August 23, 2019

Minnie, Ernie and the Best and Saddest of Chicago Winters

March 4, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

It has been the best of winters and the worst of winters for Chicago baseball.

The White Sox and Cubs spent the early part of the offseason stealing headlines from the Bears, Bulls and Blackhawks and competing with one another in the “Winter World Series” as both retooled their rosters and fueled talk of the first all-Chicago World Series since 1906.

The White Sox won that contest 109 years ago, but the Cubs probably won this latest battle, making the biggest splash by dumping manager Rick Renteria in favor of Joe Maddon, largely considered the best skipper in the big leagues.

The Northsiders followed that up by signing Jon Lester, the three-time All-Star left-handed pitcher whom the Cubs gobbled up at the winter meetings and will pay $155 million over the next six years.

Maddon and Lester join a Cubs team that already has a strong young roster of players and has been billed as baseball’s top organization for minor league talent.

The Cubs are also renovating Wrigley Field, in part to bring in more revenue which some say is sacrilege but others consider long overdue commonsense. The Wrigley renovations won’t be complete when the season starts but for Bleacher Bums, the delay will only make those coveted days in the sun even more special.

The White Sox, ten years after their World Series championship, are trying to rebound from a 2014 season that saw them equal the Cubs with an ignominious mark of 73-89.

The Sox’ top move this winter was dealing for All-Star pitcher Jeff Samardzija, the gangly right-handed former Cub with the long hair who joins a solid Sox pitching staff that already has All-Star Chris Sale.

The White Sox also added former All-Star slugger Melky Cabrera and, among others, ace reliever David Robertson, teaming them up with a promising young roster that includes last year’s American League Rookie of the Year, Jose Abreu.

Yes, the winter was wonderful in Chicago baseball. Much better than most summers. The tough part is that two men who defined Chicago’s baseball teams for years on the field and for decades off it will not be around to see if the promising winter turns into a historic summer.

Ernie Banks, “Mr. Cub,” died January 23 at the age of 83. Banks was a Hall of Fame infielder for the Cubs from 1953 to 1971. He was an 11-time an All-Star, the first black player in Cubs history and the greatest Northsider of them all. Off the field he spent the last 44 years representing his beloved ball club and serving as one of the greatest ambassadors baseball has ever had.

Everyone loved Ernie Banks. And, especially because he never made the playoffs, many baseball fans (maybe even a few Southsiders) would have liked to see the Cubs finally win a World Series just to make Ernie happy.

If Ernie Banks was Mr. North Side, Saturnino Orestes Armas “Minnie” Minoso was king of Chicago baseball south of Madison Street. Minnie Minoso, the “Cuban Comet,” was the first black player the White Sox ever had, joining the Pale Hose in 1951. Minnie was a five-time All-Star for the Medias Blancas, playing 12 of his 17 seasons with the Sox, hitting .304 for the Southsiders.

The Sox retired his jersey in 1983, the first year they made the playoffs since their pennant-winning year of 1959. Cruelly, Minoso was not on that ’59 team. He was with the Sox before, and then after.

Minoso’s statue is at U.S. Cellular Field, though, so he’ll be a part of every victory hereafter, just as he was for the Sox’ 2005 champs as he remained an important part of the franchise, rooting for his beloved South Side Hitmen until the end.

Minoso was a pioneer for Latin players and, like Banks, endured racism throughout much of his life, sometimes in the very city he played in. But also like Ernie, Minoso embraced the city that eventually embraced him and made it his home for the rest of his life.

Minoso died on Sunday at the age of 90.

None of this is fair at all.

It has been a long winter here in Chicago. The snow has refused to stop and the cold winds are relentless. Spring, we are told to believe, is almost here and summer, though it’s hard to imagine looking at the frozen landscape, will indeed follow and there will be many warm moments on both sides of town. We can thank Ernie and Minnie for those moments.

And, on those perfect summer nights, we will know they’re still watching.

 

Comments

One Response to “Minnie, Ernie and the Best and Saddest of Chicago Winters”
  1. M says:

    ERNIE was a week short of 84. Not the 81 in article.

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