Martin Dihigo: El Maestro
A note about Negro League stats: As many know, there are no truly “official” sanctioned statistics for the Negro Leagues as opposed to Major League baseball, where there is a long distinguished file of statistical data. For this and my other articles about Negro Leaguers, I use statistics compiled by well-regarded researchers at Seamheads Negro League Database (http://www.seamheads.com/NegroLgs/index.php). The modern game has progressed to the point in the past few years that teams have increasingly added more and more pitchers to the roster, reducing the number of position players and requiring positional flexibility. The 26th man being added in 2020 will give a bit more freedom to managers, but players with the ability to play more than one position will still be of premium.
One thing I’ve noticed is that while a number of players can play multiple positions, not many play multiple positions well. In 2019, DJ LeMahieu played multiple positions well, well enough to get himself in the MVP conversations.
Even with LeMahieu’s season, he didn’t play shortstop, or outfield though I suspect he could have played at least at an average level at both positions. He didn’t pitcher either.
It’s hard to find a player who was known to truly play all positions well. If you look hard enough though baseball history, you’ll stop at Martin Dihigo, the most versatile player of the Negro Leagues, and perhaps in professional baseball history.
So it you like DJ, you’ll love Martin, or “El Maestro” as he was called.
Dihigo started professional ball in 1923 as an 18-year old first baseman playing for the Cuban Stars East of the Eastern Colored League, one of the two major Negro Leagues of the 1920s. He was overmatched by the pitching of the league at his young age, batting only .208. He moved to shortstop in 1924 and the outfield in 1925, with his bat catching up at age 20, hitting .306. All the while he was growing as a position player, he had a 3.17 ERA in a part-time role on the mound.
In 1927, Dihigo returned to shortstop in ECL play and finished with a .912 OPS. After the season, he joined the Habana team in the Cuban Winter League. The league was small – only three teams – but mighty. He was one of six players in the circuit who would later be voted into Cooperstown, along with numerous players to be later voted into the Cuban Hall of Fame. In this major-league caliber setting, the 22-year old led the league in WAR while moving between the mound and centerfield.
From that point, Dihigo’s career looked like that of many Negro League players .He bounced from league to league, team to team, and uniquely to him position to position – primarily shortstop, third base and the outfield. Dihigo finished his career slashing .319/.404/.527 while fielding at a positive WAR in his numerous positions. On the mound, he was 73-49, 3.32 and a 138 ERA+.
Dihigo’s Cooperstown plaque
Dihigo was inducted American, Mexican, and Cuban Halls of Fame after retirement. Those that saw Dihigo play remembered him as a player with the physique and grace of Joe DiMaggio while excelling wherever he was placed on a baseball field.
“He was just a great natural athlete. He could run like a deer and had a great arm. He played the infield and the outfield, and he was a great pitcher.” – Monte Irvin