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Negro Leagues
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Negro Leagues Legacy

Stars of the Negro Leagues

Mr. Versatility
Dihigo played all nine positions in the Negro Leagues
By Ken Mandel/MLB.com


Martin Dihigo started his career as a second baseman.
Born: May 25, 1905, Matanzas, Cuba
Died: May 20, 1971, Cienfuegos, Cuba
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Hall of Fame induction: 1977

Today's utility players fit the profile because of an ability to play many positions. But in order to be a star at every position, one would have to have been Martin Dihigo, perhaps the most versatile man ever to play the game.

Dihigo, a 6-foot-4, 190-pound Cuban, excelled everywhere on the diamond. He first arrived as a second baseman but later would be second to no one, expanding his horizons to every other spot except catcher. The No. 3 batter hit higher than .300 in at least 11 seasons and tacked on a .400 clip in at least three more.

Hall-of-Famer Johnny Mize also said Dihigo was the best player he ever saw and recalled how, as teammates in the Dominican Republic, opponents would intentionally walk Dihigo to pitch to Mize.

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Off the field, former teammates described Dihigo as an impeccable dresser, a kind, humorous person and a magnificent cook.

Tall and lanky, the right-handed hitter's talents were displayed early while with the Cuban Stars. His first season was in 1923 -- also the first year of the newly organized Eastern Colored League -- and he led the league in home runs in 1926 and tied for the lead in 1927. All this while hitting .421 and .370, respectively.

In 1928, Cum Posey secured the then 23-year-old to play for the Homestead Grays. He was traded to an American Negro League team called the Hilldale Daisies a year later with Chippy Britt for Jake Stevens and Rev Cannady. After finishing second in the league with 18 home runs, he returned to the Stars for the 1930 season, before ending up back in Hilldale in 1931.

During his second tour with Hilldale, he was credited with a 6-1 pitching mark, possibly the earliest record of his mound prowess. While managing himself, he transitioned to the mound in 1935 with Santa Clara of the Cuban League, and reeled off four seasons of 11-2, 14-10, 11-5 and 14-2. Reports say his control wasn't exceptional, nor was his strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Pitching didn't cause him to lose his stroke. He won a batting title in 1935-36, hitting .358, playing a different position on days he didn't pitch. This would be a regular occurrence for the natural superstar, as he would often lead his team in most hitting and pitching categories.

In 1938 in Mexico, Dihigo really nailed the hitting/pitching thing, hitting a league-leading .387 and topping the league in wins with an 18-2 mark and a 0.90 ERA. Dihigo preferred pitching in the last few years of his career, and, in 1942, his increased focus caused his batting average to slip to .319. The 37-year-old went 22-7 with league-leading marks in ERA (2.53) and strikeouts (211 in 245 1/3 innings).

Records say he went 16-8 the next season. Those same records show Dihigo throwing no-hitters in Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Incomplete records total his career pitching mark at 261-138 in Mexico, Cuba and the Negro Leagues.

Born in a small village near Matanzas, Cuba, May 25, 1905, he also died in his native land in 1971, five days shy of his 66th birthday. His warm, friendly personality, sprinkled with humor, made him popular everywhere and made him a national hero in Cuba. There he served as minister of sports under Fidel Castro's regime. He may also have been the greatest Hispanic player in the Negro Leagues.

He was already a member of the Cuban and Mexican Halls of Fame when he was elected in the National Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously, in 1977.

Ken Mandel is a writer/editor for MLB.com. This article wasn't subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.