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The curious case of Minnie Minoso’s 1951 AL Rookie of the Year clock

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The clock — a Jaeger LeCoultre Atmos perpetual motion mantel clock — is handsome with its gilt-brass and glass case that houses the torsion pendulum movement and a white, open dial ring with Arabic numerals, clockwise, at 12, 3, 6 and 9.

It’s just less than 10 inches tall, slightly more than eight inches wide and 6 1/2 inches deep, sturdy and substantial beyond its size.

It carries the heft of a statement, its owner says.

It carries the heft of this statement, engraved on the base of the gilt-brass case:

Presented to

Orestes Minoso of Chicago White Sox

American League Rookie of 1951

By The Sporting News

Now, a little background.

The Sporting News, which recently announced its 2022 MLB awards, has been honoring players since the 1930s and began its Rookie of the Year award in 1946, polling members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The BBWAA, which will announce its ’22 awards this week, including the 2022 Jackie Robinson AL and NL Rookie of the Year awards tonight, established its own separate Rookie of the Year award in 1947.

Spin ahead to 1951, when the BBWAA named Yankees infielder Gil McDougald the AL Rookie of the Year, based on ranked-order balloting of select voters. The Sporting News, on the other hand, canvassed 227 BBWAA members for its annual baseball awards that year.

“Orestes (Minnie) Minoso, Cuban Comet of the White Sox, led the field in the American League, drawing 22 more votes than his closest competitor, Gil McDougald, brilliant infielder of the world’s champion Yankees. In the National League, Willie Mays of the Giants spread-eagled the field, rolling up 210 votes,” TSN’s story read in the Nov. 14, 1951, issue under the headline, “The Sporting News Salutes No. 1 Frosh of ’51: Fleet Minoso, Mays Run Away With Rookie Titles”.

MORE: 2022 Sporting News MLB awards

By most any statistical measure, Minoso had a better individual ’51 season than McDougald. Minoso slashed .326/.422/.500 and led the league in triples (14) and stolen bases (31). McDougald’s only edge: He hit 14 home runs to Minoso’s 10. McDougald finished ninth in MVP voting. Tellingly, Minoso was fourth.

More than 70 years later, it’s hard to know the reason for the disconnect between the BBWAA award given to McDougald and rank-and-file BBWAA members’ votes for Minoso for The Sporting News.

The clock’s owner has a theory: Given the relatively small number of official BBWAA award voters, it was easier logistically to snub a Black Cuban with superior stats. “The voters had chosen a Rookie of the Year with lesser good stats than Minnie but who was white,” Laurent Villemur wrote TSN from his home in Toulouse, France.

Um, yes, Toulouse … France.

Oh, this clock, which Villemur now owns, has tales to tell, and Villemur is the one to tell them, which he did in a 16-page letter, a love letter really, to The Sporting News that was as much a tribute to Minnie Minoso as anything else, chock full of photos, stats, news articles (including the one from The Sporting News in 1951), historic quotes and more.

But befitting an update on the Cuban Comet’s clock, this story of how Villemur came to have it begins in Havana in the wake of Hurricane Wilma in October 2005.

Long story short, but no less … odd, Villemur, who was serving in the French foreign service in Cuba, said he befriended an older woman named Carmen after he rescued her small dog from the Wilma’s floodwaters.

“After this episode, we remained friends,” Villemur told TSN. “We didn’t see each other all the time, of course, but occasionally I would drop by to say hello.”

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When it came time in 2011 for Villemur and his family to return to France, he said Carmen asked him to come see her and while there she said she’d never forgotten that he rescued her dog.

“And there, taking a mysterious air I did not really understand, she goes in her attic and returns with the clock of Orestes,” Villemur recalled. “She carried it with both hands as if it was the holy grail.”

Then Carmen explained the clock’s significance, the Frenchman said. And the significance of Minoso, a Baseball Hall of Famer who died in 2015. (Read Adrian Burgos Jr.’s moving eulogy.)

“I didn’t know much about baseball and didn’t realize it,” he said. “But the object itself was so beautiful that I was very moved that she gave me such a gift.”

One last twist: A break-in at his home in Havana before his departure left Villemur sure that the clock had been stolen by the burglars. OK, another twist: The clock actually had been placed in a box labeled “clothes,” for safekeeping during ocean passage.

“You can guess the rest,” Villemur said.

That label meant the clock, nestled among the clothes, spent years in his parents’ attic in France. “Last year, while trying to sort and throw away these old clothes,” he told TSN, “what a surprise!”

Villemur, the Frenchman who described his English as “weak” (he used DeepL Translator for his initial email to TSN and to answer subsequent questions) and whose knowledge of baseball initially was even weaker, began to research Orestes “Minnie” Minoso, “Mr. White Sox.”

So here we are today. There still are questions, not least of which is who was Carmen and how did she come to possess the clock?

But the larger question: Is this clock a symbol, “an incredibly strong gesture,” as Villemur puts it?

It’s hard to say.

A player of color wouldn’t win the BBWAA’s AL Rookie of the Year until 1956, when the White Sox’s Luis Aparacio, of Venezuela, was honored. The Twins’ Tony Oliva, like Minoso a native of Cuba, won the award in 1964 before Curt Blefary of the Orioles became the first African American to win the BBWAA’s AL Rookie of the Year.

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Yet in 1951, the year TSN awarded Minoso its AL Rookie of the Year award, Willie Mays was the third consecutive Black player to be named the BBWAA’s National League Rookie of the Year, a streak that would stretch two more years. (Jackie Robinson — for whom the AL and NL awards are named today — was voted the first Rookie of the Year, for his game-changing 1947 season, when there was only one award for both leagues.)

As for The Sporting News’ honoring Minoso as a “statement” in 1951, that’s a kind and perhaps romanticized way of viewing things because we know today — and TSN’s Ryan Fagan chronicled in detail — that J.G. Taylor Spink, the longtime publisher of The Sporting News, had a history when it came to race and racism.

Yet, sure enough, here is handsome, young Minnie Minoso, The Sporting News American League Rookie of 1951, beaming with the clock in hand. Standing next to him is Giants manager Leo Durocher, The Sporting News 1951 Manager of the Year. The photo, its edges jagged and finish showing the craquelure of 70-plus years, is not just provenance held by Villemur and on display at his home but a literal snapshot of the player and the clock, the game and an honor well-earned.

“I started to look for the clock’s history, to understand exactly what it represented,” Villemur told TSN. “It is only recently that I understood the symbol that this little clock was. It is the symbol of a period in which the barriers of segregation were falling.”

So let’s just leave it at this: The clock, which sat untouched in an attic for years, had initially been kept in a bank vault for safekeeping. Now, however, it sits on display on a piece of living-room furniture in the south of France, a lovely clock that is a tribute to a future Hall of Fame player and also a fan’s love for a game once foreign to him.


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