CHICAGO (WLS) --Chicago White Sox legend Minnie Minoso is being remembered by baseball fans in Chicago and around the world after "The Cuban Comet" died early Sunday morning of natural causes.
"Our organization and our city have suffered a heart-breaking loss today," said White Sox Jerry Reinsdorf. "We have lost our dear friend and a great man. Many tears are falling."
Saturnino Orestes Armas "Minnie" Minoso Arrieta was born in Cuba and was the first black player both on the White Sox and in Chicago. He played with the White Sox for 12 of his 17 seasons in Major League Baseball, hitting .304 with 135 homers and 808 RBIs for the White Sox. The White Sox retired his No. 9 in 1983 and in 2004 placed a statue of Minoso at U.S. Cellular Field.
"Minnie lived a full life of joy and happiness, surrounded always by friends and family," the Minoso family said in a statement. "It is during moments like these that love matters most. Minnie enjoyed nothing more than to be at the ballpark cheering on his White Sox. For Minnie, every day was a reason to smile, and he would want us all to remember him that way, smiling at a ballgame."
PHOTOS: White Sox legend Minnie Minoso dies
Minoso was found unresponsive in the driver's seat of his car near a gas station in the 2800-block of North Ashland Avenue around 1 a.m. Sunday morning. According to published reports, he had gone out Saturday night for a friend's birthday party when he apparently fell ill and pulled over in his Lakeview neighborhood.
Former White Sox player Ron Kittle added to the collection of flowers and mementos that were placed at the foot of Minoso's statute inside US Cellular Field.
"We have lost a true legend in Chicago ," Kittle said.
Minoso, regarded as baseball's first black Latino star, was a Havana native who spent most of his career in left field. He is one of only two players to appear in a major league game in five different decades. He got his final hit in 1976 at age 53 and went 0 for 2 in two games in 1980 for the White Sox, who tried unsuccessfully over the years to get the "Cuban Comet" into baseball's Hall of Fame.
Minoso was selected for nine All-Star games and won three Gold Gloves in left. He was hit by a pitch 192 times, ninth on baseball's career list, and finished in the top four in AL MVP voting four times.
President Barack Obama released a statement about Minoso's passing, saying:
For South Siders and Sox fans all across the country, including me, Minnie Minoso is and will always be "Mr. White Sox."
The first black Major Leaguer in Chicago, Minnie came to the United States from Cuba even though he could have made more money elsewhere. He came up through the Negro Leagues, and didn't speak much English at first. And as he helped to integrate baseball in the 1950s, he was a target of racial slurs from fans and opponents, sometimes forced to stay in different motels from his teammates. But his speed, his power - and his resilient optimism - earned him multiple All-Star appearances and Gold Gloves in left field, and he became one of the most dominant and dynamic players of the 1950s.
Minnie may have been passed over by the Baseball Hall of Fame during his lifetime, but for me and for generations of black and Latino young people, Minnie's quintessentially American story embodies far more than a plaque ever could.
Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to his family and fans in Chicago, Cleveland, and around the world.
"With the passing of Minnie Minoso, the City of Chicago has lost a legend on and off the field," said Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel. "His heroics, combining speed and power, brought joy to generations of fans on the South Side and his infectious enthusiasm forever solidified his place as a Chicago icon for the ages. I send my deepest condolences to his family, his friends, and his legion of fans. Soon it will be spring, the Sox will take the field, and 'The Cuban Comet' will be looming large in spirit. Thank you, Minnie, for the many great memories."
Despite the push by the White Sox and other prominent Latin players, Minoso has never made it to Cooperstown. His highest percentage during his 15 years on the writers' ballot was 21.1 in 1988. He was considered by the Veterans Committee in 2014 and fell short of the required percentage for induction.
There is some question about Minoso's age, but he is believed to have been in his early 90s. Minoso leaves behind his wife of 30 years, four children and a legion of fans who know this year's White Sox home opener won't be the same.
"Minnie more than anything was more interwoven into the community of Chicago. He made more personal appearances than any other player than I can recall," said White Sox historian and author Richard Lindberg.
"I think he understood the game and certainly wasn't about money as much back then and I think that he was a real ambassador to the game," said White Sox fan Fred Mueller.
"It's just sad to see someone pass away when they spent their life working to do something that they loved," said White Sox fan Cindy Wojtal.
Minoso's death comes just over a month after the death of Cubs legend Ernie Banks.
"We are deeply saddened by the passing of Minnie Minoso," said Chicago Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts. "Having recently lost one of our all-time greats Ernie Banks, we share the heartache with the White Sox organization and fans everywhere who were blessed to enjoy the talent, heart and passion of Mr. White Sox. He will be forever known as an electric offensive player and great ambassador for the game of baseball."
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The Associated Press contributed to this report