Jose' Mendez

(Transcendental Graphics)

"Jose' Mendez is better than any pitcher except
Mordecai Brown and Christy Mathewson,"

--John McGraw, quoted in "Smoke – the Romance and Lore of Cuban Baseball" by Mark Rucker and Peter Bjarkman. Click here to order book.

--Chicago Defender Newspaper

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Negro Leaguer of the Month
February, 2002

Jose' Mendez

Position: pitcher, shortstop
Career: 1908-1927
Brooklyn Royal Giants, Cuban Stars, All-Nations, Chicago American Giants, Detroit Stars, Kansas City Monarchs

HT: 5'-8"; WT: 200 lbs
Batted right; threw right
March 19, 1887 in Cardenas, Cuba
Died: Oct. 31, 1928 in Havana, Cuba

Martin Dihigo gets most of the press when the topic of great Cuban baseball players comes up, but Jose' Mendez was nearly as talented.

From 1908 to 1914 Mendez was one of the greatest Negro League pitchers, along with Rube Foster and Smokey Joe Williams.

Despite his slight build, Mendez threw hard (he reportedly killed a teammate when he accidentally hit him with a pitch in the chest in batting practice) and had a "jug handle curve." He baffled batters from the Negro Leagues and Majors alike during his prime.

His biggest wins during his heyday were the following:

  • In 1908 he beat Christy Mathewson and Eddie Plank, both Hall of Famers.
  • In 1908 the Cincinnatti Reds came to Cuba and Mendez beat them 1-0 on a one-hitter.
  • In 1910 he dueled Rube Foster to an 11-inning 4-4 tie.
  • In 1911 he beat Smokey Joe Williams 1-0 in 10 innings.
  • In 1912 he beat Nap Tucker and Mathewson again.

His record against American teams in '08 and '09 was 44-2, and in his career he won more than 70% of his decisions.

Going into the 1914 season, there weren't many pitchers better than Mendez, but the 27 year old hurt his arm and had to stop pitching on a regular basis. What did he do then? He became one of the best shorstops in baseball.

Mendez was lucky enough to meet J.L. Wilkinson, the eventual owner of the Kansas City Monarchs, around this time and he signed with him to play for the famous All-Nations team which also featured star pitchers Plunk Drake and John Donaldson, as well as fellow Cuban superstar Crisobel Torriente.

After several seasons barnstorming the Midwest with the All-Nations, Wilkinson brought Mendez to the Monarchs where he probably achieved his greatest fame. From 1920-1926 Mendez managed, pitched occasionally, and played shortstop for the Monarchs – a true testiment to his skills as a fielder when you consider the Monarchs also carried Dobie Moore, one of the top handful of shorstops in Negro League history.

With Mendez at short the Monarchs won pennants in '23, '24 and '25. In 1924 the Monarchs beat the Hilldale Giants of Darby, PA in the first Negro League World Series. In that series he rediscovered his pitching magic by hurling in 4 games, winning two without a loss. In the deciding game Mendez went the distance in a shutout win, despite being warned by doctors not to play following surgery.

In 1928 Mendez died of pneumonia at the tender age of 41. He was elected into the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.