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Orestes “Minnie” Minoso, who died Sunday at 90, held a number of titles during his long and storied baseball career. He was the first black Cuban player in Major League Baseball. The American League leader, at different moments, in hits, doubles, triples, sacrifice flies, stolen bases and total bases. Seven-time All-Star and, as he came to be known after a stellar 1951 season, “Mr. White Sox.”
But there was one title Minoso never managed to add to the list: Hall of Famer. At least, not at the hall of fame that mattered to him most. Though he was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame and the Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame, he never made the trip to Cooperstown as an official inductee.
“My last dream is to be in Cooperstown, to be with those guys,” Minoso said a few years ago, after years of candidacy had gone unanswered.
But he did get to see a different dream realized in the months before he died, though it had nothing to do with at-bats or RBIs. When the news came in December 2014 that the U.S. and Cuba were resuming diplomatic relations after half a century, Minoso wrote for TIME, “I never thought this day would come in my lifetime.”
Minoso left Cuba in 1945 to play for the Negro Leagues and decided, in 1961, to leave for good, bidding farewell to his family forever. Reflecting on what the news meant for a possible return to his home country, Minoso wrote, “Maybe I’ll see some of the same trees, the same sugar fields, I remembered as a boy.”
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.