Adam Greenberg’s at-bat recalls memories of Minnie Minoso and Bill Veeck

David Brown
Big League Stew

Former Cubs outfielder Adam Greenberg getting his one at-bat for the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night reminds me of Minnie Minoso and the Chicago White Sox.

My mom and I were there the last weekend of the regular season in 1980 when Chicago White Sox legend Minnie Minoso made history at old Comiskey Park. Owner Bill Veeck, never shy about trying a publicity stunt, brought Minoso back at age 54 (or perhaps it was really 57, given that Minoso's birth date has always been in dispute) for two plate appearances against the California Angels. In doing so, he became the first person in Major League Baseball history to play in five different decades. On Oct. 4, in his first at-bat, he popped out to the catcher against pitcher Frank Tanana. The next day, Minoso grounded to third. And that was it.

In addition to the publicity, Veeck was paying Minoso back for many years of service that began with him being the first black player in the team's history. A native of Cuba, Minoso enjoyed a great career, but it was one that got a late start in the majors and was shortened at the beginning (1949) because of institutional racism, which probably cost him the Hall of Fame. No matter, Minoso has become the best ambassador of White Sox baseball that the team could desire.

In 1993, different White Sox ownership planned for Minoso to come back again at age 67 (or was it 70?) so he could play in six different decades! The White Sox had wrapped up the old AL West before the Sept. 30 game came around, so the contester didn't matter to the pennant race. Manager Gene Lamont was even going to start Minoso and play him in left field.

But as the date neared,  some White Sox players came out, voiced their opposition against the stunt — yes,  it was a stunt of sorts — and had it stopped.

"Just the fact you're asking me about it instead of asking me about the playoffs tells you it's not right," said pitcher Jack McDowell, when asked about the players' feelings.

Yes, heaven forbid someone shouldn't pay attention to Jack McDowell for one night. McDowell thought he and his teammates were being disrespected. But how much respect did they deserve for failing to understand Minnie's importance? Because, here's the thing about Minoso's elderly at-bats. Yeah, they were gimmicks. But he took them seriously. At least earnestly:

"This is not a clown thing," he said. "I love the game. I gave all my life to the game. I never dreamed it could happen again."

"Not a clown thing"! You hear that, young Bryce Harper?

Minoso was like health guru Jack LaLanne. It was kind of funny to see LaLanne on TV working out, doing one-handed push-ups at 90 years old, or whatever. But he was really in shape. He was really enjoying himself. He was really setting a good example. He was to be respected.

It could be said that Greenberg, wronged by bad luck when he got beaned with a pitch in his only major-league appearance, is trying to right the semi-injustice a little by playing Tuesday night. The Marlins, another team that loves a good publicity stunt, understand. To a certain extent, manager Ozzie Guillen understands. Or does this time. Or at least he has the decency to step aside and not gobble all of the attention by refusing Greenberg his chance.

But Guillen was one of McDowell's teammates back in 1993, too. He didn't like the Minoso business then, or in 1990, when the Sox had tried to bring Minoso back late in the season. Commissioner Fay Vincent got wind of the displeasure and put the kibosh on it.

Minoso himself backed out in 1993 after learning that some on the team didn't want him to play. That's OK. They didn't deserve Minoso. Good for Greenberg, though, seeing this through. And good for the Marlins, making it happen. How often can you say "good for the Marlins"?

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