Beyond Satchel: Part Three

By Tony McClean
Updated: February 26, 2005

Jose Mendez
Jose Mendez

NEW HAVEN, Ct.—Jose Mendez was perhaps the first Latino baseball legend ever. In his homeland of Cuba, they called him “El Diamante Negro,” The Black Diamond.

From 1908 to 1914, Mendez was one of the greatest Negro League pitchers, along with Rube Foster and Smokey Joe Williams.

Born on March 19, 1887 in Cardenas, the slightly build (5-foot-8) Mendez threw hard (he reportedly killed a teammate when he accidentally hit him with a pitch in the chest in batting practice) and had a “jug handle curve.”

In an exhibition game in 1908 he beat Christy Mathewson and Eddie Plank, both Hall of Famers. That same season, the Cincinnati Reds came to Cuba and Mendez beat them 1-0 on a one-hitter.

In 1910, he and Rube Foster pitched to an 11-inning 4-4 tie. A year later, he beat Smokey Joe Williams 1-0 in extra innings. His record against American teams in ’08 and ’09 was 44-2, and in his career he won more than 70% of his decisions.

Going into 1914, Mendez hurt his arm and became one of the best shortstops in Black baseball. Mendez signed to play for the famous All-Nations team that also featured fellow Cuban superstar Crisobel Torriente.

After several seasons barnstorming the Midwest with the All-Nations, Mendez came to the Kansas City Monarchs where he probably achieved his greatest fame.

From 1920 to 1926, Mendez managed, pitched occasionally, and played shortstop. With Mendez at short, the Monarchs won three straight pennants from 1923 to 1925.

In 1924, the Monarchs beat the Hilldale Daisies of Darby, Pa. in the inaugural Negro League World Series.

In that series he pitched in four games, winning two without a loss. In the deciding game Mendez went the distance in a shutout win, despite being warned not to play by doctors following surgery.

On October 31, 1928, Mendez tragically died of pneumonia at the tender age of 41 in Havana, Cuba. He would later be elected into the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.

During the first quarter of the 20th century, there was arguably no better pitcher than “The Black Diamond”. That was the opinion of many, including the great major league manager John McGraw.

It was in Cuba that “El Diamante Negro” regularly beat the greatest major league pitchers in exhibition games. Sometimes, when Mendez walked into restaurants in Cuba, people stood up and clapped.

With this look back at his great career, we at BASN humbly give the great Mendez his final standing ovation.

NEXT: Wilmer “Big Red” Fields

NOTE: The African-American Registry and the Negro League Baseball Players Association contributed to this story.