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International Players Who Impacted the Negro Leagues

 Nick Martin - World Baseball Network  |    Jun 18th, 2024 8:19pm EDT

The facade of Rickwood Field prior to the game between the Montgomery Biscuits and the Birmingham Barons at Rickwood Field on Tuesday, June 18, 2024 in Birmingham, Alabama. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

The MLB is honoring Negro League Baseball history with a regular season game at the historic Rickwood Field, the former home of the Birmingham Black Barons. Rickwood Field, the oldest professional baseball stadium in the US, will host a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants on June 20th.  

Throughout the history of the Negro Leagues, there have been many legendary players who have made their marks on America’s past time. Several international players have registered impressive careers in the Negro Leagues, paving the way for their fellow countrymen to follow in their footsteps.  

One international player who became a legend in his home country after his playing career is Martin Dihigo. Dihigo, born in Cuba in 1905, began his professional playing career in Cuba at the young age of 17. His Negro Leagues career, which extended into the 1940s, saw Dihigo play for the New York Cubans, the Hilldale Athletic Club, and the Homestead Grays. Dihigo was a do-it-all player during his career. Throughout his Negro Leagues career, he batted over .300 with 129 home runs, on top of 101 wins as a pitcher with a 3.28 ERA. A record-breaker throughout his time on the diamond, Dihigo is believed to have thrown the first no-hitter in the history of the Mexican League.  

After his playing career was over, Dihigo received worthy recognition. He was inducted into the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame, the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame, and Cooperstown, an impressive feat no player has ever achieved. Dihigo would also serve as an inspiration for future Cuban ball players.  

Minnie Miñoso, who grew up in Cuba and idolized Martin Dihigo, would also play in the Negro Leagues during his career. Miñoso quickly became a star during his three seasons in the Negro Leagues playing for the New York Cubans. During those three years, Miñoso batted .313, including multiple all-star game appearances.  

Despite the success that Miñoso saw in the Negro Leagues, he was denied a chance to play in the MLB until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. He signed with the then Cleveland Indians in 1949 and became the first dark-skinned Latin player in MLB history after making his debut. Over the course of 14 seasons, most of which with the Chicago White Sox, Miñoso was a nine-time all-star, with three Gold Glove Awards and a career batting average of .299. Like Martin Dihigo before him, Miñoso paved the way for Latin players who dreamed of making the MLB. Miñoso’s baseball career was enshrined forever after being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2022.  

Another foundational piece in laying the framework for Cuban players is José Méndez, who began his Negro Leagues career in 1920. Méndez got his first taste of Major League Baseball play when the Cincinnati Reds visited Cuba in 1908. In three matchups against the Reds, Méndez pitched 25 innings, giving up zero runs. He would continue to face MLB teams as they visited Cuba until 1913, his last time pitching against Major League competition.  

Méndez would begin to make his mark on the Negro Leagues for the Kansas City Monarchs, where he played several seasons in the middle infield before returning to the mound. He would play a vital role in the Monarchs winning the first Colored World Series. Méndez would finish his Negro Leagues career in 1926. Although he never made it to the MLB, Méndez was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.  

The last international player who played in the Negro Leagues to become a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame is Cuban-born Cristóbal Torriente. Nicknamed the “Cuban Babe Ruth,” Torriente was an excellent power hitter with deceptive speed and reliability in the field. During a trip to Cuba by the New York Giants, it’s reported that Torriente outhomered the Great Bambino with 3.  

Across 17 seasons in the Negro Leagues, primarily with the Chicago American Giants, Torriente hit .342 with over 730 RBIs. With the American Giants, he helped lead the team to three consecutive Negro National League Pennants. Torriente was enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.  

Throughout the storied history of the Negro Leagues, international players have made their mark on the league and paved the way for some of the best players in the world to achieve their dreams of reaching the MLB. These are just a few of the many international players who have contributed to the historic Negro Leagues. As the MLB celebrates the Negro Leagues at Rickwood Field on June 20, fans must remember the impact that international players have had on the Negro Leagues and the ways their involvement changed baseball for the better.  

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Nick Martin - World Baseball Network