Minnie and Me and You

Thanks to all who have pledged your support–either financially or by spreading the word–for “Baseball’s Been Very, Very Good To Me.” We are so pleased that our project has been emailed, facebooked, tweeted, tumblr-d, and blogged about all over the world, particularly in the last few days.

We have only seven days to make the do-or-die goal with Kickstarter, so for those of you have been thinking about pledging, do it now! All levels are deeply appreciated.

We hope you’ll enjoy this conversation between Tom Weinberg and Roger Wallenstein, two old pals who reveal they still love baseball as much as they did when they were kids.

By Tom Weinberg and Roger Wallenstein

Minnie Minoso with Tom Weinberg, 1976
Tom Weinberg and Minnie Minoso, 1976

Tom: Hey, Roger, remember when we were seven and sat under the biggest oak tree in Highland Park trading baseball cards…and there was no card for our favorite player, Orestes Minoso? All through the ‘50s, he was the most exciting compelling, daring, gutty, player. And he always looked like he was having fun. Just like we did when we played ball four or five hours every day until it got dark.

Roger: Yeah, Tommer, just about all the faces on the cards then were white. There were no black players on the White Sox. Each league had only eight teams, and 25-man rosters. We knew every player in both leagues from those Topps cards that still smelled like that skinny cheap pink gum. When Minnie hit a homer on May 1, 1951 in his first appearance as third baseman for the Sox, we didn’t know who he was. We found out pretty soon.

Tom: In those days, TV and baseball cards were most of what we knew. We were pretty insular: nobody in our town was black, except the maids. And I had never heard anyone speaking Spanish there. First time I did was when my parents took us to the desert near Palm Springs, and we met the people who picked the dates and took away our plates.

Roger: Well, I did know every player in in the American League and most in National by position and could get pretty close to telling you their current batting averages. Plus, my brother John and I studied them quite carefully in the off-season. Especially the black players. The Indians had the most, probably because Bill Veeck signed them. Easter at first and Doby and Al Smith in the outfield. Satchel Paige pitched for the St. Louis Browns.   The National League was quicker to integrate than the American, and they had better players, too. The Dodgers led the way not only with Jackie, but Roy Campanella, Big Don Newcombe, Junior Gilliam, Joe Black, and Sandy Amoros.  Those guys were major parts of “The Boys of Summer.”

Tom: For us, though, Minnie Minoso was in a class by himself. Of course, we didn’t know that he wasn’t allowed to live in the same hotel at the time. We’d never heard of Jim Crow. George Crowe, yeah, but not Jim.

Rog: When Minnie showed up, he not only was the third or fourth black player in the entire league, but he could play! I don’t remember our seeing him as being black so much as considering him simply as the best player on the White Sox. And those teams were pretty good. When our dads took us to Comiskey Park, we loved watching Nellie Fox and Looie Aparicio, but Minoso was the biggest attraction. I think back to other black pioneers in the American League.  Sure, guys like Doby and Easter were good hitters, but other players like Carlos Paula, another black Cuban who broke the color barrier for the Washington Senators, had little of Minnie’s talent. Minnie was better than any of them.

Tom: I gotta tell you…he still IS! 89, going on 40, he’s a Chicago treasure. And a terrific guy.

Rog: I guess that’s why you wanted to make a documentary with him.

Tom: For sure. There’s nobody like him, then or now. He played pro ball in the ‘40s(Indians), ‘50s (Sox), ‘60s (Sox and Cardinals),’70s and ‘80s (DH for Sox) and in the ‘90s and in 2003—-he was 81–he played in the minors, for Mike Veeck and the St. Paul Saints. Seven decades…nobody else EVER did that.

Minnie Minoso in 7 decade hat
Minnie Minoso in his seven decade hat, 2012

Rog: When we were kids, hanging out with Minnie would have been inconceivable. But you have become friends with him. I remember the video of you playing shuffle board with Minnie during a rainy spring training day in the 70’s. He seemed surprised that you remembered Opening Day in 1960 when he returned to Chicago after playing two seasons in Cleveland. (“I hit a home run, way over there.”) How could anyone forget that homecoming?

Tom: “You was just a little guy,” he said then. It was also the same day time he held out his huge Cuban cane-cutter hands and said, “These are 54-year old hands.” That was March, 1976. So, on that day, he volunteered his “real” age…born in 1922. That same year, 1976 in Sarasota, in spring training, Bill asked me to record a few commercials for various TV channels encouraging fans to come to Opening Day. Minnie did one in Spanish and another in English.

Rog: His 90th birthday is November 29…let’s have a party. Of course, the party I’d really like to attend would be to celebrate Minnie getting into the Hall of Fame. When you look at his record, a few things really stick out. Like playing every day. Minnie led the American League ten times in getting hit by a pitch. And we certainly saw him crashing into walls and diving to make circus catches. So you know he had his share of bumps and bruises. But he always wanted to be in the lineup. At different times he led the league in hits, triples, and stolen bases, and on four occasions he drove in more than 100 runs. For the whole decade of the fifties, only Mickey Mantle had better offensive stats than Minoso. Is it any wonder that as kids we thought he was super human? Shoot, even when he swung and missed, I remember Bob Elson saying, “Wow, he went around like a corkscrew,” or “he swung so hard he almost fell down.”

Tom: Yup. As Minnie says, “Nobody hustles more than me.” Your friend and mine, Joel Cohen, and I have been recording interviews with Minnie for more than a year…maybe 30 hours’ worth. The amazing thing is that he’s never bitter about the Hall of Fame (which he lost out on by three votes last December) or the way he was treated in the early days by quite a few players. (It’s not entirely an accident that he was hit by all those pitches.) He has been saying that “Baseball has been very, very good to me,” for about 40 years.And he believes it to his core. This is a lovely human being, and we (and our kids) all have life lessons to learn from him.

Rog: So, Tom, when can we see this documentary?

Tom: I’m confident that we will have it ready to be on TV before the 2012 World Series.

Rog: I know that you’ve been doing this as a labor of love―not to make big dough.  But, don’t you still need some money and to make a deal?

Tom: For sure. We have no corporate sponsor. We need at least $20,000 to finish the post-production, including editing, mastering, sound finishing, licensing fees, and getting a ready-to-broadcast documentary in the hands of a few decision makers.

Rog: So, that’s what you’re doing with the Kickstarter campaign, right? Explain that.

Tom: It’s a cool way to raise money online for creative projects. Ours is at: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/235602734/minnie-minoso-the-documentary-0 Nearly 100 people from all over the world have pledged more than $12,000 in the past three weeks. But, the way Kickstarter works, we gotta raise our complete funding goal ($20,120) or all those pledges go away and we get nothing. We definitely don’t want to even consider that possibility, but we only have about eight days to go…we need it all by 8 a.m. on May 12.

Rog: Is it complicated to do?  How does it work?

Tom: Three things: 1) it takes about two minutes to pledge and you can pledge using your Amazon account…the charges won’t go through until we get the full goal amount.
2)  Depending on the level of support, you can get some really unique stuff…lots of it signed by Minnie. All that is on the Kickstarter site.
3) When we get the full amount, you can deduct your contribution from your 2012 income taxes because the producing entity (Fund for Innovative TV) is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization.

Rog: Seems like it could be great thing for the literally thousands of Minnie Minoso fans.

Tom: Let’s hope so.

Rog: Seeya at the ball park…maybe May first, the 61st anniversary of Minnie’s first White Sox at-bat.

Tom Weinberg is a Chicago TV producer with more than 500 programs to his credit, including portraits of Bill Veeck, Studs Terkel, Vito Marzullo, Dan Rostenkowski, and Joe Cummings. At WTTW, he created and produced Image Union for its first ten years and the two-time Emmy winning sports series, Time Out. His work has been aired on WGN-TV, PBS nationally, MTV, Tokyo Broadcasting, and others. He has taught documentary and television at Columbia College Chicago since 2000 and is the founder of the Media Burn Independent Video Archive, which has preserved all of the Minoso archival footage that Tom has shot over the last 35 years. Media Burn currently has about 2000 documentaries online at mediaburn.org.

Roger Wallenstein actually played baseball…at the University of Iowa, 1965-66. He claims he still could throw out a runner or two. He had a gun! He also has been writing sports and done sports radio since the early 1970s. His career has included teaching English for nine years at Francis Parker School in Chicago; coaching baseball at Parker and Kelvyn Park High School (2005) and for the past seven summers at Welles Park in the Chicago Park District. He and his wife Judy owned and operated Camp Nebagamon in Lake Nebagamon, Wisconsin from 1988 until 2003. His weekly blog, the White Sox Report, is at http://www.beachwoodreporter.com/sports/the_white_sox_report/



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