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Negro Leagues
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Negro Leagues Legacy

Stars of the Negro Leagues

Good enough for the Majors
Torriente admired by Major Leaguers
By Brian Wilson/MLB.com

Born: 1895, Cuba
Died: 1938, New York, N.Y.
Bats: Left
Throws: Left

Slugging left-handed hitting outfielder Cristobal Torriente, along with Martin Dihigo and Jose Mendez, was among the three greatest Cuban ballplayers ever to fall victim to baseball's color line.

If New York Giants manager John McGraw had his way, Torriente would have been on the team. Torriente was light-skinned, but because of the texture of his hair, McGraw knew he couldn't sneak him through.

Much of Torriente's legend is owed to a 1921 exhibition series in Cuba against the New York Giants, who just happened to bring along Babe Ruth for good measure. Torriente feasted on New York pitching, hitting two homers in one particular game.

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His next time at bat, Ruth decided to take the mound to get Torriente out. The notorious bad ball hitter scorched a double past third base that "almost tore my leg off," said Frankie Frisch.

"He hit a ground ball by me, and you know, it's one of those things -- look in the glove, it might be there," Frisch said, according to John Holway's The Complete Book of Baseball's Negro Leagues: The Other Half of Baseball History. "It dug a hole about a foot deep on its way to left field. And I'm glad I wasn't in front of it! ... I'd like to whitewash him and bring him up."

Apparently, McGraw and Frisch were not alone in their assessments.

"Tell Torriente and Mendez that if they could play with me in the Major Leagues, we would win the pennant by July and go fishing for the rest of the season," said Ruth.

Born in 1895, Torriente traveled to the U.S. in 1914 with the Cuban Stars, and signed on to play with Rube Foster's Chicago American Giants in 1918. He won the center field post, with incumbent Oscar Charleston moving to left. During the first three years of the Negro National League (1920 to 1922), the team won the title largely on the strength of Torriente's .411 .338 and .342 batting averages.

He remained with the team through 1926, when his penchant for drinking led to his exodus. Dealt to the Kansas City Monarchs, he hit a team-high .381. Difficulties with Monarch management resulted in a short stay in Kansas City. He moved on to the Detroit Stars for the 1927 and 1928 seasons, where he batted .339 and .320 respectively.

Years of drinking took its toll on both his career and health, however. After playing with lesser teams such as the Atlanta Black Crackers, Gilkerson's Union Giants, the Cleveland Cubs in the early 30's, Torriente died of tuberculosis in 1938. But his legend lives on in his native Cuba, and is epitomized by a quote attributed to Indianapolis ABC's manager C.I. Taylor.

"If I should see Torriente walking up the other side of the street, I would say, 'There walks a ballclub.'"

Brian Wilson is an editor/producer for the MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.