Saturday, January 16, 2016

Monte Irvin 1919-2016.

Monte Irvin 1953.jpg
Monte Irvin

If you are not of my generation, chances are you have never heard of Monte Irvin. He was one of the first black players to appear in the major leagues following Jackie Robinson. Irvin was brought up by the then New York Giants in 1949 and was mentor to Willie Mays, who came up to the Giants two years later. Mays didn't need Irvin to make him a better player, but he needed the guidance of the older Irvin, a man who exemplified class. Irvin was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1973. He died this week in Houston at the age of 96.

Coincidentally, as I write this, I am reading a biography of Willie Mays, in which Irvin is prominently mentioned. The careers of both Mays and Irvin, not to mention Robinson, are testament to a bygone era when blacks and black athletes were subject to severe discrimination in America. Both Mays and Irvin were products of the storied Negro leagues when the sport was segregated. When Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, he had to endure terrible racial slights and insults not to mention death threats. Mays and Irvin also had to suffer the slights of segregated services (e.g. restaurants) for black players and segregated housing when the team was traveling. Even when the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958, Mays and his wife had huge problems moving into an upscale neighborhood. To read these accounts today seem so shocking, but they were the norm back then. Other players like Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks and so many others experienced the same discrimination.

As critical as I have been about figures like Barack Obama, Eric Holder, Al Sharpton and the Black Lives Matter movement, we must remember that we do have a dark history. I still maintain that only a fringe minority would condone the kind of discrimination that black players and blacks in general endured in those days. Yet, we do need to keep everything in perspective as we try to find our way to a truly post-racial America.

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