Martín Dihigo was born to play baseball. It is not by chance that he was called “El Maestro” and “El Inmortal” by fans and foes alike.
Inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, he has been described by most as one of the most all-around players the sport has ever seen. He could do it all, excelling at all positions, he could bat, pitch and was an outstanding defensive player.
Hall of Famer Johnny Mize, who played for 15 seasons with the New York Giants, New York Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals, is quoted by MLB.com as saying that Dihigo “was the only guy I ever saw, who could play all nine positions, manage, run and switch-hit.”
Even though he never played in the Major Leagues, Dihigo’s career spanned multiple decades with a lengthy stint in the Negro Leagues, Mexican Professional Baseball League, Cuban League and the Venezuelan League. His career started in his native Cuba at age 17, moving on the Negro Leagues in 1923.
Dihigo was born in Matanzas, Cuba on May 25, 1905, son of Benito Dihigo, a sugar cane worker who was involved in the Spanish American War of 1898. According to Bijan C, Bayne, a writer for The Undefeated, Dihigo dropped out of school when he was in sixth grade to work at the sugar mills.
His love for the sport started at age 12, playing in organized youth leagues in Cuba. He debuted with the Havana Reds in 1922, but didn’t play much as he had a .179 batting average according to Peter Bjaerkman, author of Baseball with a Latin Beat: A History of the Latin American Game.
Like many other great Negro League players, he was discovered by Alejando Pompez in one of his tours to the Caribbean island with the New York Cubans. Dihigo joined the team, and it was there where he started his rise to fame and flashed the incredible talent that got him to Cooperstown.
During a career that spanned decades into the 1940’s, Dihigo played for the Cubans, the Homestead Grays and the Hillsdale Athletic Club, moving to winter ball leagues in Cuba, Mexico, Dominican Republic and Venezuela. In the Negro Leagues alone, he had a .301 career batting average, 63 home runs and 201 RBI’s. He also pitched during 10 of those seasons, holding a 23-20 record.
Dihigo was also a player-manager for the Cubans during the 1935-36 seasons, according to The Undefeated.
“Dihigo was one of the greatest I ever saw,” said fellow Hall of Famer Roy Campanella. “He was a tremendous hitter, had great power, everything. I played against him in the Cuban winter league, in Mexico and in the Negro National League when he was with the New York Cubans.”
His greatest moments came while playing in Mexico. In the country’s professional baseball league he’s credited with the first perfect game ever in that country and during the 1938 season. According to MLB.com, he had a 0.92 ERA over 167 innings with an 18-2 record and won the batting title with an impressive .387 average.
Minnie Miñoso, also considered one of the top Cuban players ever, told Bjaerkman in his book that “Dihigo once let me carry his shoes and glove and that’s how I got into the ballpark down there when I was a kid. He was a big man, all muscle with not an ounce of fat on him. He helped me by teaching me how to play properly”.
After finishing his playing days, Dihigo continued managing in the Caribbean Leagues, winning the Caribbean Baseball Series (which included teams from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic) as skipper of the Caracas Leones in 1953.
Dihigo is one of only two players to be inducted in Baseball Halls of Fame in Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Venezuela and the United States. The other one was Willie Wells, also a Negro League standout in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Dihigo passed away in Cuba in 1971 at age 65.