Alejandro Pompez was born on May 3, 1890 in Key West, Florida. Alejandro was known throughout much of his baseball career as “Alex” or “Alexander.” Various dates of birth have been cited by researchers. This date stems from his Social Security death notice and by his WWI and WWII registration cards (though the WWI citation notes an inaccurate birth year of 1885).
Pompez befriended a local white businessman named Nat Strong. Strong controlled a great deal of sports scheduling (booking) throughout the New York City area due to the fact that he controlled scheduling at many popular venues including Ebbets Field, Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds. Strong also used his pull to virtually bankrupt the Brooklyn Royal Giants; he then swept in and purchased the club.
The relationship was a mutually beneficial one. Strong gained access into the Latin American market through Pompez and in return Pompez gained Strong’s experience and contacts and thus increased opportunities.
Pompez became the strongest link between Latin ballplayers and organized black and white baseball. As Adrian Burgos stated in Playing America’s Game
His work as a team owner, Negro-league executive, and talent scout places him alongside Rube Foster, Gus Greenlee, J.L. Wilkerson, Effa Manley, and Cum Posey as one of black baseball’s most significant executives. Considered within baseball’s transnational circuit, his longevity and contribution stand alone. He was present at the creation of Negro-league baseball and was there at its end, and as a major-league scout, he helped shape its historical legacy.
In early 1916 Pompez amassed a squad he called the New York Cubans. In the early spring they toured Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The use of the Cubans name particularly incensed Abel Linares, who operated out of Chicago. He had long ago formed a squad of the same name. In fact, Linares brought his squad to Puerto Rico to battle for the honor of the name in March 1916. Unfortunately for him, Pompez’s team won 3-2 and refused a rematch.
In 1917 the squad’s name was changed to the Havana Cuban Stars and the following year to the now-familiar New York Cuban Stars. They were known by the latter name until the club disbanded in 1950 save one season, 1921, as the All Cubans.
Throughout his time in baseball, Pompez traveled to the Caribbean every winter to scout players and organize contests. He also had his players scout for him during their travels throughout Latin America and the United States. The Cuban Stars were strictly a club of Latin players until 1935 when they joined the NNL. The Cuban Stars was one of the main importers of Latin talent, fielding most of the top stars of the day including perhaps the premier player Martin DiHigo, who first joined the club in 1922.
The Cuban Stars were subsidized by Pompez’s lottery money, of which there was plenty. Pompez was a big spender who lived in the top neighborhood in Harlem, drove the best cars and wore the finest clothes. Pompez lived at 409 Edgecombe Avenue in the exclusive community at the top of Sugar Hill.
Gamblers like Pompez were involved with organized black baseball from the beginning. Others involved during the early 1920s include Tenny Blount (Detroit Stars), Dick Kent (STL Stars) and Baron Wilkins (NY Bacharachs). Soon Smitty Lucas (Philadelphia Tigers), Ike Washington (Bacharachs) and William Mosely (Detroit Stars) would follow. As many know, gambling capital also seeded the revised Negro National League in the 1930s. Such men as Gus Greenlee, Abe Manley, Rufus Jackson, Pompez and Jim Semler provided the funds. (Pompez and Greenlee were friends. The occasionally travelt together to Cuba to watch ball games and Pompez also helped him get into the numbers business.)
The Cuban Stars remained independent like all eastern clubs until joining the Eastern Colored League in 1923. By the early 1920s, Pompez secured a lease at the Dyckman Oval, located at 204th Street & Nagle Avenue just outside Harlem, as the club’s permanent home. The club played in the following leagues:
Eastern Colored League, 1923-28
American Negro League, 1929
Negro National League, 1935-48 (minus the time while Pompez fled)
Negro American League, 1949-50 (home field: Polo Grounds)
In 1924 Pompez helped negotiate the first-ever Negro World Series, pitting the champions of the NNL and ECL.
At some point in 1934 or ’35 Pompez sought a buyer for the Cubans, though that didn’t pan out. Instead, he entered the club in Gus Greenlee’s Negro National League.
In 1935 Pompez undertook to remodel the Dyckman Oval. He spent a reported $60,000 to increase seating capacity to 10,000 and modernize the park’s amenities. He also installed lights. As such, he was granted a three-year lease by the city parks commission.
To help offset his costs, Pompez orchestrated several special appearances during 1935. Joe Louis appeared at the park and Babe Ruth, recently retired, brought his All-Stars for a doubleheader in September. The capacity crowd saw the Cubans win both games, 6-1 and 15-5. Pompez also promoted baseball, boxing, wrestling, motorcycles races and other events at the park. In 1939 Pompez signed featherweight boxer Joe Law to a promotional contract.
The New York Cubans ceased operating while Pompez worked though his legal difficulties. Black baseball had no qualms his reentry into the business. However, the city, perhaps through spite, leveled the Dyckman Oval and made it a parking lot. Pompez was then like virtually all other black club owners dependent on booking agents. (Pompez and Gus Greenlee were among the few to circumvent the booking agents through their own parks.)
The Cubans were readmitted to the Negro National League in 1939. Pompez served a vice president of the NNL during the 1940s.
In March 1942 the Cubans defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers in Havana three out of four games.
In 1943 however Pompez struck a deal with New York Giants owner Horace Stoneman for the use of the Polo Grounds.
Due mainly to integration, the Cubans were running at a loss by 1948, estimated around $20,000. He started selling his players, incuding four to Norfolk for $5,000 in June. Pompez then signed a working agreement with Stoneman, thus joining the Giants’ organization and becoming the only black club to formally align with a major league club.
As integration set in, the Giants took a different route than any other club in this aspect. The club’s scouting director Jack Schwarz suggested to Stoneman that Pompez be hired as a scout since the Cubans had recently folded (as all Negro league clubs would) in 1950. It seemed liked a fit since Pompez had already been dispensing advice on Negro league talent and scouting for the Giants on an informal basis. He had advised Stoneman to sign Monte Irvin and also to sign Hank Aaron. However, negotiations between the Giants’ owner and Indianapolis Clowns’ owner Syd Polluck fell through.
Obviously, he was mainly hired for his knowledge and contacts in Latin America and within black baseball. Pompez was a rarity in the business at the executive level; he was bilingual and could easily move between the culturally distinct baseball worlds – organized baseball, black baseball and the Caribbean.
Pompez soon became a caretaker for the club’s black and Latin players, as the Giants quickly realized the cultural adjustments the new talent would need. Pompez was ever-present at spring training and within the organization seeing to the needs of the minorities. He scheduled room assignments, supervised living quarters, gave cultural lessons, helped with communication and interaction of the new players with teammates, fans and the media and otherwise attempted to ease the transition
In 1949 Pompez sold Ray Dandridge, Dave Barnhill and Ray Noble to the Giants for $20,000. Ultimately, the Cubans folded after the 1950 season due to lack of fan support.
Pompez was responsible for scouting and signing either directly or through his network:
Many citations also claim that Pompez had a hand in the signing of Willie Mays.
Pompez maintained a relationship with the Giants for 25 years, working for the club as late as 1971. He was eventually named Director of International Scouting.
When the National Baseball Hall of Fame started considering Negro league players for induction, Pompez was a member of the first four election committees, starting in 1971. Pompez himself was elected to the HOF in 2006.
Soon after joining the Giants, Pompez hired his former shortstop Horacio Martinez to assist him in the Dominican Republic. Martinez helped put the Dominican Republic on the baseball map as the baseball coach at the University of Santo Domingo. Juan Marichal, the Alous and Manny Mota were signed through Martinez.
Pompez had a special standing with the Trujillo government in the Dominican Republic. The first Dominican ballplayers to enter the majors came through the Giants organization. As Lawrence D. Hogan put it in Shades of Glory
, Pompez “engineer(ed) the opening of the Dominican pipeline.” Actually, Pompez’s signed six of the first 12:
1 – Ozzie Virgil, 1956
2 – Felipe Alou, 1958
3 – Matty Alou, 1960
5 – Juan Marichal, 1960
10 – Manny Mota, 1962
12 – Jesus Alou, 1963