Obituary: Martín Dihigo Jr. (1942-2019)

R.I.P. to Martín Dihigo Jr., the son of the legendary Negro Leagues superstar and a minor-leaguer in the Cincinnati Reds organization. He died on June 17 at the age of 76. He played in the minor leagues from 1959-1962.

If you don’t know about Martín Dihigo, his page in the Baseball Hall of Fame is as good a place to start as any. He played from 1923-1950 and was considered one of the best two-way talents the game has ever seen. He’s listed as a pitcher in his Hall of Fame Plaque, but he was a dangerous hitter as well. Sadly, he was essentially done as a player by 1947, when Jackie Robinson finally integrated Major League Baseball. That came too late for past legends like Dihigo, but it was great timing for his son.

The Geneva Redlegs outfield of 1959: Harry Panaro, Mike Copps, Martín Dihigo Jr. and Ray Williams. Source: The Democrat and Chronicle, May 2, 1959.

Martín Dihigo Jr. was born on September 17, 1942. Baseball Reference doesn’t have a birthplace, but I’m assuming it was in Cuba. He was 16 years old in 1959, when he joined the Reds organization as an outfielder. He spent a total of four seasons in the minors. His best performances came with the Geneva Redlegs of the New York Penn League. He struggled there with a .206 average in his first year, but he batted .247 in 1960 with 23 doubles, 3 home runs and 17 stolen bases. In 1962, he hit .275 for the Redlegs in 77 games, with 17 more stolen bases and 3 more homers.

At other levels and in other cities, Dihigo struggled. He hit .190 for Macon in 1962, with just 58 at-bats in 46 games. He appeared in just 37 games for Topeka in 1961 with a .145 average. For his career, he played in 316 games and had 228 hits, including 46 doubles, 9 triples and 6 home runs, for a .241/.335/.327 slash line. He also stole 41 bases. During his time with the Reds, he had some pretty noteworthy teammates. He played with Pete Rose, Tony Perez and Art Shamsky, among others, as they were starting their careers.

The newspapers, when they wrote about Dihigo, typically called him “Marty Dihigo” — part of the attempt to Americanize Latin players. It’s part of the reason that you sometimes see baseball cards of “Bob Clemente.” He also had to deal with the realities of being a dark-skinned Cuban teenager in places like Macon and Palatka, Fla., in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Unsurprisingly, he returned to Cuba after his ball career was over.

Ralph Carhart, a SABR member who traveled to Cuba to visit the elder Dihigo’s grave as part of his “Hall Ball” project, has a great interview with Dihigo Jr. on his website. You can read it here. It turns out that Martín Sr. tried to warn his son about the racism he would experience in the United States, but Jr. didn’t believe it until he had to sit at the back of the bus. I really recommend giving it a read, as it not only gives some good insights into Dihigo Sr., it really highlights his son’s bubbly, funny personality. He definitely sounds like someone you’d gladly spend a couple of hours with, sipping a few beers.

Obituary (in Spanish):

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