A colorful and intelligent promoter with underworld ties, Alex Pompez had a long career of involvement with Negro League baseball. Not only was he a manager and owner, but he served as league vice president, scout, and consultant to the Hall of Fame.
Pompez's induction into the Hall of Fame
was controversial due to his ties to
organized crime. However, he deserves
acclaim for helping to deliver great Latin
stars to the majors in the
1950s and 1960s.
The Cubans disbanded because of the Depression in the early 1930s, but Pompez resurrected them as the New York Cubans in 1935. They won the second-half title behind the sensational play of star Martin Dihigo, who not only hit .372 but fired up a 7-3 record on the mound.
However, trouble was lurking for Pompez. By this time, he was an important member of Dutch Schultz's mob, and according to biographer Jim Riley, one of the wealthiest men in Harlem. New York County District Attorney Thomas Dewey targeted Pompez, and a grand jury indictment came for him in 1936.
The sly numbers dealer was tipped off by an elevator operator and escaped to Mexico after shutting down his team. He returned to the U.S. and turned state's evidence to avoid jail time. Two years later, he was back in baseball with his Cubans, who won a championship playoff in 1941 and then won both the Negro National League pennant and World Series in 1947.
However, things were changing in baseball. The signing of Jackie Robinson and other Negro Leaguers was starting to sound the death knell for the black leagues. Pompez saw the writing on the wall, selling off two of his best players -- Ray Dandridge and Earl Barnhill -- to give them shots at major-league careers. Then he swung a deal with New York Giants owner Horace Stoneham to make his Cubans a Giants farm club, and also for Pompez to scout the Caribbean for New York.
Over the next 25 years, he helped bring many Latin players to the bigs, including such future stars as Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, the Alou brothers, Tony Oliva, and Camilo Pascual.
When the Hall of Fame decided to select players from the Negro Leagues in 1971, Pompez's vast experience proved invaluable. He served on the committee on Negro Leagues for the last four years of his life, helping see that greats such as Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Monte Irvin, and Buck Leonard attained the fame they merited. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in a special election on February 27, 2006.
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