Hall of Famer Roy Campanella, who played in the Negro Leagues from 1937-42 before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, expressed a similar sentiment.
“Dihigo was one of the greatest I ever saw,” Campanella said. “He was a tremendous hitter, had great power, could hit for an average, 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.”
Here are some key points to know about Dihigo, who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977.
• Born in Matanzas, Cuba, in 1905, Dihigo was 17 years old when he began playing professional baseball for Habana of the Cuban League in ’22. In 1923, he debuted for the Cuban Stars. Made up mostly of Cuban-born players, the team competed in the United States as part of the Eastern Colored League.
In his Negro Leagues career, which stretched into the 1940s, Dihigo also played for the Homestead Grays, the Hilldale Athletic Club and the New York Cubans. During this time, Dihigo continued to play ball in Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.
• Stats from this time period are often incomplete and are considered unofficial for now, but the available numbers give you a sense of the all-around impact Dihigo had on the game.
In the Negro Leagues database on seamheads.com, Dihigo is credited with hitting over .300 and slugging north of .500 with 110 home runs in his career, including time spent in Latin America. On the pitching side, the database puts Dihigo at 51 wins with a 3.57 ERA.
Meanwhile, the National Baseball Hall of Fame credits Dihigo with collecting more than 260 victories as a pitcher.
• Dihigo’s performance in the Mexican League is the stuff of legend. Not only is the right-hander believed to have thrown the first no-hitter in league history, but he is also credited with recording a 0.92 ERA over 167 innings and winning the batting title with a .387 average in 1938.
• Dihigo was an icon in his native country, where he was known as “El Inmortal,” or “The Immortal.”
Hall of Fame electee Minnie Miñoso, who also was born in the Cuban province of Matanzas and went on to play in the Negro Leagues before making his MLB debut in 1949, idolized Dihigo in his youth.
“Dihigo once let me carry his shoes and glove and that’s how I got into the ballpark down there [in Cuba] when I was a kid,” Miñoso said, according to baseball historian Peter C. Bjarkman’s book, “Baseball with a Latin Beat: A History of the Latin American Game,” which was published in 1994. “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.
“When I played a few years in the Negro Leagues, with the New York Cubans, Dihigo was past his prime and just a manager then, so I never really competed against him as a player. But it is difficult to explain what a great hero he was in Cuba. Everywhere he went he was recognized and mobbed for autographs. I’d have to say he was most responsible for me getting to the Major Leagues. He was a big man, but he was big in all ways, as a player, as a manager, as a teacher, as a man.”
• Dihigo was the first Cuban-born inductee in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and he remains the only person to be inducted into the Baseball Halls of Fame in Cuba, Mexico and the United States.
Dihigo’s induction into the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame came in 1951, and he was inducted into the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame in ’64. He completed the trifecta when he was enshrined in Cooperstown in 1977, six years after his death at the age of 64.