Saturday, March 20, 2010

March 19, 1887: 'El Diamante Negro' Jose Mendez was born

On this date in 1887, one of the greatest pitchers in the Cuban baseball history was born in Cárdenas.

Jose Mendez, El Diamante Negro, would go on to star in Cuba -- mostly playing for Almendares along with one-year stints each with Santa Clara (below), Matanzas and Habana -- and in the Negro Leagues with teams, such as the Kansas City Monarchs and Cuban Stars.

A look at the year-by-year breakdown of Mendez's first nine seasons in the Cuban League with Almendares -- as listed in Jorge S. Figueredo’s book, Who’s Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961 -- gives a glimpse at how dominant he was:

1908: 9-0

1908-09: 15-6

1910: 7-0

1910-11: 11-2

1912: 9-5

1913: 1-4

1913-14: 10-0

1914-15: 2-0

1915-16: 1-1

But don't just believe the numbers. Mendez consistently defeated major league teams visiting Cuba since 1908.

When the New York Giants of manager John McGraw and Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson visited the island for a series of exhibition games against the local nines, Mendez split two decisions against Mathewson, prompting McGraw to say he would pay $50,000 for Mendez ... if he were white.

"Mendez is better than any pitcher except [major league star] Mordecai Brown or Christy Mathewson," McGraw said at the time. "And sometimes, I think he's better than Matty."

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