Martín Magdaleno Dihigo Llanos
(El Inmortal, El Maestro)
- Bats Both, Throws Right
- Height 6' 2", Weight 190 lb.
- Debut 1923
- Final Game 1945
- Born May 25, 1905 in Cidra, Matanzas, Cuba
- Died May 20, 1971 in Cienfuegos, Cienfuegos, Cuba
Martín Dihigo (pronounced Mar-TEEN DEE-go) is widely considered the be one of the greatest two-way players in baseball history, along with Babe Ruth, Bob Caruthers and Bullet Rogan. The Matanzas native was the first man to be a member of the Hall of Fame, Salon de la Fama (Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame), and Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame. Dihigo played every position except catcher during his career, which ran from 1922 to 1950. A top hurler who won over 250 wins as a pro, he also won two batting titles. Dihigo hit for power as well and also showed off a fine glove; Ted Page rated his throwing arm from the outfield as being superior to that of Roberto Clemente. At least two fellow Hall-of-Famers said he was the best player they ever saw. He set offensive and pitching records in both Cuba and Mexico. On the mound, these included Mexican League single-season records for ERA and strikeouts, the Cuban Winter League career record for wins. At the plate, his records included the most doubles in a Cuban Winter League game and the first six-hit game in Mexican League history. Throughout his career, he played year-round, spending summers in the United States, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela and the winters in Cuba. He managed championship teams in Cuba, Venezuela and Mexico. Dihigo won four Cuban Winter League MVP awards, the most of any player.
1922-1927: Early Career
Dihigo debuted at age 17 as the starting first baseman for the eastern Cuban Stars as they played in the eastern USA Negro Leagues in 1922. In the 1922-1923 Cuban Winter League (CWL), he hit only .179 as a utility infielder for the Havana Reds. Dihigo batted .242 for the Stars in 1923 in the Negro Leagues; that year, the eastern teams became organized for the first time as an official league, the Eastern Colored League (ECL). He was 0 for 2 for the 1923-1924 Almendares Blues. He managed a .249 average for the 1924 Cuban Stars. He hit .300 and was 2-3 in Cuba in 1924-1925. Turning 20 in 1925, Martín improved to .299 while playing second base primarily for the eastern Stars.
Dihigo batted .344 in the 1925-1926 CWL. He followed that up by emerging as one of the top players in the 1926 Eastern Colored League. The Stars' 1B hit .327 (fifth in the league) and cracked 12 homers, tying Clint Thomas for the league lead. Continuing to improve, Martín's .413 average would have led Cuba in 1926-1927 (Manuel Cueto led qualifiers with a .398 average) while he was 2-0 on the hill. The third baseman for Habana scored 20 runs, second to Mike Herrera's 24 and tied Valentin Dreke for second with 3 home runs.
Moving to shortstop in the ECL the next year, his .312 average led an average (28-28) Stars ensemble.
1927-1931: Starting to win awards and make history
Dihigo was 4-2 and hit .415 in the 1927-1928 Cuban Winter League. He led the league with 54 base hits and his 32 runs were second to teammate Jud Wilson. He won the league's first Most Valuable Player award that year.
As the third baseman for the Homestead Grays, he struggled at .167 and was 1-1 on the mound in 1928. In the winter of 1928-1929, Martín hit .303 and was 2-1 as a pitcher for Havana. On November 15, he hit four doubles in a game, the only player to do so in the eight-decade history of the Cuban Winter League. Dihigo also made history that season by allowing one of three inside-the-park homers to Cool Papa Bell on January 1. 
Homestead traded Dihigo to the Philadelphia Hilldales with Chippy Britt for Jake Stephens and Rev Cannady. In 1929, he went 5-3 with Philadelphia. He hit just .259 in a utility role but his 18 homers were second in the American Negro League, behind only Chino Smith's 23.
Switching back to Almendares in 1929-1930 after his success in Habana, Dihigo only hit .283 with no homers and was 1-2 on the mound in an atypical season.
Back with the Cuban Stars in 1930, Dihigo hit .404 as the primary third baseman, fifth-best among top eastern black teams. His 7 homers tied him with Smith for second place behind Mule Suttles and his three triples tied for fourth, two behind Smith and Turkey Stearnes.
In 1931, Dihigo played outfield for the Philadelphia Stars (the successor to the Hilldales, though some sources identify the team as Hilldale in 1931). He only hit .244, but was tied for third in the East in triples with five. That off-season, he was 2 for 8 in an exhibition series against Fred Heimach and other major leaguers.
In the 1931-1932 Cuban Winter League, Dihigo only had 10 AB for the champion Almendares team, getting 3 hits, two of them doubles.
Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico
Dihigo then did not play in the United States of America or Cuba for several years as he was the star pitcher in a Venezuela-based league during that time.
In 1934, Dihigo was player-manager of the Concordia team of Venezuela that played for the Trujillo Cup with a 6-3 record. Concordia then dropped three straight to a Cuban All-Star team before routing a Puerto Rican All-Star team to conclude their exhibition tour. 
1935-1937: Back to prominence in the US and Cuba
In 1935, at age 29/30, Martín returned to North America as player-manager of the New York Cubans and hit .335, while going 7-3 with a 3.54 RA (run average) on the mound. His 9 homers tied Oscar Charleston for third in the Negro National League behind only Josh Gibson and Mule Suttles and his 4 triples tied him for 4th. He was also fifth with six stolen bases, tied for fourth in winning percentage and fifth in RA. In the NNL championship Series, he had New York ahead of the Pittsburgh Crawfords, 3 games to 1, but they dropped the final 3. Game 6 was especially rough; Dihigo was pitching with a 6-3 lead and 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th when he allowed a game-tying homer to Charleston, a double to Pat Patterson and a single to Judy Johnson to lose it. 
Dihigo's two-way talents were evident in the 1935 East-West Game. The top vote-getter in the outfield, Dihigo started in center for the East and went 1 for 5 with a run, RBI, walk, steal and two errors. He drove in a key run in the first and made a fine catch to run Josh Gibson. In the 10th, he came in to pitch, relieving fellow Cuban Luis Tiant Sr. with a 8-4 lead and the bases loaded. He allowed a 2-run single to PH Felton Snow then retired Alec Radcliffe on a run-scoring force. Turkey Stearnes singled. Buck Leonard flew out, scoring Radcliffe with the tying run. In the 11th, he struggled more, walking Cool Papa Bell. He retired the next two but walked Gibson intentionally to get to Mule Suttles, who responded with a 3-run homer that may be the most memorable shot in Negro League history.
In his first full season in the Cuban Winter League in seven years, Dihigo was the player-manager for Santa Clara in 1935-1936. Dihigo led the Cuban Winter League in almost everything. He led the league in average (.358), runs (42), hits (63, tied with Willie Wells), triples (8), RBI (38, tied with Bill Perkins), winning percentage (.846), complete games (13), victories (11) and shutouts (4). He won his second MVP award. He guided Santa Clara to the title with a 34-14 record.
With the New York Cubans in 1936, he hit .331, went 7-4 and guided the club to a 22-23 season. His 13 homers were fourth behind Turkey Stearnes, Suttles and Gibson and his 9 doubles led the league. His 35 strikeouts were fifth-most among pitchers.
In 1936-1937, Dihigo was 14-10 in Cuba (second to Ray Brown in wins) and third in average (.323) and home runs (4). He also managed his Marianao Tigers to a title with a 38-31 record, one game ahead of his old Santa Clara team. With Marianao down 3 games in the standings with 3 to play, Dihigo won back-to-back games as his club managed to tie it up. In the deciding series against Santa Clara, Dihigo dropped a 6-1 decision to Brown but Silvio García won game two. In the finale, working on two days' rest, Dihigo pitched 8 shutout innings before Perkins hit a 3-run homer in the 9th, by which time Marianao had scored 7 times against Brown. Dihigo won his third MVP award.
1937: Dominican Republic and Mexico; two more records
Dihigo spent most of the 1937 season with the Águilas Cibaeñas club in the Dominican League. He tied for the league lead in homers, hit .351 (third) and went 6-4 (second in wins to Satchel Paige). He also pitched for the Veracruz Eagle of the Mexican League, going 4-0 with a 0.93 ERA, a .78 WHIP and 51 strikeouts in 38 2/3 innings and threw a no-hitter against Nogales on September 16, the first no-no in Mexican League history. He hit .357/~.419/.643 in Mexico that year, driving in 12 runs in 7 games. That winter, he went 14-2 in Cuba to lead the league in wins by six, though he hit only .253. On December 21, he won the first night game in Cuban Winter League history, topping the Almendares Blues, 6-5.
In the winter of '37-'38, Dihigo went 2 for 6 against the New York Giants and was 11-5 in the regular CWL season. He finished second in wins (one behind Brown) and fourth in average (.303). His Marianao team finished third only as the other hurlers were a combined 24-23.
1938-1943: More records in Mexico and Cuba
Dihigo was 18-2 for Veracruz with a 0.92 ERA in 1938, allowing only 104 hits and 32 walks in 167 innings, striking out 184. Among pitchers with over 100 innings, it remains the lowest ERA in the history of the Liga Mexicana de Beisbol (LMB) and his .900 winning percentage would not be matched for 50 years. Dihigo twice beat Hall-of-Famer Satchel Paige that year, including one game in which Martín helped his cause by going 6 for 6 with a homer. The six-hit game came on September 18 and was the first time a Mexican League player had that many hits in a contest. On June 4, he struck out 22 batters in a 13-inning contest. Dihigo also won the batting title after a .387/~.482/.599 turn at the plate.
In Cuba that winter (1938-1939), he returned to Havana and had his 4th straight season of double-digit wins tied for the record. Dihigo was 14-2 but only hit .255 with one homer. He easily led the CWL in both winning percentage and victories, 3 ahead of Ray Brown, Alex Carrasquel and Cocaina García.
In 1939, Dihigo batted .337/~.429/.508 for Veracruz and went 15-8, 2.90 on the hill. He completed 20 of 23 starts and whiffing 202 batters (a league record at that point) and walking only 42 in 202 innings. Dihigo hit .291 and was 6-4 for Cienfuegos in 1939-1940. One of his losses was against 19-year-old Early Wynn, a future Hall-of-Famer. He managed the team part of the season and they finished in second place.
Moving to the Veracruz Blues in 1940, Martín was only 8-6, 3.54 as a pitcher, but hit .364/~.402/.550 and tied Theolic Smith for second in the LMB in batting average behind Cool Papa Bell. Dihigo was suspended by the Cuban Winter League after a disagreement with Cienfuegos club owner Francisco Curbelo. Havana manager Mike Gonzalez was able to get Dihigo back into the loop to help his team to its first title in 7 years. He only hit .182 without a homer in a bad year offensively but was 8-3 and one of the staff aces.
Dihigo joined Algodoneros de Torreon in 1941. It was a rough 9-10, 4.01 season on the hill for the veteran; it would be his lone losing record in 11 seasons in Mexico. Turning 36, Dihigo still hit .310/.409/.520 for Torreon. Dihigo was 8-3 in the 1941-1942 season for Havana and continued to struggle at the plate (.228). On the other hand, he led the league with 11 complete games and was one behind Ramón Bragaña in victories. Bragaña beat him in the pennant-clincher as Almendares topped Havana by two games in a tight race. Dihigo still won his 4th MVP award and joined Bragaña as the post-season All-Star pitchers. His four MVP awards make him the only player to win more than two; Lázaro Salazar, Gil Torres, Minnie Minoso and Willie Wells each claimed two. After the Cuban Revolution, no player won four Cuban Serie Nacional Most Valuable Player awards until Alfredo Despaigne claimed #4 in 2014-2015.
In 1942, he managed Torreon to the pennant and went 22-7 with a 2.53 ERA on the mound. He led the LMB with 211 strikeouts, had the best winning percentage, tied Cuban rival Bragaña for the win lead and led with 26 complete games. As a hitter, he hit .319/~.466/.477 and drew 77 walks (possibly leading the league).
1943-1950: Fading Away
In the 1942-1943 Cuban Winter League, Dihigo lost 8 of 12 decisions and batted .267 for the Havana Reds.
In 1943, Dihigo was 16-8, 3.10 and hit .277/~.407/.450 for Torreon. Dihigo hit .266 with 10 doubles, one behind league leader Alejandro Crespo. He led the league in ERA (2.23) and winning percentage, thanks to a 8-1 record. His offense fell further in 1944 when he hit just .249/~.369/.386 for the Tecolotes de Nuevo Laredo and went 12-10, 3.14 as a pitcher.
In Cuba in 1944-1945, the veteran was 3-3 with a 3.84 ERA and hit .207, no longer playing regularly in the field. Returning to the Negro Leagues for the first time in almost a decade in 1945, Dihigo hit only .100 for the New York Cubans and lost his only decision. He appeared for the East in the 1945 East-West Game, allowing one run in 3 ⅓ innings in a 9–6 loss by his team. He hit .225 and was 5-4 in Cuba that winter, playing for Cienfuegos.
Back in the Liga Mexicana in 1946, the forty-year old Dihigo hit .316/~.427/.441 for Torreon. He out-hit all the white big-leaguers who came south that year lured by large contracts offered by Jorge Pasquel. He did not lead the league in average as Mexican Bobby Ávila and fellow Cubans like Claro Duany and Nap Reyes fared even better at the plate. Dihigo went 11-4, 2.83 on the mound for Torreon and led the league in winning percentage, beating out the likes of Sal Maglie and Max Lanier (two prominent major leaguers who had come to Mexico with the high salaries offered that year). It was the last stand-out year for the elder statesman.
He finished up his Cuban career in 1946-1947, going 1-3 for Cienfuegos on the mound and 1 for 11 at the plate. Dihigo fell to 4-2, 4.37 in the 1947 Mexican League for two teams and hit only .196/~.302/.304. He was player-manager for the Tuneros de San Luis for part of that season.
Dolf Luque tried to recruit Dihigo for the 1947-1948 Alacranes of the Cuban Players League but Dihigo retired instead. Coming back for one game in 1950 for the Veracruz Eagle and threw two scoreless innings.
After retiring, Dihigo became a radio announcer for Cuban Winter League contests. He often criticized modern players, finding them inferior to those of his era. He fled the country in 1952 to protest the rise to power of Fulgencio Batista. Dihigo managed the Venezuelan entry in the 1953 Caribbean Series but his Leones del Caracas finished last in the Series with a 1-5 record.
Dihigo reportedly helped fund Fidel Castro's rebel movement from its early days and returned to Cuba after Castro's successful revolution. He became minister of sports under the new government. He helped teach at programs for amateur baseball players that the government opened.
He was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1951, the Salon de la Fama in 1964, and the US Hall of Fame in 1977 (by the Special Committee on the Negro Leagues). He was the first person to be part of all three Halls; Monte Irvin later followed.
Dihigo's health declined and he spent his last years living with his oldest son, suffering reportedly from cerebral thrombosis. Dihigo was buried in his wife's family plot in Cruces.
Dihigo's son Martin Dihigo Jr. played briefly in the minors before returning to Cuba to help the revolution. His younger son Gilberto Dihigo was a sportswriter who left Cuba in the early 1990s to work in Mexico City and was a key source for the Cuban baseball history Full Count: Inside Cuban Baseball. 
Playing for over two decades, Dihigo posted impressive records in leagues in three different countries with his work in the Mexican League, Negro Leagues and Cuban Winter League. He also starred in lesser circuits in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. During his career, he led his leagues in batting average, strikeouts, wins, ERA, winning percentage, homers and doubles at various points.
Dihigo was 107-56 in Cuba and ranks as the all-time Cuban Winter League leader in wins (one ahead of Dolf Luque) and complete games (120). He was only tenth in losses despite his lead in wins. He was fourth in games pitched (248), second in seasons pitched (trailing Luque, 22 to 19) and fourth in winning percentage. He was 8th all-time in runs (356), 9th in doubles (100) and tied with Silvio García for 4th in triples (44).
He was 119-57, 2.84 in the Mexican League and hit .317/~.420/.490. He is seventh all-time in the LMB in ERA among pitchers with between 1,000 and 2,000 innings and first with a .676 winning percentage. In the Negro Leagues, he was 29-26 as a pitcher and hit .299 with 69 homers. Despite only spending less than half of his career in the Negro Leagues, he is 12th all-time in homers. Overall, he was 255-139 as a pitcher, not counting his time in the Dominican Republic or Venezuela.
- 2-time NNL All-Star (1935 & 1945)
- ECL Batting Average Leader (1926)
- ECL Slugging Percentage Leader (1926)
- ECL OPS Leader (1926)
- 2-time ECL Home Runs Leader (1926 & 1927)
- ANL Runs Scored Leader (1929)
- Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1977
Quotes about Dihigo
Minnie Minoso reported that when he was a kid, Dihigo let him carry his shoes and glove. This is how Minoso got to see games as a youth. Minoso said "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."
"The greatest player I ever saw was a black man. He's in the Hall of Fame, although not a lot of people have heard of him. His name is Martín Dihigo. I played with him in Santo Domingo in winter ball in 1943. He was the manager... I thought I was havin' a pretty good year myself down there and they were walkin' him to get to me." - attributed to Johnny Mize but see below
That quote, however, has been discredited, insofar as the reference to playing winter ball in Santo Domingo in 1943. See Just the Facts. Dihigo and Mize did play in the Dominican Republic together in 1934 for the Concordia team of Venezuela, though it appears Mize hit in front of Dihigo, making it impossible teams to pitch around Dihigo to get to Mize. 
Question about Dihigo's birthdate
The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues and the main Baseball-Reference site both list a 1905 birthdate for Dihigo. This site prints Dihigo's birth record with a 1906 date. All ages in this article are based off of the 1905 date listed in The Biographical Encyclopedia.
Primary Sources: Viva Beisbol newsletter by Bruce Baskin (8/20/05 issue), The Mexican League: Comprehensive Player Statistics by Pedro Treto Cisneros (source for all Mexican League stats), The Complete Book of Baseball's Negro Leagues by John Holway (source for Negro League stats), The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues by James Riley, Black Baseball's National Showcase by Larry Lester (source for East-West Games), A History of Cuban Baseball by Peter Bjarkman, Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History by Jorge Figueredo (all Cuban Winter League stats)
- A History of Cuban Baseball, pg. 31
- Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, pg. 178
- Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, pg. 177
- Baseball Think Factory discussion
- Presentation by Richard Puerzer at the 2018 SABR convention on the 1935 NNL Championship Series
- A History of Cuban Baseball, pg. 34
- A History of Cuban Baseball, pg. 429
- A History of Cuban Baseball, pg. 30
- A History of Cuban Baseball, pg. 34
- Hall of Fame bio
- A History of Cuban Baseball, pg. 35
- Baseball Think Factory thread
- Anthony Castrovince: "We've seen a two-way All-Star before", mlb.com, July 7, 2021. 
- Thomas Harrigan: "Martín Dihigo: Mr. Versatility", "The Negro Leagues", mlb.com.