José de la Caridad Méndez (March 19, 1887 – October 31, 1928) was a Cuban right-handed pitcher and manager in baseball's Negro Leagues. Born in Cárdenas, Matanzas, he died at age 41 in Havana. Known in Cuba as El Diamante Negro (the "Black Diamond"), he became a legend in his homeland. He was one of the first group of players elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939. He was elected to the U.S. National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
|Born: March 19, 1887|
Cárdenas, Matanzas, Cuba
|Died: October 31, 1928 (aged 41)|
|Cuban League debut|
|1907, for the Almendares|
|1926, for the Kansas City Monarchs|
|Member of the National|
|Baseball Hall of Fame|
In 1907 Méndez was discovered by Bebé Royer of the Almendares team in the Cuban League. A relatively small man (5 feet, 10 inches, 152 pounds), he threw a hard fast ball with a deceptively easy motion and a snapping curve. His first Cuban League season (from January through March 1908), he went 9–0, and, along with veteran Joseíto Muñoz, led the Almendares Blues to the Cuban League pennant. That summer he made his United States debut with the Cuban Stars and also went 3–0 for the Brooklyn Royal Giants.
In the fall of 1908, in the middle of the Second Occupation of Cuba, Méndez pitched the games that established him as a legend. The Cincinnati Reds were visiting Havana playing the Cuban League teams, and Méndez completely dominated, pitching 25 consecutive scoreless innings in 3 appearances. In his first start, he allowed just one single, by Miller Huggins in the 9th inning, while striking out nine. His next appearance came in relief, where he held the Reds scoreless for 7 innings on just 2 hits. He concluded with another shutout. His record from the Cincinnati Reds series was W-2, L-0, ERA-0.00, G-3, IP-25, H-8, R-0, BB-3, SO-24. Several days later Almendares played a minor league all-star team from Key West, and Méndez pitched two more shutouts, the second a no-hitter, giving him 43 consecutive scoreless innings against major and minor league competition.
Over the next 6 Cuban League seasons Méndez continued to dominate, with records of 15–6, 7–0, 11–2, 9–5, 1–4, and 10–0, leading the league in wins 3 times. His Almendares team won pennants in 3 of 6 campaigns. In the United States during the summers he pitched just as well. Some sources say that he achieved a 44–2 record with the Cuban Stars in 1909, though a recent partial compilation of box scores by Scott Simkus shows a more modest, but still impressive, 14–2 record (with 2 saves). He pitched a 10-inning no-hitter on July 24, 1909. One of his losses came on July 1 in Chicago when Rube Foster and the Leland Giants defeated him 1–0, when a dropped fly ball led to an unearned run against him.
Other major league teams visited Cuba over these years and Méndez continued to pitch against them. According to a compilation of box scores by Gary Ashwill, during 1908–13 against major league competition Méndez compiled a record of 9–11 in 24 games, pitching 18 complete games and 204 innings, with a total run average of 3.26. He allowed 150 hits and 51 walks, while notching 123 strikeouts. His opponents were top major league teams, including the 1909 and 1910 Detroit Tigers, the 1910 and 1912 Philadelphia Athletics, the 1911 Philadelphia Phillies and New York Giants and the 1913 Brooklyn Dodgers. The average major league winning percentage of the opposing pitchers he faced was .595; he faced star pitchers including Eddie Plank, whom he beat twice, and Chief Bender, whom he beat once.
Méndez is a remarkable man. More than one big leaguer from the states has faced him and left the plate with a wholesome respect for the great Cuban star. It is not alone my opinion but the opinion of many others who have seen Méndez pitch that he ranks with the best in the game. I do not think he is Walter Johnson's equal, but he is not far behind. He has terrific speed, great control and uses excellent judgment. He is a natural ballplayer if there ever was one and with his pitching it is no wonder that the Cubans win games ... At that, he is a remarkable pitcher, and if he were a white man would command a good position on any Major League club in the circuits.
In late 1914 Méndez developed arm trouble and cut back on his pitching, eventually stopping altogether. A slick fielder, Méndez moved to shortstop and joined J. L. Wilkinson's All Nations. He played with several other teams, including the Chicago American Giants and the Detroit Stars, before finally signing on in 1920 as playing manager with J. L. Wilkinson's Kansas City Monarchs in the new Negro National League. He continued to split his time between shortstop and pitching, and under his leadership the Monarchs won pennants in 1923, 1924, and 1925. He gradually adjusted and became a very effective pitcher again, albeit with lighter pitching loads than he had carried during his 1908–14 pitching prime. In 1923 Méndez had a 12–4 record, followed by 4–0, 2–0, and 3–1 in the next three seasons.
Méndez became the star of the first Negro League World Series in 1924 against the Hilldale Club of the Eastern Colored League. He appeared in 4 games, with a 2–0 record including a shutout victory in the deciding final game.
During the winters, Méndez returned to pitching in the Cuban League in 1920/21. He pitched for the 1923/24 Santa Clara Leopards team that is considered the most dominant in the history of Cuban baseball; other members of that team included Oscar Charleston, Alejandro Oms, Dobie Moore, Bill Holland, and Eustaquio Pedroso.
Méndez won his last game in Cuba on January 21, 1927. Less than 2 years later he was dead at the age of 41. His career Cuban League record was 76–28, and he ranks first all-time in career winning percentage (minimum of 40 wins) with .731.
The following statistics are from a compilation by Scott Simkus of the 1909 Cuban Stars games against all competition. The compilation is missing games during the first month of their tour and for some games is compiled from line scores rather than box scores.
|1909||Cuban Stars||4||1||.800||Record from games with line scores but without box scores.|
Source: 1909 Cuban Stars statistics compiled by Scott Simkus. "1909 Cuban Stars". July 8, 2007. Retrieved June 17, 2008.
|1923/24||Santa Clara p||Cuban||3||1||.750||9||1||—|
|1924w||Santa Clara p||Special (Gran Premio)||1||2||.333||—||—||—|
|w – winter; * – led league; † – all-time league leader; p = pennant; ^ = totals incomplete.|
Source: Figueredo, pp. 72, 78–79, 86, 91–92, 98, 104, 108–109, 114, 118–119, 139, 148, 150, 154–155, 160, 165, 172, 503.
More comprehensive statistics for 1908–13 are available from Seamheads.com.
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|J. G. Taylor Spink Award|
|Ford C. Frick Award|
Italics denotes players who have been voted in but not yet inducted.
Members of the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame