Despite his induction to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, the majority of fans still don’t truly understand the impact that Alex Pompez had on the game of baseball. Every year there are countless articles written about the Negro Leagues. The stories of Josh Gibson, Martín Dihigo, Toni Stone, and on down the list are all important to the fabric of the baseball world. Yet, it always seems that Pompez is left out of the discussion despite his amazing career and profound impact on the careers of so many Negro Leagues legends.
Alejandro Pompez was born to Cuban immigrants. His father, Jose Pompez, was active in American politics and extremely loyal to the Cuban revolutionary movement of the late 1800s. So much so that when Jose died he willed his entire estate to the cause, leaving his son and his wife penniless. The younger Pompez would spend most of his childhood trying to get by and getting involved deeply with the cigar-making business. It’s from that business and an incredible ability to talk to and relate with anyone that Pompez started to become more of a known entity throughout New York.
Pompez loved cigars, numbers (as in the illegal gambling kind), and baseball. He realized very early on that he could use his Cuban connections to help get work in America for Cuban players. After a few years of doing this in a barnstorming fashion, he jumped at the chance to join the Negro Leagues. The Negro National League already had the Midwest-based Cuban Stars, so he took his, Eastern, Cuban Stars to the Eastern Colored League. From 1923-1928 the Stars were a good team, but not great, though what mattered more than anything was the pipeline of players Pompez brought to America.
Players like Dihigo, Alejandro Oms, and Oscar Levis wowed the league. They did so because Pompez specifically targeted younger players and promoted a style of play that was riskier and more fan-friendly. He brought in colorful players who could play ball but were also full of personality and smart to the world. There are numerous stories about the role that Pompez played in the development of his players. Not only did he want to succeed but he also wanted his players to succeed. To that end, Pompez helped his players in a variety of ways; financially, educationally, culturally, you name it.
When the ECL folded Pompez eventually made his way to the newly reformed Negro National League and added his New York Cubans to the mix. Dihigo and some other players made the jump, but Pompez also brought other soon to be stars like Minnie Miñoso, Tetelo Vargas, Silvino Ruiz, and Luis Tiant. Pompez’s Cubans were perennial contenders and eventual champions of the NNL in 1948, complete with a World Series title.
Pompez’s impact went beyond just his team’s results on the baseball field. He was one of the original architects of the Negro Leagues World Series as well as an integral figure in the longtime relationship between the Negro Leagues and Latin America. Pompez was one of the key figures in ensuring that the Negro Leagues weren’t just an important part of African-American history but to Afro-Latino history as well. When he was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2006 it was largely due to his accomplishments off the field. Today baseball is dominated by Latin Americans and every single one of them owes their place in American baseball to the hard work Alex Pompez put in to create a path for Latin Americans to American baseball fields.