Showing posts with label Monte Irvin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Monte Irvin. Show all posts

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Monte Irvin bids farewell to his fans

Monte Irvin has devoted his life to baseball. Starting in 1938 with the Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues, Irvin has maintained 75-year love affair with the game. At 94 years of age, he remains an encyclopedia of the sport, contributing to countless articles, books, and documentaries.

In 2009, I had the opportunity to interview Irvin, and he still felt compelled to share what he knew about the game’s great talents of yesteryear.

“I give important interviews,” he said. “If I think I can help, I give a hand.”

Monte Irvin signed photo / Author's Collection
Irvin’s generosity was not only limited to writers and historians, but also to his fans. He fielded countless numbers of autograph requests throughout the years, heightened by his 1973 Hall of Fame induction. He obliged inquiries from all over the world, and used his celebrity to raise money for his alma mater Lincoln University. If there was another Hall of Fame for the way athletes treated their fans, Irvin would be at the top of the list.

Sadly, Irvin is now replying to those that are writing to him with the following note explaining why he can no longer sign autographs. Even though he cannot fulfill the requests of those reaching out to him, his gentlemanly nature is evident in this succinct, yet sincere message.

Dear Fans,

Thank for your interest in baseball and for your support during my career as a player and Hall of Famer. Unfortunately, the years have taken their toll and my declining eyesight prevents further autograph signing. I will always be a part of this great game and I trust it will continue to bring you enjoyment as a cherished sport and pastime.

Best wishes,

Monte Irvin

Yes Monte, you will forever be a part of the game. The years you have spent sharing it with so many will allow your legend and those of whose stories you have told that are no longer here to speak on their behalf to persist for future generations to discover.

* - This was originally published May 12, 2013 for Examiner.com

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

James 'Red' Moore, 99, fancy first baseman in the Negro Leagues

In 2007, James "Red" Moore regaled reporters at Newark Bears stadium with his tales of playing in the Negro Leagues during the 1930s with the Newark Eagles. At the time, the 91-year-old former first baseman was accompanied by three of his junior alumni from the Eagles franchise, Benny Felder, Monte Irvin, and Willie Williams. Moore outlived them all, including the Hall of Famer Irvin, who passed away in January at the age of 96.
James "Red" Moore (second from left) at 2007 Negro Leagues tribute in Newark, NJ / N. Diunte



Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Monte Irvin (1919-2016) - A true gentleman of baseball

To meet Monte Irvin was to become his friend. At least that’s how I felt back as a teenager in high school when I first met Mr. Irvin at reunion of Negro League alumni back in 1994. Those feelings compelled me to write the following memories of my encounters with Irvin upon the news of his death at the age of 96 on January 11, 2016.

Choosing to sit at a table in the room with the other thirty lesser known players instead of the main room where Hall of Famers Buck Leonard and Willie Mays were signing, Irvin’s table had little fanfare compared to his Cooperstown counterparts. Despite the ability to affix “HOF 73” next to his name, Irvin relished blending in with everyone else, a theme that would repeat during future encounters.

Milling around the room talking to each player about their careers, I spotted Irvin by himself with nobody waiting at his table. Growing up I heard my uncle tell me stories of Irvin’s tremendous abilities as a member of the New York Giants from his view at the Polo Grounds. Eager to start a conversation with him, I showed him a photo from a Hall of Fame yearbook that I had recently purchased on a school trip to Cooperstown. He quickly asked me if I wanted him to sign it, and when I informed him that I had spent all of my money already at the show, he told me not to worry about it and put his autograph right on the page. I thanked him profusely; he smiled and posed for a photo.

Monte Irvin circa 1994 / N. Diunte

I went back the next year armed with money I earned from digging out cars and driveways from shoveling. This time, I made sure that I paid for Mr. Irvin’s signature. I told him of the story from last year and he kindly thanked me for coming and supporting what was going on.

Monte Irvin with the author / N. Diunte
As the end of high school approached, I shifted my focus from researching and collecting artifacts on the Negro Leagues to pursuing an opportunity to play baseball in college. I put keeping up with Monte and his aging counterparts on hold to walk a little bit in their shoes as I explored how far I could advance my skills on the diamond.

It wasn’t until well after my college playing days were done that I renewed my interest in baseball’s forgotten league. Surprisingly, Irvin outlasted almost all of his contemporaries and I looked for an opportunity to meet once again with him, hopefully to capture one last firsthand account of the Negro Leagues from arguably its last living superstar.

My chance came in 2007 when I was invited by a friend Lauren Meyer, who was working on a Negro League documentary, and had been hired by the New Jersey Historical Society to film an all day tribute to Irvin and three of his former Newark Eagles teammates in Newark, New Jersey. I accompanied her to the day’s events, and despite his limited mobility, at 9AM Irvin was bustling with an energy one would expect from someone much younger than 88 years of age.

Irvin (third from left) with fellow Newark Eagles teammates / N. Diunte
Seemingly everywhere Irvin turned that day, there was a camera taking photos, a reporter asking for an interview, or a fan handing him an item to sign. Every time, his answer was, “yes.” He even eschewed his daughter’s request to eat more during a meeting at the Historical Society, as he felt it was more important to finish the story he was telling an eager baseball fan. He gave this type of attention to just about everyone he met that day, as his genuine persona became more apparent as I shadowed him at each event just hoping to catch a mere fraction of the jewels of knowledge he was dropped along the way.

A year later, while interviewing Ernie Harwell, he eagerly recommended that I give Irvin a call, as he felt that Monte was someone who could help me with my research. The late Tigers broadcaster went out of his way to mention his warm persona.

“Monte Irvin would be a great source,” Harwell said during our conversation in 2008. “[He's] very personable, a very intelligent guy; I'm very fond of him.”

I called Irvin shortly after speaking with Harwell and after telling him of the Hall of Fame broadcaster’s recommendation, we spoke for thirty minutes. Irvin shared stories about many of the legends he played with and against in the Negro Leagues, beaming with positivity throughout the entire call. He encouraged for me to send him some correspondence, which I did, but what followed further illustrated his tremendous character.

A popular figure with baseball fans and autograph collectors, Irvin frequently received mail requesting his signature. He asked those who wrote to him to send a donation to his alma mater, Lincoln University, in exchange for his autograph. Over the years, Irvin raised tens if not, hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the HBCU. In our correspondence through the mail, I too donated to Irvin’s cause to have some of my own items signed. When my envelope came back a few weeks later, only one of the items were returned, with my harder to find personal photos missing. I called Irvin to ask if he remembered seeing them, as they were pretty unique, and he told me that he gets a substantial amount of mail, but he would look to see if he misplaced them.

A few weeks passed by, and I return home one day to find a large envelope in my mailbox addressed in Irvin’s handwriting. I open the envelope not only to find my missing items, but a note apologizing for misplacing them, and almost a dozen additional signed photos. I called to thank him again and he said he felt it was the least he could do for making me wait to get my things back.


A sampling of the items Irvin sent / N. Diunte
Irvin was a Hall of Famer, but he didn’t expect special treatment because he had a plaque in Cooperstown. His treatment of others was duly noted not only by baseball fans, but by other players as well. While Jackie Robinson is immortalized for breaking the color barrier; however, Irvin will be remembered for his status as a gentleman ambassador of the sport for his 96 years on earth. Former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Jean Pierre Roy precisely summed up the feelings of how many of his peers viewed Irvin.

“I adored this guy as a ballplayer and a human being,” Roy said during a 2011 interview. “When I started talking with Monte, I could tell he was of the right vein; you could tell why he could communicate so well with the people in general.”

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Negro Leagues honored with new stamp

The Negro Leagues are honored once again with a commemorative stamp from the United States Postal Service. The new stamp which was issued Thursday features an artistic rendition of a close play at home plate, and Hall of Famer Andrew "Rube" Foster, who is considered by many the "father" of the Negro Leagues.

Prominent living former Negro Leaguers include Hall of Famers Monte Irvin, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks and Hank Aaron.

Stamps and first day cachets can be ordered online from USPS.com.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Giants retire New York legend Monte Irvin's number 20

June 26, 2010 - San Francisco, CALIFORNIA, United States - epa02225845 Former New York Giants and Hall of Fame Monte Irvin (R) gets a kiss from former San Francisco Giants' and Hall of Fame Orlando Cepeda (L), after the Giants retired Irvin's number during a ceremony before the game against the Boston Red Sox at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California, USA, 26 June 2010.

A long overdue tribute to one of baseball's pioneer's, and the last living superstar of the Negro Leagues. At 91, Irvin is the last living player who was a superstar in the Negro Leagues before getting to the major leagues. He was the first black on the Giants in 1949, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1973. Click here to read the article and see video regarding the wonderful, albeit late, ceremony to retire Irvin's number 20 this past weekend.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Billy 'Benny' Felder, 84, Negro League Shortstop, 1925-2009

Former Newark Eagles and Indianapolis Clowns shortstop Billy "Benny" Felder died at his Tampa home Friday October 2, 2009. He was 84.

Felder became the shortstop for the Eagles at the start of the 1946 season after the departure of future Hall of Famer Willie Wells to Baltimore, putting him behind Leon Day during his opening day no-hitter in 1946 against the Philadelphia Stars.

Billy Felder 1946 Newark Eagles
Day's no-hitter foreshadowed what was to come, as the Eagles won the Negro World Series that year, defeating the Kansas City Monarchs in seven games. Felder told me that being on the field for that no-hitter and winning the World Series were his two proudest moments in baseball.

Felder played in the Negro Leagues from 1946-1948, spending the 1946 and 1947 campaigns with the Eagles and 1948 with the Indianapolis Clowns. As the doors to the major leagues started to slowly open to African-American baseball players in the early 1950s, Felder found his opportunity playing with Key West in the Florida International League in 1952 and Pampa of the West Texas-New Mexico League from 1953-1954. He finished out the 1954 season with Artesia in the Longhorn League. During the 1953 and 1954 seasons, Felder posted averages above .300.

Felder was part of a 2007 tribute to the Newark Eagles at Newark Bears and Eagles Stadium. The tribute was done by the Newark Historical Society, where during that day, streets in Newark were named after prominent members of the Newark Eagles. The Newark Bears inducted Hall of Famers from the Eagles into their Ring of Honor and the four members of the Newark Eagles threw out the first pitch at Bears and Eagles Stadium. Felder was honored along with Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, James "Red" Moore, and Willie "Curly" Williams.

Below are photos of Felder throwing out the first pitch, as well as another of him seated alongside the aforementioned members of the Eagles. The last photo is of Felder and myself at his Tampa home in August of 2008. We spent about 30 minutes talking baseball before my return flight home. He was extremely gracious and humble. May he rest peacefully.

Felder (far right) throwing out the first pitch at Newark Bears Stadium in  2007 / N. Diunte


Felder (far right) with Williams, Moore and Irvin in 2007 / N. Diunte


Benny Felder receiving honors at Newark Bears stadium in 2007 / N. Diunte


Felder (right) with author in 2008 / N. Diunte


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Jim Dusty Rhodes, 82, 1954 World Series MVP 1927-2009

When the current generation hears the name "Dusty" Rhodes they may think of wrestling, but baseball fans recall the colorful outfielder who was the hero of the 1954 World Series. James Lamar Rhodes, affectionately known in baseball circles as "Dusty", helped lead the Giants to the 1954 World Series crown with his dramatic pinch hit homerun to win Game 1 off of future Hall of Famer Bob Lemon at the Polo Grounds. Rhodes passed away Wednesday June 17, 2009 in Las Vegas after a long battle with diabetes and emphysema.

Rhodes accepted his role as one of the "scrubbini", platooning in the outfield and serving as a feared pinch-hitter for 7 seasons with the Giants. Rhodes was never known for his defensive play, as Leo Durocher stated in his autobiography "Nice Guys Finish Last," Rhodes was, "the worst fielder who ever played in a big league game who made training rules forgotten."

In a recent interview that I conducted with Rhodes, I had asked Rhodes about his Hall of Fame teammates, Willie Mays and Monte Irvin. He said he knew Mays was, "a Hall of Famer the first time I met him." He referred to Irvin as a "buddy," and "the greatest in my book!" Irvin, when interviewed by the New York Daily News regarding Rhodes' death, called Rhodes a "good friend," and "a brother to all black players." When Mays was interviewed for the same piece, he said Rhodes was, "a fabulous hitter and a great friend." The high praise Rhodes received from two of the best players in baseball's history displays that his reach extended far beyond his heroics in the 1954 World Series.

To read an in-depth interview with "Dusty" Rhodes, check out Bill Madden's article from the December 20th, 2008 edition of the New York Daily News.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Happy 90th Birthday Monte Irvin


February 25th, 2009 marked the 90th birthday of baseball icon Monte Irvin. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1973, Irvin is the last living star of the Negro Leagues. Starting with the legendary Newark Eagles in 1937 as a shortstop under the name Jimmy Nelson to protect his amateur status; he went on to play in 4 East-West All Star games before being signed by the New York Giants in winter of 1948. Due to the presence of future Hall of Famer Willie Wells at shortstop, Irvin made the switch to outfield, and a legend was born. Staring with the Giants as a 30-year old "rookie", he went on to post a .293 career average, and was third in the MVP voting in 1951 en route to a World Series appearance.

Irvin is one of the classiest acts in baseball, often readily traveling to spread the word about baseball's history at dinners, signings and stadiums. He is a walking baseball encyclopedia and one of our sports greatest resources. He currently lives in a retirement community in Houston.