White Sox career that began under Richards in 1951 with teammates like Nellie Fox and Chico Carrasquel and ended in 1980 under manager Tony La Russa with such teammates as Harold Baines, LaMarr Hoyt and Ed Farmer.
And this year, he joined La Russa, another man defying baseball's actuarial tables, in the Hall of Fame.