Jackie Robinson began writing the story that would turn him into a legend when he played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the season of 1947.
He’s now known as the man that broke baseball’s color barrier, but his stellar appearance—he went on to win the NL Rookie of the Year award that year—didn’t mean that every team in baseball embraced black players right off the bat (see what I did there?).
It would actually take 12 years for the 16 teams the league had back then to feature a player of color on their rosters.
“Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, but that didn’t mean that in 1948 all the teams welcomed black players,” professor and author Adrián Burgos Jr said. “As history shows us, he was the first one but there were other often forgotten players that had to go through the same route at each baseball team.”
In fact, there were 15 other Jackie Robinson tearing down the racism wall that kept black players away from each baseball organization and four of those players were black Latinos: Orestes ‘Minnie’ Miñoso (Chicago White Sox, 1951), Saturnino ‘Nino’ Escalera (Cincinatti, 1954), Carlos Paula, and Osvaldo ‘Ozzie’ Virgil (Detroit Tigers, 1958).
Burgos also said that MLB fails to recognize what each on of these players did for the United States.
“The achievements of those pioneers of integration, that served baseball and the nation, are not acknowledged as they should by Major League Baseball,” he said.
Jackie Robinson’s legacy goes far beyond the United States, where it dented the white supremacist unwritten laws that ruled the American Pastime.
It is thanks to Number 42 that MLB teams laid the foundations for the farm system that allowed them to recruit players from Latin America, especially the Caribbean.
As Orestes ‘Minnie’ Miñoso told me for a piece published today in El Diario La Prensa:
“Back then, one thought it was impossible. One didn’t live with that illusion until Mr. Jackie arrived. Thanks to him, I knew there was a reason to play in the Majors,” Miñoso, 88, told me via telephone from his home in Chicago.
I went to the archive at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College to find stories and photos from the era detailing Miñoso’s achievements. He soon became a star after arriving in Chicago because of his talent and demeanor, and also helped unite people in a city rife with racial tensions.
“Amidst that, Miñoso became a hero and made blacks and whites cheer together for the White Sox. He is still a hero there. And that’s thanks to way he dealt with the situation. He let his game do the talk,” Burgos Jr noted.
Following on Robinson’s footsteps also meant that Miñoso had to face the same hatred his predecessor did. His take on it is quite peculiar because, as he puts it, he never got insulted.
“Of course I wasn’t welcomed with open arms. I was the player that pitchers hit the most during those years. Many fans would yell, ‘hit that Negro on the head.’ But that didn’t offend me because I am a Negro. If they had called me, ´Hey, blondie!’ then I would’ve gotten insulted. But they were calling me what I am, a Negro,” Miñoso told me.
Miñoso’s lengthy career spans over seven decades on the field and amasses decent numbers. He is a nine-time All-Star and a three-time American League Golden Glove winner, with a batting percentage of .298. Despite this, he has not been inducted to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
“I feel sad and I’m still waiting. Getting inducted into the Hall of Fame would make me really happy if it happens before god takes me to rest in peace,” Miñoso said.