New York Giants manager John McGraw said that lean, long-armed pitcher Jose Mendez was worth $50,000 – but in his day there was no market in organized baseball for a Cuban with coal-black skin. Mendez is generally regarded as one of the greatest Cuban ballplayers who did not play in the American major leagues.
Mendez was a smart pitcher who changed speeds well and had a rising fastball and sharp-breaking curve. Hall of Famer John Henry Lloyd said that he never saw any pitcher superior to Mendez. Arthur Hardy, another contemporary, said that Mendez threw harder than the legendary Smokey Joe Williams.
Mendez compiled a 15-6 record his first year in the Cuban Winter League. He came to America in 1908 and went 44-2 for the 1909 Cuban Stars (some games were played against semi-pro teams). He spent all of 1910 in Cuba, playing both summer and winter, going 18-2. By 1914 he had compiled a 62-17 record in Cuba, but he developed arm trouble and never again pitched there regularly.
Mendez played for the All-Nations of Kansas City from 1912 to 1916. The team was the most racially mixed of all time, carrying blacks, whites, Japanese, Hawaiians, American Indians, and Latin Americans on its roster. A barnstorming rather than a league club, the All-Nations played a high caliber of baseball, in 1916 going 3-1 against the powerful Indianapolis ABC’s and splitting a series with the Chicago American Giants.
Mendez’s greatest success came as a playing manager with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1920-26. Occasionally pitching and playing the infield, he led the Monarchs to three straight Negro National League pennants (1923-25). His pitching record was 20-4, with seven saves. In the 1924 Black World Series against Hilldale of the Eastern Colored League, Mendez was 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA in four games, including a shutout in the only game he started. In the 1925 BWS, also against Hilldale, he was 0-1.
Mendez was 8-7 in exhibition games against major league competition. He defeated Jack Coombs in 1908 and Hall of Famer Eddie Plank in 1909, and split two games with Christy Mathewson.