Omar Minaya: Latino heritage shining from the front office

By Jose de Jesus Ortiz

The weight of his accomplishment truly hit home for Omar Minaya at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Opening Day 2002. That’s when two of the greatest trailblazing families in American sports were on hand to share the day with the first Latino general manager in Major League Baseball history.

On that day, Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson’s daughter Sharon and Roberto Clemente’s widow Vera traveled to Montreal for Minaya’s first home opener in his new role.

Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947, spent the 1946 season with the Montreal Royals. Clemente, the Pittsburgh Pirates legend, was an outspoken champion for Latinos in baseball and throughout Latin America.

“When you see Roberto Clemente’s wife and then understanding that you had Jackie Robinson’s daughter there too, that hit me a little bit,” Minaya said. “They were both there and wanted to be there for me. I just thanked them.”

Minaya, who was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Queens, N.Y., broke barriers with the Expos. Three years later, Venezuelan Ozzie Guillén of the Chicago White Sox became the first Latin American manager to lead a team to the World Series title.

But the story of Latin Americans in baseball leadership roles actually began nine years before Robinson broke the color barrier. Cuban Miguel “Mike” Angel González Cordero, became baseball’s first Latin American manager when he took over the 1938 Cardinals on an interim basis late that season.

It took 64 more years before commissioner Bud Selig made Minaya baseball’s first Latino general manager in 2002 with the same franchise that had given an opportunity to arguably the greatest Latino manager, Felipe Alou.

The Expos were owned by MLB when Selig appointed Minaya. Two years later, the Mets hired Minaya as general manager after the 2004 season. The bilingual Minaya proved crucial as the Mets lured Puerto Rican center fielder Carlos Beltrán and eventual Hall of Famer Pedro Martínez of the Dominican Republic in his first winter as general manager in Queens.

Martinez, who was inducted to the Hall of Fame on July 26, 2015, had just led the Red Sox to the 2004 World Series title. He was leaning toward a return to Boston before Minaya visited him in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on Thanksgiving 2004 to begin courting him.

Minaya jokes that he spoke a little bit of Spanglish – mixing in Spanish and English words while chatting – during the high profile recruiting efforts with Martínez and Beltrán.

The connection paid off.

“I just have a great amount of respect for him,” Martínez told USA Today at the time. “Between fellow Dominicans, we believe a lot in our word and looking at people in the eyes. And when he said he wanted me and he was going to do anything possible, I could sense that he really wanted me.

“I was like ‘Whoa.’ He said, ‘If I can get you, will you play for me?’ I never thought it would happen so quick.”

Although Minaya definitely had a strong cultural connection with Beltrán and Martínez, he is quick to point out Latino ballplayers and Latino general managers are just as motivated by the bottom line as every other group.

“I think first of all, it’s always about the money,” Minaya says. “That is a misconception that they’ll come just because we’re Latin. I think it was just the ability to look at people in the eye and say, ‘This is what it is.’ They can find out a little bit.

“It’s a comfort zone somewhat, but it’s still about the money. The principles of general managers and players are always about compensation. It helps if a player is able to feel comfortable what he’s feeling and you’re able to communicate with him, but it’s still about the player feeling he’s getting paid for his value.”

Minaya became a trailblazer of sorts long before he became the game’s first Latino general manager.

In an era when the majority of Latino scouts were relegated to mining for international talent, Doug Melvin promoted Minaya to become the Texas Rangers’ professional scouting director.

“Now everybody has a pro scouting department, but that was one of the first pro scouting departments in baseball,” Minaya recalls. “So I kind of came up as a professional scouting director. I was always involved in domestic and international scouting.”

Minaya was then hired as an assistant general manager by the Mets in 1997. He left the Mets to become the Expos’ GM before returning as the Mets’ GM after the 2004 season. He remained in that position until October 2010. After a few years away from the organization, Minaya returned to the Mets as a Special Assistant to the General Manager in December.

Former Phillies infielder Rubén Amaro, Jr., who was born in the U.S. to a Jewish mother and Cuban-Mexican father, became the second Latino general in baseball when the Phillies named him to that post in November 2008.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, who was born and raised in Mexico by American citizens, follows Minaya and Amaro as general managers with Latin American ties.

“We’re a product of how baseball has grown internationally,” Minaya said. “I’m of Hispanic heritage, but I was raised in New York. Opportunities came with the Rangers as a scout and I was able to work my way from area scout to general manager.

“The fact that I happened to be the first Hispanic to be in this position of leadership, you feel honored. It was just the way the game continues to grow with the international players and the Hispanic players.

“It wasn’t a Hispanic deal. It was more baseball and the fact I was bilingual and had been involved.”

Major League Baseball now has three Latino managers: Rick Renteria (White Sox), Dave Martinez (Nationals) and Alex Cora (Red Sox). They follow in the footsteps of trailblazers like Cubans Preston Gomez and Cookie Rojas and Dominican legend Alou.

Gomez became the expansion San Diego Padres’ first manager in 1969. He remained in San Diego from 1969 through 1972. He also managed the Astros (1974-1975) and the Cubs (1980).

Alou, the 1994 National League manager of the Year, is arguably the most successful Latino manager of all-time. He guided the 2003 Giants to the NL West crown with a 100-61 record and before that led the 1994 Expos to a 74-40 record in that strike-shortened season.

“For me Felipe was always a great manager and player,” Minaya said. “He is a person that understood and had great respect for all players, but he also had an understanding of broader issues than just baseball.

“Felipe is similar to myself. I think you communicate with Latino players, but players are players. He could be understanding, but he still demanded high standards. He had very high standards.”

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2015 edition of Memories and Dreams, the official magazine of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. It has been updated.

Featured Image: Jeff Gross / Getty Images Sport