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’s father, a Cuban, was named Jose Gonzalo Pompez. He arrived in Key West from Havana sometime during the 1870s. At various times he also lived in New York, Philadelphia and New Orleans. Jose obtained a law degree and settled in Key West. He also opened a cigar factory there. Jose was heavily involved in politics in support of Cuban independence. In 1893 he was elected to the Florida State Assembly from Monroe County.
Pompez’s mother, Loretta Perez Pompez, a Cuban, resided in Key West when she met Jose. In 1894 Jose was offered three building lots and $1,000 to relocate his cigar factory and family to West Tampa; he did so. The following year he was elected city clerk of West Tampa. Jose died unexpectedly in 1896.
Unfortunately for his family, Jose left his entire estate to help fund insurgents fighting for Cuban independence. The cigar factory and family home had to be sold to cover the pledge. Loretta and her children then became destitute, living off local benefactors. As a result, she returned to Havana with her family, around 1902.
The Pompez family in various documents has been listed as mulatto or black.
Pompez enjoyed baseball in Tampa but he really picked up the fever in baseball-crazed Havana. In 1910 he returned to Tampa, finding work making cigars and also playing baseball on the side. By the end of the year, he took off for New York City, where he would reside for the rest of his life.
In New York he found employment making cigars for $20 a week. He quickly opened a cigar store, perhaps within a year, at 2122 Seventh Avenue in Harlem. He maintained the store until his death.
Out of that cigar store, Pompez began running numbers for the local, illegal lottery within a couple of years. The lottery typically paid 600 to 1 odds (the real odds were 999 to 1). Harlem residents could bet as little as a penny.
BASEBALL, PART ONE
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,
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.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 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.
During the mid-1930s, Pompez also operated the Havana Cuban Stars as an informal farm team for the New York Cubans.
By the 1920s, Pompez was one of the leading numbers kings in New York City, controlling the majority of bets in Harlem. Pompez claimed that he was grossing between $6,000 and $8,000 a day in 1931 which would be around $2,000,000 annually. Others place the figures higher.
Towards the end of the 1920s, Dutch Schultz, a top NY gangster, started honing in on the numbers kings. He waged a violent campaign which forced many of them to join his organization, retire or face serious consequences.
Such violence was unfamiliar to the numbers kings as the business was not run along those lines. Pompez eventually went into hiding within the Harlem community. Things changed in 1932. Per Pompez, “I was ordered to visit the home of Dixie Davis in West End Avenue in 1932. The Dutchman came after I got there. He took me in a small room and placed a gun on the table.”
After that confrontation, he was relegated to being Schultz’s agent. Pompez was given a salary of $250 a month and supposedly a percentage of profits on his former bank. Not unsurprisingly, he never saw a dollar in commissions.
New York City special prosecutor Thomas Dewey became very interested in the numbers business after Schultz vamped the network. Schultz gained Dewey’s full attention until the gangster was gunned down by rivals in October 1935.
The death of Schultz allowed men like Pompez to reclaim their business. Pompez joined with Big Joe Ison to reclaim the Harlem numbers lottery. The transformation was swift and profitable. Reports estimate that the pair was grossing $5,000,000 a year. (Seized records show Pompez grossing as much as $34,000 in a day.)
Dewey was dismayed by how fast the business was reestablished; consequently, he started focusing on the numbers kings, including Pompez. Dewey started building his case.
Pompez started fleeing into hiding in 1936. Immigration records show him arriving in Quebec from France on August 13, 1936 after leaving the U.S. on April 13. Records also show him traveling from Montreal to Liverpool, England on May 22, 1936. He did return though in August and went into hiding again after an indictment was obtained.
In early January 1937 Dewey obtain an indictment against Pompez (in part the indictment charged Pompez with extortion). He then sent some police officers to Pompez’s Lenox Avenue office to arrested him and search his office on the 15th. Pompez was out at the time. He returned with pitcher Juan Mirabel, his former pitcher turned righthand man, and hopped in the elevator. The elevator operator gave the pair some facial gestures which tipped them off that something was amiss. They exited the elevator a few floors below their office, climbed down a fire escape and fled. Dewey’s men though confiscated a large horde of cash. Ison was also captured and imprisoned.
Pompez landed in Mexico within a day or two. He was traveling under the name Antonio Moreno.
CAPTURE AND TESTIMONY
Pompez was arrested in Mexico City on March 28, 1937 while getting into a bulletproof car with Chicago tags. He strenuously fought extradition. However, extradition was granted on October 26. Two officers then escorted Pompez back to NYC just days before Dewey won the election as District Attorney of Manhattan.
Pompez ultimately agreed to turn state’s evidence in the trial of Tammany boss James Hines to receive near immunity for his offenses. After returning to New York, Pompez was kept under police protection until the second trial of Hines found him guilty in 1939.
Pompez first took the stand on August 19, 1938 and gave a lengthy testimony. He also testified in the second trial (after the first one was declared a mistrial) in 1939.
For their testimony, Pompez and Ison were granted probation (two years) and suspended sentences on their pleas of guilty of conspiracy on May 16, 1939. Pompez vowed to keep to the straight and narrow – which he did.
He was eagerly welcomed back by the Harlem community. He was seen as a community benefactor rather than some seedy criminal. The numbers king had provided numerous jobs in the community, spent freely, provided sorely needed loans and also donated to needy causes. The lottery, throughout the country, was eventually taken over by governments and thrives in its current form today.
BASEBALL, PART TWO
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 June 1939 Arturo Polly Rodriquez, a white Cuban infielder, was offered a contract to join the New York Giants and assignment to the Chattanooga lookouts. He turned them down to remain with Pompez’s club. He stated, “Pompez, my friend, he brought me here. With Pompez I can do a lot of things. I know the offer from the Giants might mean more money and greater fame, but I like playing with my own people and for Pompez.”
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
When Pompez filled out his WWI registration card in 1917 or 1918 he was married to a woman named Margarita.
He was listed as single in immigration records in 1921, 1922 and 1923. However, an immigration record dated April 21, 1924 states that he was married.
His WWII registration cards shows Pompez married to Ruth Seldon Pompez. She was born on October 26, 1899 and died in July 1985.
Pompez died on March 14, 1974 at age 83 at St. Johns Hospital in Flushing, Queens, New York. He was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in Bronx, New York (Plot: Cosmos Section 197, Lot 168).