Martin Dihigo’s son overcome by emotion at Hall of Fame

Written by: Bill Francis

With his beaming family by his side, Gilberto Dihigo’s emotional journey to Cooperstown was complete. He had for the first time laid eyes on his father’s bronze image.

The scene took place at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Plaque Gallery. Tears of joy were soon evident rolling down Dihigo’s cheeks, followed by the removal of his glasses and the wiping of his eyes. He would then reach out and touch his dad’s plaque, then tap his heart with the same hand.

On the morning of Friday, June 29, Gilberto Dihigo, accompanied by his wife Marisol and sons Gilbert (11) and Gregory (9), visited the Hall of Fame for the first time since his father, the acclaimed Cuban-born ballplayer Martin Dihigo, was elected to the baseball shrine in 1977. He was the first Cuban elected to the Hall of Fame.

“There are so many emotions running through my heart right now,” said Dihigo through a Spanish language translator when asked how he was feeling after a tour of the Hall of Fame’s collections storage. “And my heart has been beating since the moment I walked into the Hall of Fame. If I continue to talk, pardon me, because I’m going to start crying.”

Hall of Fame vice president for exhibitions and collections Erik Strohl shows Gilberto Dihigo, son of Hall of Famer Martin Dihigo, artifacts from the Museum's collection. Gilberto's sons Gilbert and Gregory look on as well. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

Martin Dihigo, the only person to be enshrined in the national baseball Halls of Fame of Cuba, Mexico, and the United States, could actually do it all on a ballfield. The right-handed pitcher and hitter, nicknamed “El Maestro,” was perhaps the most versatile player in the game’s history. In a career that lasted from the early 1920s until the late 1940s, he starred at almost every position on the diamond in the Negro, Cuban and Mexican leagues. Only the color of his skin precluded him from showing off his vast talents in the big leagues.

“Dihigo was one of the greatest I ever saw,” said fellow Hall of Famer Roy Campanella in 1977. “He was a tremendous hitter, had great power, could hit for an average, everything. I played against him in the Cuban winter league, in Mexico and in the Negro National League when he was with the New York Cubans.

“He was older than I was, but I batted against him a lot. He was a very good pitcher, a center fielder and a first baseman.”

Hall of Famer Monte Irvin added, “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.”

Dihigo, who died in 1971 five days shy of his 66th birthday, never made it to Cooperstown to celebrate his 1977 election to the Hall of Fame by the Committee on Negro League Veterans.

“I’ve seen a replica of his plaque, but it’s not the same as being present and seeing it up close,” said Dihigo’s son Gilberto, a television journalist who lives with his family in Orlando, Fla.

“This is coming from someone who is here for the first time since my dad was inducted in 1977, so you can only imagine what I’m thinking seeing his plaque for the first time. It’s the culmination.”

Looking back, Gilberto Dihigo, sporting a cap from his father’s favorite team, the 1942 Mexican League Torreon Algodoneros, said of his famous father that “he was just a very loving man with a lot of sentiments towards a son.”

“I wanted my father to see me in a swimming competition,” Gilberto recalled. “I was wearing my dad’s pants, cut, and I dive in, but I wasn’t a good swimmer. Wearing those pants was pulling me down and I started to drown. I was going down and someone pulled me out. My dad was laughing while I was drowning. They took me out and my dad says, ‘You have to know how to do things. And if you don’t know how to do it, then why are you doing it?’ He was always like that. Direct and to the point.”

Expressing the pride he felt near the end of this special Cooperstown excursion, a smiling and overcome Gilberto Dihigo paused, then said, “This has been the best gift a son can have and a husband can have. It’s been a magical day.”

Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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