When Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane signed Cuban prospect Yoenis Cespedes to a $36 million, four year contract, I immediately thought back to a simpler time.
During the 1952 Christmas season, the famous Chicago White Sox G.M. Frank “The Trader” Lane set off for Cuba with four blank contracts in his brief case. Lane intended to sign two of his major league roster players, Saturnino Orestes “Minnie” Minoso and pitcher Mike Fornieles. Lane also hoped to sew up two role players, third sacker (and bench warmer) Hector Rodriguez and relief pitcher Luis “Witto” Aloma. The quartet played winter ball in the Cuban League.
Lane secured contracts only from Rodriguez and Aloma. Upon his return to Chicago, Lane speculated that Minoso may be a hold out. But when he was questioned about that possibility, Minoso asked:
Hold out? What in the world is that? I am not a hold out whatever it is. I like to play ball but I want my money. The club offered me only $3,000 raise over what I got in 1952 and I think I am entitled to more.
Fornieles, recently traded from the Washington Senators in exchange for Chuck Stobbs, took the same position. After Lane reportedly offered $5,000, Fornieles said:
After I pay my taxes and spend a lot in Chicago living like a big leaguer, I will have only $500 a month left. I don’t think that is big league pay.
Poor timing victimized Lane. At the time of his Cuba visit, the Marianao teammates were dominating the league. Minoso was second in batting, hitting an impressive .360. Fornieles’ record stood at a tidy 7-3.
The week after Lane left, the Cuban League named Minoso and Fornieles Players of the Year; Minoso won the top veteran award; Forneieles, best rookie.
Lane and his players eventually settled their disputes. In 1953, Fornieles posted a respectable 8-7, 3.59 ERA record; Minoso added 32 points to his 1952 average to end the season at .313, fourth highest in the American League, and knocked in 104.
In 2003 Minoso, then 78-years-old, made a pinch hit appearance for the Independent Northern League St. Paul Saints and drew a walk. With his at bat, Minoso became the first ever seven- decade professional baseball player. Minoso broke in with the Cleveland Indians in 1949.
During his career Minoso, the White Sox first black player, never earned more than $40,000. Fornieles died in 1998 in St. Petersburg, Florida; Minoso, a 10 time All Star, lives in the Chicago area.