LITTLE ITALY — Mary Lally first met Minnie Minoso after a White Sox game at Comiskey Park in 1952.
Back then, Lally was a bright-eyed Sox fanatic fresh out of eighth grade hoping for an autograph, and Minoso was the last player talking to fans after the game. As Lally remembers it, that's what made him stand out, she said.
"He was so kind to us. We were a bunch of kids who were — well, you know how screaming teenagers are — and he was our hero, but he made us feel special. That is the truth. We thought he was the hero and he treated us like we were queens. We all loved him," said Lally, remembering the encounter with the White Sox legend, who died Sunday, at his visitation Friday afternoon.
After the meeting, Lally asked Minoso if she could start a fan club for him and he agreed.
"There were other fan clubs at the time, too. Chico Carrasquel had a fan club, Nellie Fox, Billy Pierce, Jim Rivera, and Minnie didn’t have a fan club. So I asked him if I could start his fan club," said Lally.
Lally's Cuban Comets fan club began with a core group of supporters in Chicago, but quickly expanded overseas, attracting backers from Cuba, other Latin American countries and even Germany. As president of the club, Lally would create a monthly newsletter and host meetings with their guest of honor, she said.
One meeting brought Minoso to Lally's house in the 10900 block of South Maplewood Avenue in Beverly, with Minoso baring gifts for her brother and mother. The gifts were constant. At one game he even brought all the girls Cuban Comet jackets, she said.
"He was just that good hearted always. It sounds like I’m exaggerating but I’m not," she said.
While she remembered his good heart, she also can not deny his fortitude as the first black player on the White Sox. While the group was accepted at most locations across the city, Lally remembered when she saw the racism he experienced daily first hand when a fieldhouse near Comiskey wouldn't allow their group to meet there.
"I wasn’t sensible enough to know," Lally said. "We had some trouble with people who didn’t like the idea that there were black people in the clubhouse, but other than that we had no trouble at all."
Lally was just one of hundreds of fans and family that stopped through at Holy Family Church, at 1080 W. Roosevelt Rd., to pay their respects Friday. While Lally's confrontations with racism while with Minoso were scarce, Minoso's son — Orestes Minoso Arrieta Jr. — can remember them more.
"He spoke to me extensively about that. And one of the things, if I may say this, that I admire about my father is that even though he was called a lot of derogatory names, a lot of racial names, he never became bitter," Arrieta said. "Never did I hear in my growing up years an expression of bitterness against anything or anyone on the contrary it was always good things."
While he played on the Sox, there were places where Minoso couldn't eat, hotels he couldn't sleep in and neighborhoods he couldn't live in. Besides opposing players taunting him, pitchers would yell derogatory marks and tell him what they were going to do "if he did not separate himself from home plate because he really like to crowd the plate," his son said letting out a small laugh at the visitation.
"But often after the games they called him Mr. Minoso," he said.
He didn't take it personal and "understood that's just the way it was back then." He conquered evil with good paving the way for other minorities like Arrieta, who went on to play professional baseball, eventually playing with his father.
"How a person like that can have that kind of self control, that type of insight to know that he was not just acting on his behalf but that his conduct would have consequences either positive or negative for his family, for the Chicago White Sox organization, for future players of color and especially players from a Spanish-speaking country. How he had that insight to see that far ahead. I don't know but he had it," he said.
He often spoke to his father for hours on end and last Saturday was no different. After an hour of conversation — or enrichment as Arrieta called it — he told him he was going to a party, which he tried to talk him out of it by telling him to get ready for the season. Minoso went to the party, but that was the last conversation the two had.
Minoso's Memorial Service will begin Saturday at noon at Holy Family Church.
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