Cepeda: Minoso a pacesetter for Latin American ballplayers

Giants Hall of Famer remembers friend, icon

Cepeda: Minoso a pacesetter for Latin American ballplayers

SCOTTSDALE, Fla. -- Orlando Cepeda spoke in a voice thick with emotion as he eulogized his close friend, Chicago White Sox legend Minnie Minoso, who died Sunday.

Cepeda, who excelled in the Major Leagues for 17 years, called the Cuban-born Minoso the pacesetter for Latin American ballplayers such as himself.

"He was the Jackie Robinson of Latin America," Cepeda said. "Minnie was my idol. He was Roberto Clemente's idol. He was all the Latinos' idol. ... I loved Minnie. I loved Minnie so much."

Before eventual Hall of Famers such as Clemente and Cepeda began establishing themselves in the late 1950s, Minoso, the first black Cuban to reach the Major Leagues, set an example for young Latinos by making four consecutive American League All-Star teams from 1951-54.

Cepeda, 77, still treasures the memory of the day in 1956 when he was in Minor League Spring Training with the Giants in Sanford, Fla. As Cepeda related, Minoso's White Sox were in Miami to play the Dodgers in an exhibition game. With segregation still widespread, Cepeda visited the hotel when black and Latin players were staying. Minoso gave a fielder's glove to Cepeda, who was still playing third base and hadn't yet switched to first.

"He did so many things for young ballplayers when he was a big star in the big leagues," Cepeda said. "Minnie Minoso wasn't a Cuban icon; he was a Latin American icon. Everybody loved Minnie in Latin American culture. So this is a sad day."

Minoso at Cuban Baseball Forum

For Minoso's legion of fans, his missed chances to gain induction into baseball's Hall of Fame makes this an even sadder day. After being unable to attract enough votes when he appeared on the BBWAA ballot, Minoso missed out in 2011 and 2014 in the Golden Era Committee balloting (reserved for long-retired players, managers, umpires, or executives, living or deceased, from the "Golden Era" of 1947-1973).

"I was very disappointed that he wasn't elected to the Hall of Fame," Cepeda said. "He took it very hard."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.