It’s said that if you do what you love, you’ll never work another day in your life. If that’s the case, Minnie Minoso wrote the book on having fun on the job.
Having played major league baseball in five different decades (1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s), Minoso’s longevity epitomized his passion for the game. His debut came in 1949 with Cleveland, while his last major league at-bat occurred in 1980 with the Chicago White Sox—at the age of 54.
In between, Minoso racked up 1,963 hits, 186 home runs, 1,023 RBI and a lifetime batting average of .298 in 6,579 career at-bats. He also retired with a lifetime on-base percentage of .387 and lifetime OPS of .848.
Sound like a surefire Hall of Famer? That wasn’t exactly the case. It wasn’t until 2021, more than 40 years after Minoso took his last at-bat and six years after his passing, that the Golden Days Era Committee finally voted him into the Hall of Fame. His induction ceremony will take place on July 24th in Cooperstown, where one of the true ambassadors of baseball will be enshrined.
Here’s a look back at nine cards that chronicle the career of #9, “The Cuban Comet.”
1952 Topps RC
Born as “Saturnino Orestes Arrieta,” in El Perico, Cuba, Minoso eventually became known as “Minnie” when he came over to the United States. As a ballplayer in Cuba, he was only known as “Orestes.” Arrieta was his mother’s maiden name, while Lopez was his father’s last name. It’s believed that the Cuban players he played with called him Minoso, because of his half-brother Francisco Minoso, who was well-known around the sandlots. Regardless, the name stuck.
Minoso’s first Topps card arrived in 1952, where “Orestes” appears on the front nameplate. His new nickname was already gaining popularity, alluded to on the back of the card which makes reference to “Minnie.”
Other notable Topps rookie cards from 1952 included Billy Martin, Eddie Mathews, Hoy Wilhelm, Gil McDougald and Hoyt Wilhelm—oh, and the first Topps cards for a couple guys named Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. Minoso’s rookie is a highly condition-sensitive card, as high-grade examples sell in the thousands, while lower grade versions can be owned for a few hundred. You can see a few here on eBay.
1952 Bowman RC
Minoso made his major league debut with Cleveland early in 1949, but only recorded 16 at-bats and was sent back down to the minors after hitting just .188. The time on the farm did him well, where he would thrive for the next two seasons (1949-1950).
In 1951, Cleveland kept Minoso out of spring training in spite of a crowded outfield that included Larry Doby, Dale Mitchell and Bob Kennedy. With nothing more left to prove in the minors, but nowhere to put Minoso, Cleveland traded him to the Chicago White Sox on April 30th of the 1951 season.
From April 30 until the end of the 1951 season, Minoso hit .324 with 10 home runs and 74 RBI for his new club. He also swiped 31 bases, which led the league along with his 16 hit by pitches. Minoso earned his first All-Star selection in 1951, while finishing in the top five of the MVP and Rookie of the Year voting. He’d repeat the feat in 1952, making his second All-Star team and once again leading the league in stolen bases (22) and hit by pitches (14).
Since Mantle and Mays had rookie cards in 1951 Bowman, Minoso is one of the headliners of the ’52 Bowman set when it comes to rookies. While a high grade copy costs a pretty penny, ungraded versions can be owned for less than a Benjamin Franklin.
Coming off back-to-back All-Star appearances, Minoso picked up right where he left off in 1953. In 556 at-bats, Minoso hit .313 with 15 home runs and 104 RBI—good for an OPS of .875. Once again, Minoso was an All-Star, finalist for the MVP and league leader in—you guessed it—stolen bases (25) and hit by pitches (17).
If you are noticing a trend, Minoso was a league leader in hit by pitches in every season but one (1955) he had more than 500 at-bats in. That includes a four-year run from 1951-1954 and a six-year run from 1956-1961.
Minoso’s 1953 Bowman card is still a relatively affordable second year card of a Hall of Famer.
A classic set that incorporates the evolution of the color television by casting ballplayer’s on the screen, 1955 Bowman features a classic pose of Minoso setting up for a drag bunt—a threat all teams had to be aware of when Minnie stepped into the box.
Minoso’s combination of speed, power and savvy made him dangerous in a variety of ways. He could set the table by laying down a bunt or by crowding the plate and taking away the inside corner. At the same time, if you made a mistake, he had the power to take a pitcher out of the ballpark.
While arguably one of Bowman’s most iconic sets because of the unique design, it was the last baseball release for the company after Topps acquired Bowman for $200,000 in 1956. Bowman, of course, was reborn in 1989 and has remained a strong player in the hobby since.
Minoso suffered a skull fracture in May of ’55 after being hit by a pitch from Yankees pitcher Bob Grim, but returned to forge a 23-game hitting streak later in the year. His 18 assists in left field were twice as many as any other left fielder in the major leagues and matched the record for any American League left fielder from 1945 through 1983.
His ’55 Bowman is in the first series and all but the highest graded examples are inexpenisve.
After not being selected to the All-Star game in 1955 for the first time since coming to the Major Leagues, Minoso came back with a vengeance in 1956. All told, he hit .316 with 21 home runs and 88 RBI, while compiling an OPS of .950.
It was the highest OPS of his career, aided by his double-digit home runs and a league-leading 11 triples.
Minoso’s 1956 Topps card prominently displays his #9 and classic slide on the horizontally oriented design. It was also the last set Topps issued of enlarged versions of their cards. Ungraded versions of Minoso’s ’56 Topps card can be owned for less than $50.
You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, which was certainly the case for Cleveland during most of the 1950s as they watched their former outfielder Minoso star for the Chicago White Sox. So during the 1957 offseason, they traded for him back—giving up Early Wynn and Al Smith to complete the deal.
Minoso hit 20 or more home runs four times in his career, hitting a career-high 24 in 1958 with Cleveland. While he started his career in Cleveland, his 1958 Topps card is the first wearing the Cleveland “C.”
1959 Topps “Destruction Crew”
With Minoso reunited with Larry Doby and Cleveland’s new star Rocky Colovito, the trio of outfielders combined for 78 homers and 238 RBI in 1958, earning them the “destruction crew” title from Topps. In 1959, Minoso once again eclipsed the 20 home run mark, adding 92 RBI and a .302 average.
It’s a relatively affordable card featuring two Hall of Famers and a close third. You can find a low-grade example for less than $10 while higher grades won’t break the bank.
After shuttling back and forth between Cleveland and Chicago for 12 years, Minoso bounced around his last few seasons, splitting time between St. Louis and Washington, before eventually retiring back in Chicago.
If you want a card of Minoso wearing a Cardinals uniform, look no further than his 1963 Topps. In his only season in St. Louis, Minoso started to show the first signs of father time catching up, hitting only .196 in 108 at-bats. It was his age 39 season, but far from the last time we’d see Minnie suit up.
A respectable example can usually be had for well under $10.
After more than a decade out of baseball, Minoso made a return in 1976 and became the oldest player to hit safely in the history of the major leagues—at the age of 53. The previous record was held by Nick Altrock, who was a slightly younger 53 when he accomplished the feat back in 1876.
Minoso would again make a return in 1980 at the age of 56, but went hitless in two at-bats. In between, he spent time as a coach for the White Sox after being hired by Bill Veeck.
Topps made a card in their 1977 set commemorating the feat, it’s one of the cheaper options on the list but a must have to round out the run for Minoso collectors.
But that wasn’t all for Minoso—at the age of 68, Minnie signed an independent league contract with the St. Paul Saints, grounding out in his only at-bat. It was the sixth decade Minoso had played professional baseball in, but still not his last.
In 2003, Minoso took yet another at bat with the St. Paul Saints, drawing a walk and strolling down to first as the oldest player to play a professional game and the only player ever to play professional baseball in seven different decades.