Posted on 08 July 2011.
Adrian Burgos Jr. PhD is Associate Professor, teaching US Latino History at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. One area of specialty is Baseball, in specifically Latin Americans in the Sport of Baseball. Your’s truly was given the honor to interview Burgos when he did his first book “Playing America’s Game” Baseball, Latinos, and the color line”(A book I strongly recommend highly!) During the interview he talked about his next project a book on Negro League baseball owner/pioneer Alex Pompez. Many youngsters who want to have a clear picture as to the Latino contribution in the Negro Leagues, his relationship to Latin Baseball Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, his residence in Harlem, New York, The New York Cubans, Number’s game, just read this well written biography on this gentleman. Who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame 2006. We both sat down for 15 minutes before the book signing event which took place at the bookstore
Hue-Man located at 2319 Frederick Douglass Blvd, Harlem NY while sipping on coffee.
QUESTIONS FOR ADRIAN BURGOS
ON ALEX POMPEZ BY ISMAEL NUNEZ
1-Is it true that other owners of Negro league teams were also numbers racketeers, had ties with the criminal underworld. It wasn’t just Alex Pompez.
Just about every Negro League team, especially those in the Negro National League that was formed in 1934, had connection to the numbers world. Pompez was not alone in his involvement in the numbers: Gus Greenlee (Pittsburgh Crawfords), Rufus “Sonnyman” Jackson (Homestead Grays), Abe Manley (Newark Eagles), and James “Soldier Boy” Semler (NY Black Yankees) were all numbers men. However, Pompez was the most successful of the entrepreneurs who operated in the numbers and then got involved in Black baseball. Moreover, the way the numbers were viewed in the African American and Latino community was different than in the white mainstream: one’s reputation as a community figure or a criminal/gangster was based on what you did with the money, did you recycle it through the community through other businesses (such as a baseball team or restaurant) or did you take it out of the community (as Dutch Schultz would do to Harlem after his takeover of Harlem’s numbers scene.
2-Now here’s the thing Pompez was involved in some illegal things yet he’s in the Hall of Fame not Pete Rose or “Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Being involved in the numbers was not against the rules of Black baseball or the Negro Leagues; the capital that came from the numbers was arguably what made having a Negro League possible during the Depression as it was one financial industry that really didn’t suffer like others. Moreover, the numbers operations did not involve gambling on the outcome of baseball games—there was no “throwing” of games in order to achieve a certain score or victory/defeat. In that regard, there was a difference between what Pompez did and what Pete Rose did or what Joe Jackson was accused of having done.
Additionally, Pompez’s involvement in the numbers racket ended in 1937. After he turned state evidence in testifying against Tammany Hall political fixer Jimmy Hines there are no more arrest for numbers violation; he reinvents himself as strictly a baseball man, as a talent evaluator of the highest order and we witness the greatest fruit of that when he works as a scout for the NY/SF Giants.
3-Can you tell us about this testimony against Dutch Shultz. In doing this wasn’t his life threatened? Now this was the time of the famed “Murder Inc” true?
Actually Pompez did not testify against Schultz (who had already been killed in October 1935 in Newark by his fellow mob associates). Instead Pompez testified against Democratic political fixer Jimmy Hines who had the connections within the judicial and law enforcement community to protect Schultz’s operations from full prosecution. As Pompez’s testimony about Schultz’s operation after his takeover of Harlem’s numbers revealed, Schultz funneled tens of thousands of dollars from the numbers banks into the coffers of political clubs under Hines’ control. This was to try to influence both political elections and to have channeled to judicial and police officials for ‘protection.’ There was not much loyalty to Hines from those who were in Murder, Inc. because he was Schultz’s guy and not theirs.
4-Focusing in Harlem: I understand where he lived, ran the NY Cubans team and from I’ve read he help renovate a park on 204th street Dyckman.
Pompez was a Harlem man. He first settled in a section of Harlem in the lower 110s between 7th and 9th Avenue that was called Little Ybor by the Afro-Cubans who relocated there from Tampa in the 1910s. This area was also where he would have the headquarters for his Cuban Stars then NY Cubans baseball operations, (84 Lenox Avenue). In fact, Pompez never lived in what becomes known as Spanish Harlem. As he became more successfully he kept moving north in Harlem and ultimately taking up residence on Sugar Hill, a two-floor apartment at 409 Edgecombe.
5-The New York Cubans (of which I myself have been fascinated with) was a team composed of players from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Afro-Americans which one the 1947 Negro League World Series Championship it’s sad hardly no mention of this team? Why is that?
The NY Cubans were by far the most diverse team in the Negro Leagues with players from throughout the English and Spanish-speaking Americas, a reflection of Pompez’s scouting reach and personal qualities (a bilingual speaker).
The Cubans had the misfortune of reaching the pinnacle of Black baseball in defeating the Cleveland Buckeyes in the Negro League World Series in 1947 of all years. That triumph received little attention in the Black press much less in the white dailies, and baseball fans failed to come out in significant numbers to the World Series contests. This is because Pompez’s Cubans achieved their greatest triumph directly in the shadow of the two major league teams that would tussle in its World Series (Yankees and Dodgers) and of Jackie Robinson’s successful debut as the Majors’ first integration pioneer.
6-Now this team had some fine all around players Tetelo Vargas(Dominican), Martin Dihigo(Cuban), Francisco Coimbre(Puerto Rican), how well they would’ve done if given the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues in the United States?
Indicative of his greatness and his travels, Martin Dihigo is in the Hall of Fame in five different countries (Cuba, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, and the United States). Dihigo was a phenomenal player wherever he played and would have been so in the Majors. Vargas and Coímbre would have likewise been stars. Tetelo with his blazing speed and amazing hitting abilities, he won the batting title in the Puerto Rican league three teams and led the Dominican league in batting in 1952 (.350) at the age of 46! Coímbre was another great hitter who would have thrived. He was by far the hardest hitter to strikeout of his time; during the 1940-41 winter seasons in Puerto Rico he not only batted .401 but did not strike out a single time (not once).
7- Orlando Cepeda (Puerto Rican) and Juan Marichal (Dominican Republic) in the book they give a lot of praise to Pompez. True.
The Latino players Pompez signed and helped as they rose through the Giants farm system to the big league club were quite univocal in their praise of Pompez. Felipe Alou spoke of the lessons about being black and Latino in the United States to his young charges. Manny Mota said “He was king to us.” Cepeda stated that Pompez made sure that the Latino players got a fair shot at the spring training minor league tryouts; the Giants were ready to send him back to PR after what some of the Giants personnel deemed a weak try-out but Pompez insisted on their signing Cepeda. Julio Navarro marveled at the way Pompez sought to protect the young Latinos from the harsh realities of Jim Crow that was pervasive in the minor leagues (many of the minor league teams were based in the South, unlike the big league teams which were in the North).
8-Despite all the negatives does it surprise you he got elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame? Why did it take the fame so long after his many contributions not just the Negro Leagues but baseball in general?
I was indeed pleasantly surprised that he was elected. Not because of who was on the Negro League special committee, but rather because of the obstacles that had been put before consideration of his candidacy in the past. However, no other Negro League owner made as smooth a transition from the era of segregation into the integrated era like Pompez. And no other Black baseball figure made a greater impact on the era of integrated baseball than Pompez: he opened the Dominican talent pipeline into the majors (as he had done in the Negro Leagues); he also brought the greatest talent from out of Latin America into the US professional baseball world when one considers his time in the Negro Leagues along with his work for the NY/SF Giants.
Courtesy Ishmael Nunez
Follow Baseball de World on Twitter or Facebook and don’t forget to join our RSS feed.
[ad name=”Google Adsense 3″]