The Pacific Coast League at that time was California cities plus Portland and Seattle. It was a very good spot for players, especially older ones, because teams stayed in a city for a week, playing five single games and then a doubleheader on Sunday. Travel was all by train.
There were many older players who had been in the majors and were closing out their careers in the PCL. Max West and Jack Graham were two I remember, lefthanded pull hitters who loved the short right field distance at old Lane Field in San Diego.
But the Padres were also the top farm team for the Cleveland Indians. I saw Al Rosen there, and Luke Easter. But nobody was quite so memorable as Minoso.
Minnie - I never heard him referred to by his real first name, Oreste - was a warmhearted man who loved people, and they returned the favour. He was always a crowd favorite.
He was black, of course, and it was only two years past the time when Jackie Robinson had broken the color line, but that didn't seem to matter when he was with the Padres.
Possibly I was too young - 13 - to understand if people were prejudiced against him. Perhaps it was because my parents never discriminated against anybody. When we lived in San Diego right after the war, my best friend was the son of Japanese parents and, though we had just concluded a brutal war with Japan that was not ended until we dropped two atomic bombs on them, my parents never said a word against him.
It may also have been because San Diegans were tolerant since most of them had come from other areas. The population of San Diego had gone from 50,000 before the war to five times that because so many servicemen had called home and told their families to join them in California.
I think, though,that it was Minnie's personality that made a difference. He was warm, bubbly and open to everyone. How could you not love him?
He was also an amazing player, a good hitter and a very good defensive outfielder. He made a play in one game that is the absolute best I've ever seen. Playing center field, he leaped up at the wall and, with his back to the field, caught a ball over his shoulder. I saw Willie Mays makemany great plays as a San Francisco Giants but never one quite that good.
I had no direct experience with Minoso because I was so young. I was never one to seek autographs and I was much too shy to talk with him. The only professional player I talked to before getting into the newspaper business was Johnny Barrett, who had played for the Boston Braves. He lived for a time in my neighbourhood and, with a friend, we used to go over to his house. He'd come out and talk to us, very patiently.
Minnie was called up by the Indians, then traded to the Chicago White Sox. I never saw him play because major league baseball was played only in the Eastern half of the country until the Giants and Dodgers moved to California. The only televised games were the World Series. The White Sox finally made it in 1959 - but Minoso had been traded back to Cleveland before that.
But, just from reading about him, I could see that he remained the same person he had always been. I could only wish there were more like him.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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