Remembering Monte Irvin.

•February 4, 2016 • 3 Comments

Monte Irvin Giants
When Monte Irvin recently passed away, at the age of 96, baseball lost yet another ballplayer from yesteryear. Irvin was more than just another ballplayer though; as he was a Hall of Famer who spent his formative professional years in the Negro Leagues, played in the golden age of the big leagues and wrapped up his career with a short stint in the old Pacific Coast League. As each and every year passes, there are less people around who can say they played in or even witnessed these eras of professional baseball, and this is saddening. If you’re not familiar with Monte Irvin, I strongly suggest doing some reading up on his career in baseball and life in general, as it was interesting and he seemed to pack a lot of living in during his 96 years on this planet. 
Irvin will be missed by all, and as I do with all fallen baseball heroes, I pay respect here, with a collection of related photos that I find interesting and worth sharing. 

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The Newark Eagles.

1947 Monte Irvin & Larry Doby Newark Eagles

Prior to breaking into the major leagues, Irvin spent a decade with the Newark Eagles. He was a star in the Negro Leagues and this time of his career sealed his candidacy into the Hall of Fame, as his big league stats alone wouldn’t of been enough to get him immortalized in Cooperstown.

The above photo features Irvin in 1947, as a member of the Eagles, along with teammate and future major leaguer, Larry Doby. Shortly after this photo was taken, the Cleveland Indians came calling for Doby and signed him, where he broke the American League color barrier and quickly became a star in the big leagues. Unfortunately, Irvin would have to wait until 1949, at the age of 30, for his shot at the big leagues.

After Irvin passed away, it came to my attention that he was the last living member of the Newark Eagles. And with that, he very well could’ve been the last living notable star of the Negro Leagues. Yes, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron are both still alive, but they both spent minimal time in the Negro Leagues before getting signed by major league clubs, so the label of “star” is not necessarily applicable. Either way, this is one of the sad aspects of Irvin’s death. (Image Source: The National Pastime Museum)

Almendares.

Monte Irving Almendares
Like many ballplayers from this era, Irvin also ventured to Cuba to play baseball during the winter months. In 1947, Irvin joined the Almendares club in the Cuban Winter League, where he continued to play until 1949. Irvin was no stranger to playing in Latin countries, and prior to the Cuba, he spent time in the Puerto Rican Winter League from 1940-1942 and again from 1945-1946. This is in addition to playing in the Mexican Leagues in 1942, where he won the triple crown.

The Cuban Winter League existed from 1878 to 1961, and countless Negro League and Major League players played in the league. The Cuban Winter League is actually recognized as being the first racially integrated professional league in history, so prior to integration, many Negro League players first played with white Major Leaguers down in Cuba. Unfortunately, Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution put a stop to professional baseball in 1961 and quickly replaced the Winter League with the Cuban Baseball League System, which is essentially a national amateur league.

A few years ago, I watched the movie, “The Bases Are Loaded,” which documents Irvin’s return to Cuba after 50 years to visit former teammate, Connie Marrero. It’s a great movie, that gives you incredible insight to baseball and life in Cuba, along with history of both players. Last I checked, you can rent the DVD through Netflix, so watch it if you get the chance. (Image Source: Tom Hawthorn’s Blog)

The New York Giants.

Monte Irvin Swing

After a deal fell apart in which the Brooklyn Dodgers attempted to purchase Irvin from the Eagles, he was picked up by the Giants in 1949, along with pitcher Ford Smith, and therefore became the first black players in the history of the Giants organization.

Even at the age of 30 years old, Irvin still made an impact in the big leagues and had some productive years during his time with the Giants, even earning MVP votes in three consecutive seasons and earning a trip to the All-Star game in 1952. Unfortunately, Irvin did not get a chance to play in the mid-season classic due to an ankle injury. (Image Source: WNYC)

The 1951 World Series.

Monte Irvin Steals Home 1951

Irvin made his post-season debut against the New York Yankees in 1951 and he didn’t waste time in making a impact on the field. In the first inning of Game 1, he singled and then successfully stole home against Allie Reynolds. This very well may be one of my favorite baseball photos, especially due to the fact that Yogi Berra is in it.

Game 1 of the 1951 World Series is also notable because it featured the first all-black outfield in Major League history, which consisted of Irvin, Hank Thompson and a young rookie in centerfield by the name of Willie Mays. (Image Source: The Washington Post)

The Chicago Cubs.

Monte Irvin Cubs

After the 1955 season, the Cubs picked up the soon to be 37 year old veteran via the Rule 5 draft. Slowed by injuries and age, Irvin was still productive and hit at a .271/.346/.460 clip, while knocking in 15 home runs. Unfortunately, it would be his last season in the big leagues.

Irvin did attempt to play in 1957, with the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League, but only played in 4 games before hanging up his cleats due to a back injury. Still, in those 4 games, Irvin hit at a .300/.364/.600 clip. Obviously, that’s a small sample size, but it shows he could still hit. If Irvin didn’t get hurt, it’s quite possible he would of ended up a Dodger, due to the fact that the Angels were an open class affiliate of Brooklyn at that time. This is something that Giants fans certainly would not have enjoyed seeing. (Image Source: Bleed Cubbie Blue)

The Hall of Fame.

Irvin HOF 1973

In 1973, via the Negro Leagues Committee, Irvin was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He went in the hall with other notable names, such as Warren Spahn and the late Roberto Clemente. I’d say that’s a pretty respectable class, regardless of voting circumstances.

In addition to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Irvin is also a member of the Mexican, Cuban and Puerto Rican baseball Hall of Fames. I could be wrong, but I assume that he’s the only person who can add all of this to his baseball resume. (Image Source: The Washington Post)

The First Padres Documentary Now Streaming.

•January 12, 2016 • Leave a Comment

The First Padres DVD

For those of you who follow 90 Feet of Perfection, you’re likely aware that I’m a fan of the old Pacific Coast League and West Coast baseball as a whole. With that said, I was delighted when I discovered “The First Padres,” a documentary film on the San Diego Padres of the old Pacific Coast League. In fact, I was so excited about the film that I sought out the filmmaker who made the movie and interviewed him here on the blog.

For those of you who have not purchased or viewed the award winning film, it was announced today that The First Padres is currently being streamed for free on KPBS San Diego. I suggest watching it, as there are interviews with many Pacific Coast League players of yesteryear; such as baseball Hall of Famer, Bobby Doerr. Also, there’s a great deal information on Ted Williams; which is an obvious perk for any baseball history fan. While this film is right up my alley, I think it’s an amazing film across the board and anyone who loves the history of the game is sure to appreciate it. If you have some extra time, head on over to The First Padres on KPBS and give it a viewing. You won’t be disappointed.

Hanging Up The Spikes: Pops, The Babe, Satchel, Ted and Dizzy.

•November 30, 2015 • 1 Comment


Willie Stargell Listening to the President

September 6th, 1982. An emotional Willie Stargell speaks to President Ronald Reagan in front of a packed house at Three Rivers Stadium. Stargell had announced that 1982 would be his last season and September 6th was dubbed “Willie Stargell Day.” Stargell was honored prior to the game and had his #8 uniform number retired, which he wore proudly as a Pirate for 21 consecutive seasons.  He went 1 for 1 in the game with a single, as a pinch hitter late in the game. Less than a month later, he collected his last career at-bat, also going 1 for 1 with a single in a game against the Expos. (Image Source: Explore PA History)

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Babe Ruth Final Game

May 30th, 1935. At the age of 40 and now playing for the Boston Braves, Babe Ruth decided to call it quits after an 0 for 1 performance against the Phillies. The Babe pulled himself from the game after making a poor play in the outfield, which resulted in a run scoring. This was a sad and unglamorous end to the most prolific career in the history of the game. It’s almost as if you can see the defeat in Ruth’s face as he sits in the dugout during his last day as a big league ballplayer.

The Babe should’ve hung up his spikes 5 days earlier, after a game with the Pirates where he went 4 for 4, with 3 homeruns. Now that would’ve been fitting and poetic. Ruth ended up finishing his last season in the big leagues with an un-Ruthian .181.359/.431 batting clip, with 6 home runs in 28 games.

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 Satchel Paige Indianapolis Clowns
From what I can piece together, Satchel Paige last pitched in a professional baseball game in 1967, at the age of 60, with the Indianapolis Clowns. At this point, the Clowns were an independent barnstorming team, and (I believe) were the last team hanging on from the Negro Leagues, with the Monarchs disbanding in 1965.

I can’t find any legitimate photos of Paige from 1967, but I found this photo of him with the Clowns from 1966. While his time with the Clowns in 1967 is the last professional baseball that Paige supposedly played, he did pitch in 1, possibly 2 exhibition games for the Braves during his time as a coach in 1969. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen video or photos of him actually pitching with the Braves. (Image Source: Baseball History Daily)

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Ted Williams Last Game

In the history of baseball, I’d say that Ted Williams had one of, if not the most memorable last game of a career. This is due to hitting a home run in his last at-bat, which ended up being number 521 of his incredible career.

This famous moment took place on September 28, 1960 and was well documented, as there are both video and photos capturing his last swing. However, when I came across the above photo of Teddy Ballgame taking the field alongside second basemen, Marlan Coughtry, it resonated with more than his home run. Maybe it’s because I’ve never seen this image? Maybe because it’s not glamorous and shows a more “normal” moment of a ballgame? Either way, I love it and I love Ted Williams. (Image Source: Boston Globe)

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Dizzy Dean Browns 1947

When most people think of Dizzy Dean, they associate him with the Cardinals or maybe even the Cubs. But what about the Browns? It turns out that Ole’ Dizzy’s last hurrah as a player in a the big leagues was with the downtrodden St. Louis Browns, with whom he’d been a broadcaster for since 1941.

On September 28th, 1947, Dizzy left the Browns broadcast booth to play in a game against the White Sox. Dean was supposedly paid only $1 for the game along with a cut of the ticket sales for the day. The last time he had pitched in the big leagues was with the Cubs, so it was safe to say that he was a little rusty. Well, ole’ Dizzy ended up pitching 4 complete innings, where he only allowed 3 hits and no runs. After successfully hitting a single in his first and only at-bat, Dean took himself out of the game after pulling his hamstring. Not bad for a retired 37 year old. (Image Source: Bob Lemke’s Blog)

Remembering Yogi Berra.

•October 9, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Yogi Berra pose
On September 22nd, baseball lost a great ambassador, a great character and one of the greatest players to ever don the tools of ignorance. Many people don’t realize the kind of career that Yogi Berra had and I feel as if his Yogisms and place in pop culture often overshadow his on-field accomplishments. I won’t list everything on his Hall of Fame resume, but after Yogi passed away, I was listening to Buster Olney’s podcast and it was suggested that if you wanted to put Berra’s career into perspective, you can take what Buster Posey has accomplished so far in his career and multiply it by three. I’d say that’s pretty spot on.

Yogi Berra is my favorite catcher of all time and this is reflected in “The Tools Of Ignorance: My Favorite All-Time Catchers,” which I wrote a few years back. Unless you’re a huge Reds fan and Johnny Bench is your guy, I can’t grasp how anyone can not pick Yogi as their all time favorite catcher. Either way, Yogi is one of the most legendary figures to ever step foot on the baseball field and while he was 90 years old and surely lived a full life, he will still be missed by all who love the game of baseball. This one is for you, Yogi. 

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1947 Yankees Catchers

Aaron Robinson, Ralph Houk and Yogi Berra of the New York Yankees pose for a photo during the 1947 season. Yogi was the youngest catcher of the group and came up as a September call up in 1946, where he played in 7 games and hit .364 with 2 home runs. During his actual rookie season of 1947, Yogi played in 83 games and came in 15th in the American League MVP voting.

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Yogi Berra Babe Ruth

This photo of a young Yogi Berra shaking hands with Babe Ruth has been one of my favorite baseball photos for years. I’m not sure when this was taken, but I’m thinking it had to be in late 1946 or early 1947, as the Babe doesn’t seem ravished yet by the cancer that would eventually take his life in 1948.

What I love about this photo is that it directly links two generation of Yankee greats. It’s almost as if the Babe knew that Yogi would be the next pillar of Yankee greatness. I can almost imagine the Babe saying “The team is all yours, kid. Make me proud.”

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Yogi Berra rundown

October 1st, 1953. A great action shot of Yogi Berra in Game 2 of the 1953 World Series getting caught in a rundown in the 6th inning. Everything about this photo is perfect and the fact that it features Pee Wee Reese, Jim Gilliam and Gil Hodges makes even more amazing.

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1956 World Series, Yogi and Don Larsen

Anyone remotely familiar with baseball history can tell you that this photo is from the 1956 World Series, after Don Larsen made the last out of Game 5, in which he threw his perfect game. This will forever be one of the most iconic moments in baseball history, and when I recently found this photo taken from the side with Joe Collins in the background, I was delighted as I had never seen it before.

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Yogi Berra Casey Stengel Mets

Yogi wrapped up his playing career after the 1963 season and was quickly hired on as Manager of the Yankees after Ralph Houk was promoted to General Manager. Yogi then proceeded to lead the Yankees to the World Series in 1964, but lost to the Cardinals in 7 games. After the season, he was fired by Houk as he thought that Yogi was not quite ready to manage yet. This seems crazy to me as he lead his team to the American League pennant.

The following season, Berra reunited with his longtime skipper, Casey Stengel as a member of the Mets coaching staff. In addition to coaching, Berra even played in 4 games early in the season before hanging up his cleats for good. Berra ended up being a Mets coach for 7 seasons, until taking over as manager in 1972, after Gil Hodges passed away in Spring Training. Berra managed the Mets until he was fired late in the 1975 season, therefore ending his 11 tenure as a member of the Mets.

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Yogi Berra Astros Coach

Yogi eventually rejoined the Yankees again as a coach in 1976 to 1983, and then as manager for the 1984 season and the beginning of the 1985 season, before getting unfairly fired by George Steinbrenner 16 games into the season. This lead to Yogi refusing to step foot in Yankee Stadium or be associated with the team for almost 15 years. I don’t care what anyone says, but I never have and never will be a fan of George Steinbrenner and this is one of the MANY reasons why.

Anyways, Yogi was not done with baseball yet and after the 1985 season, he was hired by the Astros as the bench coach under manager Hal Lanier. After Lanier left the team at the end of the 1988 season, Yogi moved over to hitting coach, where he stayed with the team for one more season before retiring after the 1989 season. Maybe it’s because of THIS card from my childhood, but I always thought Yogi looked kind of cool in an Astros uniform.

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yogi final game at yankee stadium

After Steinbrenner apologized, Berra became a regular at Yankees games and made an impact on many young players over the years, such as Derek Jeter. This photo was taken at his last appearance at old Yankee Stadium and I love it so much. During the last game at Yankee stadium, the team played THIS short video narrated by Yogi, in which he discusses the stadium, it’s legacy and what he experienced there. It’s definitely worth watching as there’s something about it that’s almost tear jerking, especially now that Yogi is gone.

Baseball Quotes.

•September 10, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Miguel Cabrera 24

“I feel like my first year was last year. Sometimes I’m scared because I don’t want to stop playing baseball, you know? I just want to stop aging.”Miguel Cabrera

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Ted Williams and Jimmy Piersall

“One day a writer in KC said both me and Ted were mentally ill, and Ted (Williams) got up and spat at him. The writer was a fuckin’ prick.”Jimmy Piersall

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“I can’t get Cubans out; I can’t get anybody out that’s got a vowel at the end of their name.”Bill Lee

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Ernie Banks

“Awards mean a lot, but they don’t say it all. The people in baseball mean more to me than statistics.” – Ernie Banks

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Buck Leonard Grays

“We were not disorganized, just unrecognized.”Buck Leonard (on the Negro Leagues)

 
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