The Billiken Cigarettes set of 1923-24 was a Cuban-issued set that featured 2" x 2 5/8" cards depicting 60 players from the Cuban Professional League. Each black and white glossy photo contains an ad on the reverse, either for Billiken or La Mode Cigarettes. One of the more popular Cuban League issues, this set includes many stars of the American Leagues, including Oscar Charleston, Pop Lloyd, Andy Cooper, and this card of Jose Mendez. Mendez was a Cuban pitcher and manager in the Negro Leagues elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. Mendez' notoriety began in the summer of 1908, when he pitched 25 consecutive scoreless innings in three appearances in Havana, against the visiting Cincinnati Reds. In addition to being a standout in the Cuban League, Mendez pitched with various Negro League teams, notably concluding his American playing career with the Kansas City Monarchs, where he played and also managed from 1920 through 1926.
On his Billiken card, Mendez is depicted with the Santa Clara Leopards, a team loaded with American Negro League players and often considered the most dominant team in the Cuban professional league. Mendez was a legend, the author of a 10-inning perfect game in 1909. His dominance against American teams in Cuba made him the first internationally-known Cuban star. The Billiken issue remains very scarce, and extraordinarily difficult to find in top condition. The cards are printed on photographic paper, and are subject to significant wrinkling and creasing. Much like American N172 Old Judge cards, the photos are often found faded, similarly making the numerical grade less important than the image quality. While this card has been graded GOOD+ by SGC, the card boasts strong image contrast and clarity.
Aside from the 1910 Punch Cigars card of Mendez, no earlier issue of the player exists, and just six card sets featuring Mendez in his playing days - all Cuban issues - are known. An outstanding collectible from an international Cuban and Negro League Hall of Famer.