Answer Man

Answer Man: Brushing up on some baseball history

Q. Your paper’s story Monday about the death of Minnie Minoso left me with several questions: If Minoso was one of two players to play in five decades, who was the other guy? What player in Major League Baseball has been hit by pitches most frequently (Minoso was ninth)? And why was he called “Minnie,” which is usually a feminine name?

— ScooperJon

A. Trying to understand the evolution of Minoso’s name is a little like pulling teeth — which, as it turns out, begins to explain how he came to be called “Minnie.”

According to Minoso’s website (www.minoso.com), he was baptized Saturnino Orestes Arrieta Armas on Nov. 29, 1922, in Cuba. Wait a minute, you’re saying. There’s not even a Minoso in that tongue twister, much less a Minnie. Here’s why:

In his Spanish-speaking culture, a child’s first name is, like ours, their given name followed by the surname of their father (Carlos Arrieta) and their mother (Cecelia Armas). Here’s where things get complicated. His mother had been married previously to a man named Minoso, so he had two older half brothers named Minoso who also played baseball. Not surprisingly, he often was called Minoso in baseball circles as well. Rather than spending his life correcting everybody, he legally changed his name to Orestes Minoso when he became a U.S. citizen. In Cuba, he was Orestes Arietta.

So where did the “Minnie” come from? At first glance, you might think it was simply a diminutive of or cute takeoff on “Minoso.” But that’s not Minoso’s version. According to him, he was sitting in a waiting room one day when he heard his dentist call for “Minnie.” Figuring it was simply another American mispronouncing his name (which originally was “minyoso” with a tilde above the n), he stood up and began walking toward the exam room. It turned out that the dentist actually was calling for his receptionist, whose name was Minnie, but Minoso apparently told the funny anecdote to others and a legendary nickname was born.

At least, that’s the story he tells of that fateful day with a Dr. Robinson. Of course, we know the questions that remain over final real age, which his website lists as 92. By the way, if you’re a baseball expert, you may remember at least two other big leaguers named Minnie — Minnie Mendoza, who played 16 games for the Minnesota Twins in 1970, and Minnie Rojas, an Angels relief pitcher for three years in the ’60s.

For the other two answers, you have to dig more than a century into baseball history. The first man to play in five decades was Nick Altrock, who is credited for his Major League debut on July 14, 1898, at age 22 with the Louisville Colonels. A few years later, Altrock was instrumental in, ironically, pitching the Chicago White Sox (Minoso’s team) over the Cubs in the 1906 World Series. An arm injury soon ended his regular playing days, but he continued as an occasional pinch-hitter through Oct. 1, 1933, when he stepped to the plate for the final time — at age 57. He remains the oldest player ever to hit a triple in Major League history, smashing a three-bagger for the Washington Senators in 1924 at age 48.

As for the man who constantly sacrificed his body to get on base, you’re looking for Hughie Jennings, who still tops the list of players hit by pitches with 287 kerplunks during an 18-year playing career with six teams from 1891 to 1918. In fact, playing with the Brooklyn Superbas, he would lead the league for five straight seasons with totals ranging from 27 to a whopping 51 in 1896. (Minoso led the American League in HBPs in 10 years, yet still wound up with a career total of only 192.)

But the abuse eventually may have caught up with Jennings. A beaning that left him unconscious for three days coupled with a college dive into an empty pool and a horrendous automobile accident in 1911 may have contributed to a nervous breakdown he suffered in 1925 when he was asked to take over the New York Giants from John McGraw, who had become ill. Jennings, who was famous for shouting “Ee-yah!” from the third-base coaching box, died three years later at 58, long before the Veterans Committee voted him into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945.

By the way, Houston’s Craig Biggio is second on the HBP list with 285.

Today’s trivia

What French-born artist once drew a mustache and goatee on a copy of the Mona Lisa and entered it in a Paris art show?

Answer to Tuesday’s trivia: Even the youngest grade school students know that 2+2=4, but did you ever stop to wonder how the plus and equal signs came to be universally accepted? You might be surprised to learn that they didn’t become popular until about 500 years ago. Until then, mathematicians were using all kinds of symbols, including what looked a pair of legs walking toward and away from you for plus and minus. In 15th century Europe, they often used “P” for plus and “M” for minus, according to David Bodanis in his book “E=MC2: A Biography of the World’s Most Famous Equation.”

Finally, in 1557, Welsh physician and mathematician Robert Ricorde introduced the equals sign in his second book of arithmetic, “The Whetstone of Witte.” He wrote: “To avoid the tedious repetition of the words ‘is equal to,’ I will set (as I do often in work use) a pair of parallels of one length (thus =), because no two things can be more equal.”

He also finally popularized the use of the plus and minus signs, which had begun to enjoy some popularity in Europe in the 1400s. The plus was shorthand for the Latin word “et” (and); the minus may have been shorthand for the letter M or a tilde written over the M to mean “minus.”

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