Category Archives: Monte Irvin

The story of former Major League player Nate Colbert reflects how the baseball dreams of African-American boys changed as a result of Jackie Robinson erasing Major League baseball’s “invisible color line” in 1947.

Colbert August 1

Nate Colbert (right) after game on August 1, 1972

 

On May 2, 1954 in a doubleheader against the New York Giants; St. Louis Cardinal right fielder Stan Musial hit five home runs.  There were 26,662 in attendance that Sunday afternoon at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium to see him do what no other Major League player had accomplished.   In the first game, Musial hit three home runs and drove in six runs in the Cardinal’s 10 – 6 victory.  He hit 2 homers and drove in three runs in the nightcap, but the Giants won 9 – 7.

In the stadium that spring afternoon with his father was eight year old African-American Nate Colbert.  I am sure little Nate was excited about seeing his favorite Cardinal ballplayer, “Stan the Man”, set a Major League record with those five home runs. But Colbert that day also saw Cardinal rookie first baseman Tom Alston, the first African American to appear in a Major League game for the St. Louis Cardinals.

For the first time in the franchise’s history, the 1954 Cardinal team had African-Americans players. The 28-year-old Alston made his Major League debut on April 13, earlier than Brooks Lawrence (June 24) and Bill Greason (May 31), the other two African Americans on the team.  A good defensive first baseman, he had a hot bat against the Giants in the doubleheader witnessed by little Nate.  In the first game Alston got four hits including a home run, his third of the young season, and two RBIs.  The second game he hit a bases loaded double (3 RBIs) in the Cardinals’ first inning.  He ended the day batting .313

Stan Wally Tom

St. Louis Cardinals Wally Moon (left), Stan Musial (center), and Tom Alston (right) after May 2, 1954 game

Little Nate also saw that day three former Negro League baseball players who appeared in both games for the Giants: Willie Mays, Monte Irvin, and Hank Thompson. Irvin and Thompson in 1949 were the first African-Americans to play for the Giants.

Hank Monte Willie

New York Giants Monte Irvin (left), Willie Mays (center), and Hank Thompson (right)

Fast forward this story to 1964. 18 year old Nate Colbert is signed by the Cardinals, but they lose him to the Houston Astros in the 1965 Rule Five draft and he never plays a game in the uniform of his hometown team.  The Astros then trade him to the San Diego Padres in 1969.

On August 1, 1972; in Colbert’s fourth season with the Padres, he ties the record he saw Stan Musial set in 1954.  Colbert hits five home runs in a doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta.  He hits two home runs and drives in five runs as the Padres win the first game 9-0 and hits three homers driving in eight runs in his team’s 11 -7 victory in the nightcap.  For the second time in his six years with the Padres, Colbert hits 38 home runs in 1972.

nate colbert

Nate Colbert gets congratulation from Padres’ batboy after hitting home run on August 1, 1972

Little Nate Colbert’s Major League career did not come close to that of Hall of Famer Stan Musial.  To tie or break a record in baseball; however, is considered a great accomplishment.   And Colbert being present to see the record set that he would eventually tie makes this a unique circumstance.   However, Colbert got the opportunity to be able to do what he saw his childhood favorite Cardinal ballplayer do because of what he also witnessed that May afternoon.

By seeing Tom Alston, Willie Mays, Hank Thompson, and Monte Irvin play that day; Colbert witnessed the new day in Major League baseball that was occurring. It had dawned in 1947 when Jackie Robinson became the first African-American in the 20th Century to play Major League baseball.  It was a new day in which the baseball dreams of little Nate Colbert and other African-American boys were no longer confined to Negro League baseball.  A new day that would produce stories like Nate Colbert’s and others as the racial barriers in professional baseball were pulled down in the 1950s and 1960s.

All photos provided by Google Images

To order “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”, go to (http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown)

A Tribute to Monte Irvin – Part 2

Irvin 2Irvin 3

After eight years in the Negro Leagues, Monte Irvin signed to play with the New York Giants in 1949. The first African American to play in the National League for a team other than the Brooklyn Dodgers, he made his Major League debut on July 8th in Ebbets Field against the Dodgers.

In 1951, the Giants erased the first place Dodgers’ 13 ½ August lead to force a playoff. Bobby Thomson’s ninth inning home run, the “shot heard round the world”, in the final playoff game won the National League pennant for the Giants.  However, the team may not have overcome the Dodgers had it not been for Monte Irvin who hit .312, 24 home runs, and drove in a league leading 121 runs. He also served as a mentor that season for the team’s rookie centerfielder; Willie Mays.

The Giants had three African American outfielders in the starting lineup for Game One of the 1951 World Series., a significant Major League Baseball racial milestone. On that October 4th fall afternoon at Yankee Stadium; Irvin played left field, Mays in centerfield, and Hank Thompson in right field.  In the game, Irvin got four hits and stole home; but the New York Yankees won the Series four games to two.

Due to age and injuries, Irvin began losing his playing edge. In 1954, he hit only .262 with 19 home runs as the Giants won the pennant and defeated the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.  Irvin played his last Major League season in 1956 with the Chicago Cubs.  Working in the Office of Baseball Commissioner handling public relations several years after he retired, Irvin became an ambassador for the game.

In 1970, Irvin chaired a committee formed by Major League Baseball to recommend candidates for Hall of Fame induction from the Negro League Baseball era. He had seen many of the great Negro League players in action.  He played on the same teams with many of them or on opposing teams against.  Starting with Satchel Paige in 1971, nine Negro League players were inducted into the Hall of Fame by 1977 as a result of the committee’s efforts.

In 1973 Irvin received his plaque for induction into the Hall of Fame. By the time his productive eight year Major League career began in 1949, he had already reached his 30th birthday and not in his prime as before serving in the military during the war.  However, the tremendous talent he displayed in the Negro Leagues could not be marginalized by the racial barriers that kept him out of the Major Leagues.

But no one from Negro League Baseball has been inducted into the Hall of Fame since 2006; few if any have been considered for nomination. Despite verbal denials, the museum’s actions give the impression that its doors have been shut in regards to the Negro Leagues.  Is the Hall of Fame saying that its current 41 inductees from Negro League Baseball is the extent of the Negro League era’s place in baseball history?  By its current actions, the museum is re-establishing the untrue stigma of “not being good enough” hung over Negro League Baseball that Monte Irvin spent his baseball career erasing.

What Negro League pitcher did the New York Giants sign in 1949 along with Monte Irvin?

To learn more about Negro League baseball history, read “Last Train to Cooperstown”:  http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.

A Tribute to Monte Irvin – Part 1

monte irvin

Former Negro League and Major League player Monte Irvin died on January 11th, in Houston, Texas.  A member of Baseball’s Hall of Fame, Irvin helped to solidify Negro League baseball’s place in baseball history.  However, at this time when we celebrate his life, that place is again being marginalized.

Born in Haleburg, Alabama on February 25, 1919; Irvin’s family joined the migration of southern African Americans in the 1920s to northern cities looking for better economic opportunities and they settled in East Orange, New Jersey.  A four sport star in high school; track, football, basketball, and baseball, Irvin played with the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League (NNL) under an assumed name the summer of 1938 before heading off to Lincoln University (Pa.) on a football scholarship.  However, he quit school after a year and went back to the Eagles to begin his Negro League career.

His smile and easygoing demeanor made Irvin a favorite of Negro League fans, who voted him to participate in five East-West All Star Games. Fans in the Caribbean leagues where he played in the winter also loved him.  By the end on 1941, many considered the 6’1’’, 195 pound Irvin the best player in the Negro Leagues. A .300 hitter with a power stroke, Monte also had the speed and versatility to play in the infield or outfield.

Much has been written about how serving in the military during World War II took productive years away from Major League baseball stars such as Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Bob Feller. The same can be said about Monte Irvin, who also served his country doing that time.  He missed nearly four seasons (1942 -1945) while in the Army.  When discharged in the late summer of 1945, he met with Brooklyn Dodgers’ General Manager Branch Rickey about a new Negro League team.  Out of baseball for almost four years and suffering a nerve condition he had contacted while in the military, Irvin told Rickey he was not ready to play yet.  But he did not know Rickey really wanted him for the Dodgers.  It would have been Irvin, not Jackie Robinson, that would have become the first African American to play in the Major Leagues since before the beginning of the 20th Century.  Serving in the military altered Irvin’s place in baseball history.

By the start of the 1946 season, Monte felt ready to play again. He led the Newark Eagles in batting average as the team won the Negro National League (NNL) pennant and defeated the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro League World Series.  In the Series, Irvin hit .460 with three home runs.

What Hall of Famer played second base for the 1946 Newark Eagles?

 

To learn more about Negro League baseball history, read “Last Train to Cooperstown”:  http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: