By Blaidd Drwg
Yesterday I as saddened to hear of the passing of Monte Irvin on the 11th of January at age 96. If you don’t know who Irvin was, he was a former NY Giant great and the first baseball Hall of Famer I ever met, back in the early 1980’s at a baseball card show at St. Peter’s College in New Jersey (I was probably 10 or 11 at the time). He appeared with another former Giant teammate Dusty Rhodes. I had the pleasure of sitting down with the both of them for about 20 minutes to talk baseball since there was no one there getting autographs. I remember Rhodes talking about how he became a tugboat captain after he retired from baseball and Irvin talked about his experiences in the Negro Leagues, which I knew very little about at the time. Thanks to Irvin, I became interested in Negro League history, which at the time, was not easy to find any information about and it is directly responsible for me being a long time supporter of the Negro League Museum in KC, a place that I sadly have not yet been to. Rhodes passed away in 2009 (not before I had a series of correspondences with him about his post-baseball career and I still have the letters that he sent – yep, we corresponded old school and I do have an unhealthy obsession with tugboats) and with Irvin passing on the 11th, we lost yet another link to the Negro Leagues.
I am sure that Irvin had no idea that a 20 minute conversation he had with a kid 30 years ago would have such an impact, and, frankly, I had not realized it myself until I reflected on my interaction with Irvin. A friend of mine sent me a link to an article on nj.com about Irvin’s passing, written by someone who actually knew him. I would suggest reading the article, but I wanted to include a snippet of it just to make a point about how much the Negro Leagues meant to Irvin:
There was a moment about a decade ago when I researched all the Hall of Famers who played in Newark for the New York Yankees farm team called the Bears, the Eagles and the turn-of-the-century Newark Indians. Joe DiVincenzo, the Essex County Executive had hung plaques for a ring of honor just above façade behind home plate at the Bears and Eagles baseball stadium in Newark.
Monte was one of them. He was in a wheelchair, and afterward I walked over to him and hugged him. Monte, being Monte, the conversation went like this:
“Listen,” he said, “I’ve got to tell you something. You can’t die.”
“Ever?” I said.
“Never,” he said. ”You are the last writer to ever see us play in the Negro Leagues. You die and that leaves nobody to tell our story. The kids won’t even believe we had a league. Don’t die.”
So in honor of Irvin’s passing, go read a book on tugboats, or the a book I highly recommend on the Negro Leagues, “When Only the Ball Was White.” Better yet, go make a donation to the Negro League Museum – a place that would not existed if it were not for the efforts of guys like Buck O’Neil and Monte Irvin and lets make sure a very important piece of American history does not get forgotten once those who were part of it are all gone.