Posts Tagged ‘Monte Irvin’

Rest In Peace, Monte Irvin

January 13, 2016
""If we had known he wanted to be a dictator, we would have kept him around and made him an umpire." ~ Monte Irvin on Fidel Castro's failed tryout with the former's Cuban ball club. December 9, 2009

“If we had known he wanted to be a dictator, we would have kept him around and made him an umpire.”
~ Monte Irvin on Fidel Castro’s failed tryout with the former’s Cuban ball club.
December 9, 2009


By now, you probably know the sad, but unsurprising news, considering his age. Two days ago, on January 11, 2016, Baseball Hall of Famer Monte Irvin passed away in his sleep at his Houston home at the age of 96. When I heard, my first thoughts hovered briefly along the lines of what a beautiful way to go that would be for any of us, but deservedly so for someone like Monte Irvin, a man who gave and received a ton of love in all he did in his lifetime as one of baseball’s greatest examples of what giving oneself to life with all one’s total humanity should be about for all of us.

Monte Irvin gave of all his passion and ability to everything he apparently did. And we loved him for it. He also was a thinking, sensitive, aware, and active life soldier in the ongoing battle that belongs to all of us in the war against racism and other forces that work against social justice and equity for all.

Monte will be missed, but the energy for the good he set in motion during his long lifetime shall remain in flight. Relative to the idea that even the movement of a single butterfly’s wings have their own singular altering effect on the future of our planet, Monte Irvin flew through life on the wings of the (Newark) eagle that he lived to be – and the currents for the better destiny in human relations he set in motion shall awaken others to the same call – long beyond this day of our physical separation from him.

God Bless You, Monte Irvin! Our love for you and all you’ve done for the rest of us will live forever.

Here’s a link to Monte Irvin’s SABR biography:

And here are couple of past columns from The Pecan Park Eagle that are tied to Monte Irvin:

December 9, 2009: The Monte Irvin-Larry Dierker “Baseball: Then and Now” SABR Meeting at Minute Maid Park:

On June 9, 2010, it was my honor to be the lucky transporter of Monte Irvin to a special Saturday meeting of SABR at the all too brief reopening of the Finger Furniture Houston Sports Museum at their Buffalo Stadium site/Gulf Freeway @ Cullen location. Since we had to travel from far west side of Houston, the area where we both lived, we shared a little more than an hour of total baseball talk time that day in my car – and Monte was as warm and funny and wonderful as someone I might as well have known personally forever.

I felt so overwhelmed by the presence of this great Hall of Fame star from my baseball card, Game-of-the-Day childhood memories, that something happened to me that rarely, if ever, occurs. Soon after I reached home, I was aware that I had brought with me the uplifted mood and good feelings about Monte’s presence, but little detail of all the things he told me openly and in response to my questions – and, I mean, we talked about his near miss for the role that Jackie Robinson played in breaking the color line, his days as an all sports athlete while he was growing up in Orange, New Jersey, his days in the Negro League as a member of the Newark Eagles, team owner Effa Manley, the great Josh Gibson, Leo Durocher, the 1951 New York Giants, and Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round the World” against Ralph Branca, – that it wasn’t what he said about anything that stood out in my memory. It was the live way he spoke about everything as one who was  overjoyed (most of the time) to simply have been there for all of it. – My time with this baseball icon proved to be the closest ride I ever took in a time machine – and the wonderful Monte Irvin had been the Captain of our flight.

Thank you, Monte! – And Godspeed to the memories, perspectives, wisdom, and joys you now take with you to the galaxy of a spiritual realm that is, one and the same, both very close to all of us, even now, and yet, too, so very, very far away.


NY Giants BB CAP

Another Great Photo

March 4, 2011

Monte Irvin (left) and Larry Doby handled shortstop and 2nd base for the 1946 Negro League champion Newark Eagles before their big roles in the integration of Major League Baseball.

I just love this photo of Monte Irvin and Larry Doby as teammates on the 1946 Newark Eagles, when they played as middle infielders, no less, on a championship team. Both went on to major roles in the early days of Major League Baseball integration – and both eventually won enshrinement in the Ball of Fame at Cooperstown as outfielders, not infielders.

Larry Doby played for the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, and Detroit Tigers. He became  the first black player in the American League by breaking in with the Cleveland Indians on July 5, 1947, about three  months after Jackie Robinson broke the color line in the National League as a Brooklyn Dodger. Irvin, who previously had been the primary candidate for the groundbreaking role that eventually passed to Jackie Robinson, played his first game for the New York Giants on July 8, 1949, arriving in time to be a major cog in the incredible wheel version of the Giants that came from way back in AUgust to nip the Brooklyn Dodgers for the 1951 NL pennant with Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard round the world.”

Monte Irvin batted .293 lifetime and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1973. Larry Doby hit .283 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998. There is no question in my mind that both men received deserved credit also for their earlier successes in the Negro Leagues. The two Eagle buddies also would later face off against each other when their New York Giants and Cleveland Indians met in one of the most surprising outcomes in championship series history. The 1954 Indians set all kinds of records for winning that year, but their resume didn’t help them against the heart-tenacious Giants, who swept the Series in four games. This was the year of the famous “catch” by Willie Mays in deepest center field at the Polo Grounds.

Speaking of iconic photos, “The Catch” by Mays gave us one of the most famous plays in baseball history.

The Catch, 1954.

Remember? …. I thought you would.

Best Baseball Player Born on Your Birthday

March 3, 2011

Monte Irvin, Hall of Fame. His WAR stat says he's not even among the top 5 players born on February 25th. No wonder many fans are turned off by the stat heads. These scientific people inevitably fail to measure the one quality that combines with ability to produce greatness - and that's the heart that flowed through Monte's game like the blood of life..

At a site called Wezen Ball.Com, a fellow named Larry Granillo has written a fun little piece called “The Best Player Born on Your Birthday.” As an exercise in personal amusement, Granillo has listed the top five MLB baseball players born on each day of the year, based on players with the highest “WAR” ratings who were born on that date.

“WAR” stands for “wins above replacement.” It is a statistic that attempts to measure a player’s contributions to his team’s wins in comparison with how a mythical replacement player from AAA might have performed under the same circumstances. (Ouch! It almost hurt to explain even that much of a stat that I neither fully understand or believe in. All I know is – any stat that leaves Monte Irvin off the list of top 5 players born on February 25th relative to guys who made it there is suspect in my book.)

If you really want to learn more about “WAR” – here’s a link to Baseball Reference.Com and an explanation:

If you simply want to check out who “WAR” says are the five best ball players born on your birthday, here’s a link to the Granillo article. If you are an Astros fan, make a note of all the Astros listed as the best players on certain dates in history. The next Astro up on that scale is our own Jimmy Wynn, who has his next birthday coming up on March 12th. According to his “WAR” rating, our Mr. Wynn is the best player born on that date in history.

Have fun. That’s what this exercise is supposed to be about.

And thanks to Bill Rogers of the St. Louis Browns Historical Society for sending this material to me.

Monte Irvin’s Few and Chosen

February 18, 2011

The Giants Retired Monte Irvin's #20 in 2010.

A couple of days ago, I received my mailed copy of “Few and Chosen: Defining Negro Leagues Greatness” by Monte Irvin with Phil Pepe. Triumph Books was the publisher in 2007 and the book is still available over Amazon.Com.

I’ve only had a few hours to quickly read through Monte’s picks as the greatest players by position in the Negro Leagues, but a few entries have really jumped out at me: (1) Yes, Monte truly does pick Ray Dandridge as the greatest third baseman in Negro Leagues history; (2) No, Monte Irvin does not pick Oscar Charleston over Willie Mays as his number one guy in centerfield; (3) There’s the great former Houston Buff Bob Boyd listed as Irvin’s number five choice at first base, and (4) Short-time Houston Buff Willard Brown hit Monte’s list as his number five pick in left field.

Here are Monte’s picks at each position, five players deep:

Monte Irvin’s Few and Chosen Greatest Negros Leaguers By Position:

Catcher: (1) Josh Gibson, (2) Roy Campanella, (3) Biz Mackey, (4) Louis Santiago, (5) Elston Howard.

First Base: (1) Buck Leonard, (2) George Giles, (3) Mule Suttles, (4) Luke Easter, (5) Bob Boyd.

Second Base: (1) Jackie Robinson, (2) Sammy T. Hughes, (3) Newt Allen, (4) Jim Gilliam, (5) Piper Davis.

Third Base: (1) Ray Dandridge, (2) Judy Johnson, (3) Oliver Marcelle, (4) Jud Wilson, (5) Henry Thompson.

Shortstop: (1) Willie Wells, (2) Pop Lloyd, (3) Ernie Banks, (4) Dick Lundy, (5) John Beckwith.

Left Field: (1) Neil Robinson, (2) Minnie Minoso, (3) Vic Harris, (4) Sandy Amoros, (5) Willard Brown.

Center Field: (1) Willie Mays, (2) Oscar Charleston, (3) Cool Papa Bell, (4) Larry Doby, (5) Turkey Stearnes.

Right Field: (1) Henry Aaron, (2) Cristobal Torriente, (3) Bill Wright, (4) Sam Jethroe, (5) Jimmie Crutchfield.

Right-Handed Pitcher: “Smokey” Joe Williams, (2) Satchel Paige, (3) Leon Day, (4) “Bullet” Joe Rogan, (5) Martin Dihigo.

Left-Handed Pitcher: (1) Willie Foster, (2) Slim Jones, (3) Roy Partlow, (4) John Donaldson, (5) Barney Brown.

Manager: (1) C.I. Taylor, (2) Candy Taylor, (3) Buck O’Neil, (4) Vic Harris, (5) Dave Malarcher.

Owner/Organizer/Pioneer: (1) Rube Foster, (2) Gus Greenlee, (3) Cum Posey, (4) Effa Manley, (5) Alex Pompez.

Greatest Negro Leagues Teams: (1) Pittsburgh Crawfords, (2) Homestead Grays, (3) Kansas City Monarchs, (4) Newark Eagles, (5) New York Cubans,

Each chapter goes into some detail on the reasons behind Monte’s choices for the aforementioned rank orders – and that’s good. Any lineup that doesn’t include Satchel Paige, Oscar Charleston, Cool Papa Bell, or the great multi-talented Martin Dihigo as starters is deserving of some close explanation, but Monte Irvin takes on that task pretty well in a book that is only 207 pages in length.

Monte Irvin owns two of the last pair of living eyes on the talent that flowed through the old Negro Leagues. We need to listen to Monte as well as we can, while we are able. Monte Irvin turns 92 years old a week from today, Friday, February 25, 2011, and he remains as sharp as a tack on the subjects of life in general and baseball in particular.

Thank you for making your home among us in Houston, Monte Irvin; thank you for this wonderful book on the “Few and Chosen;” and, however you may choose to spend it, have a very happy 92nd birthday celebration next Friday. The world is a better place because of you.

Oscar Charleston: One of the Greatest

February 16, 2011


Played CF like a Tris Speaker.

Handled the bat like a Babe Ruth.














Consult with sabermetrics genius Bill James and Oscar Charleston rises to number four on the list of best players of all time. Check with 92-year old Monte Irvin, and the old bats left throws left star of the Negro League also rises all the way to the apex as a serious candidate for the forever arguable title, “the greatest of them all.” According to Monte Irvin in a brief conversation we had on our drive together to this year’s National SABR Day celebration in Houston, Oscar Charleston in his own say-hey-day had to have been the ultimate personification of what we think of today as the five tool guy. That’s not exactly what Monte said. What Monte said was, “Oscar Charleston! Oh my! He may have been the greatest! He could do it all! From what I heard, there just wasn’t anybody else like him for all the things he could do better than most.”

That translates to me that Oscar Charleston could hit for average and power. He could throw hard with accuracy. He could run like a deer. And he could catch anything that he could get his glove on. And I have to trust Monte’s judgment on this one. After all, Monte Irvin was there to see him, and in time to know those players personally who saw him performing at his earlier best.

Monte Irvin only saw Oscar Charleston play once, and that was late in his career, after age had forced him to move from center field to first base, but that ravage had not stopped the outpouring of legend that occurred even then. Older players and fans regaled in retelling stories of how Charleston could take a fly ball in medium deep center field and then throw a strike to the catcher at home plate. We’re not talking one-bounce here; we are talking on-the-fly and through the strike zone on throws from the healthy hits region of center field.

Oscar’s hey-days range was so great that the left and right fielders basically guarded the lines and tended long foul balls. Charleston covered the rest of the ground. When Willie Mays came along, people compared his fielding ability to that of Oscar Charleston. Oscar Charleston actually started with comparisons as the “black Tris Speaker,”  but, as Willie Mays achieved fame in his own right, people began to shift comparisons to the newst star light, and Oscar Charleston’s legend lived on as the old-school version of Willie Mays.

The world forgets most of us and whatever we do, but the world remembers forever the truly great at things we care about. And that list of forever famous American investments definitely includes baseball. And a center fielder named Oscar Charleston.

Oscar Charleston was born on October 14, 1896 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He joined the Army at age 15 and served out most of his enlistment time in The Philippines. After the service, he immediately began his baseball career with the Indianapolis ABC’s in 1915. Over time, Charleston served as a center fielder, fist baseman, and manager for the ABC’s, the Chicago American Giants, the Lincoln Stars, the St. Louis Giants, the Harrisburg Giants, the Philadelphia Hilldales, the Homestead Grays, and the Pittsburgh Crawfords. His career batting average was .348, but like most of the other great Negro Leaguers, integration came too late for Oscar Charleston against “official” major league pitching.

Oscar Charleston was an intelligent, fiery leader who once pulled the hood off a KKK buffoon in a down South confrontation with racists that threatened to grow ugly until Oscar made his bold move. Ignorance and evil backed off under the exposure to light and all further ugliness was avoided.

Sadly, death came early for oscar Charleston. He passed away on October 6, 1954 at the age of 57.

Oscar Charleston was later posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976.





Monte Irvin’s #20: In Case You Haven’t Heard…

June 29, 2010

Photo by Tony Avelar: Associated Press

In case you haven’t heard, Houston resident and Larry Dierker SABR Chapter member Monte Irvin picked up a nice little honor last weekend on the west coast. The also Baseball Hall of Fame inductee from 1973 had another much deserved honor come his way on Saturday, June 26, 2010 at AT&T Park in San Francisco when the home town Giants retired his number 20 from the days Irvin used it during the franchise’s long tenure at the Polo Grounds in New York. Monte Irvin never played for the Giants in San Francisco, In fact, he retired as a player after the 1956 season – and that ws a full two years before the Giants played their first game in San Francisco.

The Giants’ list of retired numbers includes a classy ad tasteful blend of players from both their terms in New York and San Francisco. The addition of Monte Irvin in 2010 just made it even classier, but he’s in fine company among the other New York men: pitcher Christy Mathewson and manager John McGraw are both there from the pre-numbered jersey era as Giants of greatest honor. They are accompanied in that special company of former New York Giants by first baseman Bill Terry (#3), outfielder Mel Ott (#4), and pitcher Carl Hubbell (#11). Monte Irvin (#20) now takes his rightful place among the former New Yorkers. Willie Mays (#24 – Did I really need to tell you that one?) is the only honored former Giant who played with the club in both New York and San Francisco, but great play on the bay would produce other from 1958 forward in San Francisco. The SF members include pitcher Juan Marichal (#27), first baseman Orlando Cepeda (#30), pitcher Gaylord Perry (#36), and first baseman Willie McCovey (#44). Jackie Robinson (#42), of course, is there as the universally retired number by all major league teams.

The Giants group of honored former players all share this fact in common: They are each, one and all together, inducted members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The cream doesn’t rise any higher in this bottle. Cooperstown is the jar of baseball greatness – or should be. And Monte Irvin most certainly is. Great then. Great now. Great forever.

Our Houston SABR chapter has been twice privileged to host Monte Irvin for Minute Maid Park board room meetings and wonderful lectures and discussions of Monte Irvin’s life and times in baseball. At age 91, Monte talks freely, informatively, and often humorously about the old days of Negro League baseball, about how he might have become the man to have broken the color line, and about the time that a young Fidel Castro tried out as a pitcher to play for his Cuban winter league club.

“Castro didn’t make it. He was too wild and we had to let him go,” Irvin told us at his last Houston SABR appearance. “”Of course, then he (Castro) went off to the mountains from there and became a dictator. … If we had only known that he wanted to be a dictator, we could have kept him with us and made him into an umpire.”

At his number retirement ceremony in San Francisco, Monte expressed his appreciation in the strongest terms of gratitude. ” Now I feel my life in baseball is complete,” Irvin told the sellout crowd prior to the Giants game against the visiting Boston Red Sox.

At 91, Monte Irvin is alert and upbeat about baseball and life in general. As an optimist of the first order, Monte showed his metal to the nth degree when we tried to throw a SABR birthday party for him on his natal day last February 25th. “Let’s do it next year,” Monte pled. “I just want to take it easy this time around.”

God Bless you, Monte Irvin. And thank you for being an important member of our Houston baseball community.