I had the honor of interviewing Negro League /Baseball Hall of Famer Monte Irvin back in 2005. Recently, I stumbled across the audio from the phone interview which was once thought to be lost. To give you an idea of how much of a generous man Mr. Irvin is, the small fee charged for autographs are donated to his favorite charity, Lincoln University. Here is the interview as conducted back in 2005 (audio will be added later).
Collector Empire: What was your most memorable moment while playing in the Negro Leagues?
Monte Irvin: Most memorable moment in the Negro Leagues was where I played my first All-Star game in Chicago Comiskey Park in 1941. I played third base, played 9 innings, and played Satchel Paige. East beat the West, I think, 5 to 1. That was the most memorable moment for me.
Collector Empire: Who was the toughest pitcher that you’ve faced?
Monte Irvin: Satchel Paige was. He was very fast and difficult to try to get a base hit off of. And relief pitcher, Bill Byrd, too was another tough pitcher for me. So, Bill Byrd, Satchel Paige, Leon Day was tough. I had to hit against him in the Puerto Rico Winter League. So, we had 4, 5, 6 pitchers that were very tough. Raymond Brown was tough, Roy Partlow was tough. It was quite a few real good pitchers.
Collector Empire: Do you think that the Newark Eagles team could have beaten most of the times you’ve faced in the majors?
Monte Irvin: Yeah, with some additional…. , yeah, we had a great team. All we needed was some…, we only carried about 17 men. If we could of gotten another 8 guys.. 25 men. We’ve been tough. We could of held our own against anybody. We were that good. We had Day, Jimmy Hill, Terris McDuffie, Max Manning was terrific, Hooker… Lennie Hooker, he was a knuckleballer. He was tough. James Brown. All good pitchers.
Collector Empire: What was it like playing with Willie Mays?
Monte Irvin: Willie came to our team, to New York Giants, in 1951, and we knew right away, that you could tell by the way that he handled himself, that he was a diamond in the rough. And it was great to come to the ballpark everyday and see him improve. See him gain confidence and get better and better. We knew he was a great fielder, but we didn’t know he would become the great home run hitter that he became. So it was wonderful to see him develop day after day. It was a pleasure to come to the ballpark just to watch him.
Collector Empire: Can you tell me about the steal of home in the 1951 World Series?
Monte Irvin: Well, I had stolen home 5 times during the regular season. To be able to get a big lead. At the time I could run pretty good. So, when I did it, in of course, game of the World series in Yankee Stadium, 1951, Allie Reynolds, the pitcher, he was taking a long time to deliver the ball. I noticed that and I told Leo. I said, “Leo”, I said, “I think I can make it”. He said, “Well, get a big lead and go ahead”. And sure enough, I slid under Yogi Berra‘s tag, Yogi the catcher, Yogi Berra. And I made it easy. So, it was a matter of getting a big lead and then turning on the speed. And I did have some speed at that time.
Collector Empire: How do you feel about signing autographs in person and through the mail ?
Monte Irvin: I don’t mind doing it. Yeah, sometimes I do it for free, other times I give the money to my favorite charity which is Lincoln University in Oxford, Pennsylvania. So, I do both and happy to do it.
Collector Empire: What are your feelings about the hobby’s promotion of the Negro Leagues?
Monte Irvin: It should of happened a long time ago. It was a great league. So many wonderful players. I feel sorry that the major league fans never got a chance to see…, you know, I call them the Old Masters. Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Satchel Paige, and Leon Day, and Willie Wells, and Ray Dandridge, Martin Dihigo, way on down the line. See all these great players that very few major league fans go to see them play, in their prime. They were magnificent. And so happy now that they give them some recognition and give them the recognition that they deserve and the league deserve. It was a wonderful time. I had come along during that period, so I had a chance to play in the Negro Leagues and play in the Major Leagues. So, I feel doubly Blessed for having that opportunity.
Collector Empire: In your opinion, who do you think was the best player in the Negro Leagues that never played in the majors?
Monte Irvin: Well, Josh Gibson, of course. He was fantastic. He’s one of the best hitters I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen anyone copy his swing. He was strong as 2 men; run like a deer.
Collector Empire: Who is your favorite player in the majors right now?
Monte Irvin: Albert Pujols. I like the way he approaches the ball. He doesn’t stride very much. He lifts that left foot up, right hand hitter. And puts it down almost in the same place. He’s hard to strike out. So, he’s my favorite at the moment. He’s a great hitter.
Collector Empire: You’ve played against James “Cool Papa” Bell and I’ve heard a lot of stories about his base running speed. How fast was he?
Monte Irvin: Played against him. Of course, he was going out when I was coming in. But I’ve never seen anybody, any faster. He’s a switch hitter. He could get to first base in 3 to 3 1/2 seconds. Rarely, did he ever get caught, thrown out stealing. He’s the only man I’ve seen bunt the ball and score. Go all around the bases on a bunt, in the infield. He was fantastic. There have been other fast men, but to say he is absolutely the fastest man to ever play the game.
Collector Empire: Who, from the Negro Leagues, do you think should be in the Hall of Fame?
Monte Irvin: Well, you got Biz Mackey, #1 , who was a catcher that taught Roy Campanella how to catch. Louis Santop, who was another catcher, playing for Philadelphia [Giants], Hilldale [Daisies]. There was Raymond Brown. There’s Bill Byrd. Bill Wright. Turkey Stearnes is already in there. Rap Dixon was outstanding. And there must be 3 or 4 more guys that should be in the Hall of Fame, and I’m sure in time, they will be.
Biz Mackey, Raymond Brown, and Louis Santop were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame the following year (2006).