How good a ballplayer was José Méndez? A pitcher turned shortstop turned manager, they called him El diamante negro or ‘The Black Diamond.’
With a couple of weeks to go before Iván ‘Pudge’ Rodríguez’s induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, we pay homage to another pioneer, the first Cuban to star in the pre-Negro League era.
As a pitcher, Méndez enjoyed three undefeated seasons in Cuba. He once threw 25 consecutive scoreless innings over three games against the Cincinnati Reds in winter ball. As a player-manager, he led the Kansas City Monarchs to three straight Negro National League titles.
To quote Hall of Fame manager John McGraw, “If Méndez was a white man, I would pay $50,000 for his release from Almendares.” For McGraw, Méndez was “sort of Walter Johnson and Grover Alexander rolled into one.” From one Hall of Famer to another, that’s high praise, indeed.