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Martin Dihigo

Martin Dihigo

Career: 1923-1945
Positions: 2b, of, p, 1b, 3b, ss, c, manager
Teams: Cuban Stars (East) (1923-1927, 1930), Homestead Grays (1928), Hilldale Daisies (1929-1931), Baltimore Black Sox (1931), Venezuelan League (1933), New York Cubans (1935-1936, 1945), Santo Domingo (1937), Mexican League (1940-1944)
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Height: 6' 3''   Weight: 190
Born: May 25, 1905, Matanzas, Cuba
Died: May 22, 1971, Cienfuegos, Cuba
National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee (1977)

The most versatile man ever to play the game of baseball was Martin Dihigo. When he first came to the United States as a youth, he was most often played at second base. But as the years passed, his playing time at the infield corners and in the outfield increased. Later he turned more to the mound as his primary position, while still playing as an everyday player when not taking his turn in the pitching rotation. Whether playing the outfield, the infield, or pitching, he was awesome. The gifted Cuban was literally a star at every position he played. Neither before his appearance on the baseball horizon, nor since his departure from the scene, has his multitude of talents afield ever been approached by a single player.

A natural five point player, the graceful athlete had an exceptionally strong arm, great range in the field, very good speed on the bases, and was a superior batter with power at the plate. His batting skills were quickly demonstrated during his early years with the Cuban Stars. His first season with the Cubans was 1923, the year the Eastern Colored League was organized. He led the league in home runs in 1926 and tied for the lead in 1927 while hitting .421 and .370, respectively. The following season the superb ballplayer was secured by Cum Posey to play with the Homestead Grays. After a year with the Grays, however, he was traded with Chippy Britt to Hilldale, for Jake Stephens and Rev Cannady. The change proved a good one for Dihigo, as he finished second in the American Negro League with 18 home runs while compiling a .386 batting average. In 1930 he was back with the Cuban Stars and is credited with a .393 batting average for the year. The next season he returned to Hilldale and was credited with a 6-1 pitching record.

Meanwhile, he was also playing winters in his homeland. With Havana he hit over .400 twice, posting averages of .413 and .415 in consecutive seasons (1926-1928), and hit over .300 nine times during the period 1924-1938, adding a tenth season over .300 in a later season. During this interval there were four seasons in the 1930s that he did not play in Cuba, but when an active participant, the only time he failed to hit .300 was in 1929-1930, when he hit .282 and had 12 stolen bases in 180 at bats.

He remained primarily an everyday player until 1935-1936 with Santa Clara in the Cuban League. But once he made the transition to pitching, he had four consecutive seasons (1935-1939) of 11-2, 14-10, 11-5, and 14 2. In the 1943-1944 winter season he was 8-1 with a 2.23 ERA. His control was good but not exceptional, nor was his strikeout ratio. His move to the mound was made when he was managing himself, winning consecutive Cuban championships in 1935-1936 with Santa Clara and with Marianao in 1936-1937. During the former season he had five base hits in the final game to overtake teammate Willie Wells for the batting title with a .358 average.

The preceding summer in the United States, as playing manager of the New York Cubans in one of his last seasons in the Negro Leagues before embarking on a long career in Mexico, he hit .372 and fashioned a 7-3 pitching record to lead his club to the 1935 Negro National League second half title and a showdown with the powerful Pittsburgh Crawfords, often called the best team in the history of the Negro Leagues. In the ensuing playoffs Dihigo played well but the Cubans lost to the Crawfords in a hard fought seven game Series.

Earlier that season, Dihigo's versatility was showcased in the East-West All Star game, where he started in center field, batted third in the power-laden lineup, and finished on the mound against the West's best sluggers. Unfortunately, he yielded an eleventh-inning two out homer to Mule Suttles to lose the contest.

The tall, lanky, talented Cuban spent most of his early career (1923-1936) in the Negro Leagues, except for intermittent interruptions, to play seasons in Latin American countries. But afterward, except for 1945, when he again returned for a single season as a player-manager of the New York Cubans, most of hit summer baseball career was spent in Mexico and other Latin American leagues.

In 1937 he played in Santo Domingo with the Aquilas Cibaenas ballclub, where he was their leading hitter and ace pitcher. In a demonstration of both his versatility and ability, he finished near the top in both hitting and pitching, losing out to Satchel Paige in victories and to Josh Gibson in batting average. At the plate he tied for the league lead in home runs while finishing with a .351 batting average, third best in the league. On the mound his 6-4 record represented the second highest win total in the league and accounted for almost half of his team's victories in the 28-game season.

The following year, 1938, in Mexico, he led the league with a .387 batting average and also topped the league in pitching with a record of 18-2 and a 0.90 ERA. In 1940, playing with the champion Veracruz team, he hit .364 with a 549 slugging percentage while also registering an 8-6 pitching record with a 3.54 ERA. The next season he switched teams, splitting the season between Mexico City and Torreon, and although dropping off to a 9-10 ledger, he ranked in the top ten in both ERA (4.01) and strikeouts (93). In 1942 he hit .319, but was inclined more toward the pitching half of his baseball career. The increased focus resulted in a 22-7 record, with league leading marks in both ERA (2.53) and strikeouts (211 in 245-1/2 Innings). Dihigo extended his inclination toward pitching as he registered a 16-8 ledger, with a 3.10 ERA and a league-high 134 strikeouts, but dropped to a .277 batting average in 1943. In addition to his batting and pitching, in 1944 he added a third duty, as he assumed the managerial reins of the Laredo team in the Mexican League.

While starring primarily as a hitter in the States, the right hander starred as a pitcher in Latin America, pitching no hitters in Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. In his homeland, Cuba, his lifetime record as a pitcher was 115-60 and in Mexico, where he managed and recruited players for the Mexican League, his Pitching statistics showed a 119-57 lifetime total. Incomplete records credit him with a 27-21 record in the Negro Leagues, yielding an impressive aggregate 261 138 lifetime pitching record. Hall of Famer Johnny Mize called him the best player he ever saw and remembered that when they were teammates in the Dominican Republic, opponents would intentionally walk Dihigo to pitch to him.

Dihigo displayed a warm, friendly personality blended with humor, which earned him a popularity everywhere he played and made him a national hero in Cuba, where he served as minister of sports under Fidel Castro's regime. Probably the most widely known Cuban ever to perform in the United States, he was considered by many to be the greatest all-around Negro player of all time. He was already a member of both the Cuban and Mexican Halls of Fame when he was posthumously elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977.

Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.

Martin Dihigo photo

Martin Dihigo