(The Cuban Peach)
- Bats Left, Throws Left
- Height 5' 9", Weight 175 lb.
- Debut 1930
- Final Game 1936
- Born December 12, 1912 in Havana Cuba
- Died April 25, 1957 in Mexico City, Distrito Federal Mexico
Like contemporary and fellow Cuban Martin Dihigo, Lázaro Salazar was known for being both a very good hitter and a very good pitcher. Not as good a slugger or pitcher as Dihigo, Salazar also lacked his versatility in the field, playing first base and the outfield when not pitching. He also had an excellent career as a manager, even though he died in his mid-40s. Known as a sharp dresser, he helped bring American players into both the Cuban Winter League and Mexican League.
There is a lot of uncertainty about Salazar's birth date. Different sources list it as February 4 or December 12 or December 17, and the year as 1911 or 1912. However. December 17 is the feast day of Saint Lazaro, his namesake, so this lends credence to that being the tue date. He also wore number 17, another sign that this date is the most likely one.
Salazar is listed in The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues as pitching for the 1924 Cuban Stars. Though a Lazaro Salazar went 3-8 for this club, it unlikely that it is the same player - he would have been 12 years old, leading one to conclude that this was either a desperate team (unlikely), one using a young player as a stunt (in a country away from home all summer?), there is an error in Salazar's age or that it is a different Salazar.
Negro Leagues and Cuban Winter League, 1930-1936
In his late teens, Lázaro joined the Cuban Stars in 1930, hitting .225. By 1932 he was the regular Stars first baseman and hit .381, one of the top marks in the East-West League. He also went 2-1 on the mound for the club. In the Cuban Winter League that year, he hit .366, third in the circuit. Salazar hit .500 in limited time in the Negro Leagues in 1934, then in 1934-1935 became the first pitcher in CWL history to lead the league in both batting average (.407) and wins (6-1, tied with Dolf Luque and Tommy de la Cruz but with fewer losses).
With the New York Cubans in 1935, Salazar batted .390, fifth in the Negro National League. He led the league with 15 doubles and was third with 6 triples. Moving from first base to the outfield in 1937, Salazar hit .371 for the Cubans, second in the NNL behind Shifty Jim West (.384). Lázaro was tied for second in the league with six doubles and stole 4 bases, leading the loop. He did not pitch in his two years with the New York Cubans. He hit .313 in the CWL in 1936.
Going to the Dominican Republic in 1937 as part of Rafael Trujillo's attempt to bring top-flight baseball to the island, Salazar hit .292, lost both games he pitched, scored 31 runs in 31 games (leading the league), tied Josh Gibson for the triple lead and was second in hits. He was also the manager of the champion Dragones de Ciudad Trujillo club.
Mexican League and more Cuban Winter League action
Lázaro Salazar led his Cuban Winter League Santa Clara club to titles in 1937-1938 and 1938-1939 after taking over as manager and recruiting many Americans. The MVP in 1937-1938, he hit .318 (second to Sammy Bankhead and ahead of four future Hall-of-Famers and several major leaguers) and won all three games he pitched.
Going to the Mexican League in the summer of 1938, Salazar hit .500 in limited time and went 4-3 with a 1.92 ERA, allowing 45 hits in 70 1/3 innings for the Cordoba Coffee Growers. He hit .374/~.446/.575 at age 26 or 27 in 1939 and went 16-5 with a 2.20 ERA. He was fourth in ERA, tied Barney Brown for the most wins and won the batting title. In addition to showing good skill at the plate and on the mound, he also was the manager of the champion Cordoba club.
In 1940 Salazar only played seven games in Mexico and did not appear in the Negro Leagues (he had been banned from the Negro Leagues in 1937 for his role in convincing other players to play in the Dominican Republic). In the 1940-1941 Cuban Winter League season, he won another batting championship (.316). In 1941, Lázaro hit .336/~.428/.476 in the Liga Mexicana and was 10th in average and RBI (72) for the Veracruz Blues. On the mound, he struggled, going 7-3 with a 5.73 ERA. He was the manager of the championship team once again.
The 1942 season brought Salazar to the Monterrey Industrials, where he would spend the remainder of his career. He hit .363/~.467/.535 that year and was 14-12, 3.63 as a pitcher. He was fourth in wins, third in ERA (Dihigo was the only pitcher to do better on both fronts) and sixth in average in another great all-around season. In 1943 he managed Monterrey to the title, the third different Mexican team he had led to a title (and the 6th pennant-winner he had managed in a 7-year period). He was the first three-time champion manager in the Liga's history. He struggled that year at the plate (.254/~.353/.362) and was under .500 on the mound (8-10, 3.63).
The 1944 season was a comeback year as a player for Salazar. The 31/32-year old hit .379/~.495/.498 and went 14-13 with a 2.87 ERA. He was fourth in the Liga in wins, second in ERA (trailing only Adrian Zabala, second in average (behind only Alberto Hernandez) and presumably led the league in OBP. In 1945 Lázaro hit .337/~.419/.448 and went 13-14, 3.83. The 1946 season statistics were .309/~.451/.402 and 1-3, 5.03.
Nearing his mid-30s, Salazar was declining. In 1947 he hit only .238/~.385/.262 and was 3-3, 3.12. Not playing the field as often, he managed his club to a pennant that year. Monterrey repeated in 1948 (Salazar hit .211/~.366/.298 and went 8-5, 3.63) and 1949 (.342/~.463/.450, 14-7, 3.60). At age 36/37, Lázaro had tied for 7th in the league in wins and would have been in the top 10 in average had he been among the qualifiers. In 1950 Salazar's team failed to win the title, though he hit .298/~.389/.362 in limited time and went 7-2 with a 2.82 ERA.
Continuing to decrease his playing role, he hit .211/~.250/.256 and went 3-2, 3.32 in 1951 and then finished as a player at age 39/40 with a .314/~.368/.629 season and 0-1, 9.20 pitching.
As a pitcher in the Mexican League, Salazar was 112-78, 3.43, and as a hitter he batted .334/~.437/.465. In Cuba he was 35-24 as a pitcher and in the Negro Leagues he hit .382, third all-time behind Chino Smith and Larry Doby. Overall he had batting titles in three countries and had led his leagues in wins, runs, doubles, steals and triples at least once; he was regularly among his league's top 10 in both average and ERA.
After he finished as a player, Salazar remained a manager in Mexico and guided the Mexico City Red Devils to a pennant in 1956, the fourth different team he took to a title, something no other manager in Mexican League history has done. His 7 managerial pennants are also a Liga record; only Cananea Reyes (6 titles) is anywhere close. In 1957, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage suffered a day earlier in the dugout. Seven years later he was voted into the Salon de la Fama as a manager, though his playing credentials may have warranted inclusion even if he had not been one of the greatest managers in Mexican baseball history.
- The Mexican League: Comprehensive Player Statistics by Pedro Treto Cisneros
- 1958 Baseball Guide
- The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues by James Riley
- The Complete Book of Baseball's Negro Leagues by John Holway