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SABR 45: Honoring Mr. Cub and the Cuban Missile

SABR 45 continued Friday with another outstanding day of panels, research meetings and tributes.

One highlight was a luncheon that featured a tribute to Chicago baseball legends Ernie Banks (second Baseman for the Cubs) and Minnie Minoso (centerfielder for the White Sox), both of whom died within the past few months. national columnist Phil G. Rogers highlighted what these two figures meant to the baseball world and spoke about how each player faced diversity challenges on and off the field. 

Banks, also known as “Mr. Cub,” was African American and Minoso, a/k/a “The Cuban Missile,” faced his own problems as a minority who didn’t fit neatly into the category of “black” or “white.”  Many people admired Banks for his ability to stay cool even with the insults and racist comments that “fans” and players alike slung at him. At Banks’ funeral, his reverend said that in the face of the adversity Banks faced, he “got better, not bitter.”

Another reason we should admire Banks is his willingness to play the sport for much less money than he should have earned then or would have earned today, when the average MLB salary is about $3 million. We generally think of athletes, especially superstars, as people with tons of money. Banks’ situation was very different and somewhat unfair even for the time he played. His yearly player salary was a mere $7,000. Despite having financial struggles along with facing racial bias, Banks never complained, and it was only discovered weeks ago upon his death that he had only $16,000 in savings.

Banks was enshrined in the Baseball Hall Of Fame in 1977. Rogers reminded the SABR members that not only was Mr. Cub an amazing player, he was also prepared to sacrifice a great deal for the love of the sport and to help integrate the game. The fact that Banks didn’t feel the need to make his problems into a racial or civil rights issue may have led to others being able to play and call out for the need to resolve injustice to minorities.

Minoso had a slightly different story. He was brought to the United States from Cuba and ultimately played for the Sox. He played very well in the minors before coming up to the bigs.

Looking at stats today shows how good Minoso was. But sadly, those statistics were not around when Minoso played. And since many of his best moments on the field happened in Cuba or the minors, Minoso has unfortunately (and many people feel unfairly) not been elected as a member of the Hall Of Fame.

But there are still many, including Phil Rogers, who insist that Minoso belongs in the Hall, and these baseball figures are doing their best to right this wrong. Rogers mentioned that Minoso was a strong and macho guy, and he made a point of welcoming other Latino players to the majors. That way they could adjust to team life in the US with greater comfort than he faced. Rogers also pointed out that as more players come from overseas, it’s even more important to think about their rights as well as how their performance in different places will factor into decisions like being enshrined in Cooperstown.

Max Mannis is a special correspondent for and a member of SABR. Check out his contributor page to catch up with his past stories on baseball and SABR events. 

Photos: Max Mannis, Walter Iooss Jr./Sports Illustrated (Banks), Hy Peskin/Sports Illustrated (Minoso)

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