Joe Morgan is the master of ceremonies for a dinner/roast.
By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 7, 2002
HOMOSASSA -- Monte Irvin first visited the county about 20 years ago.
It was love at first sight.
"I particularly liked the quietness and overall goodness of the area," Irvin said. "After so many long bus rides all over the country, I figured I'd like to go some place that has some peace and quiet. I found it here.
"I've been here almost 20 years. It's been delightful, the people have been great, the taxes are low and real estate is reasonable."
Sugarmill Woods, where the 83-year-old Irvin and his wife, Dee, live, has given Irvin the lifestyle he always wanted. And in return, the legendary baseball player, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1973, has given back to the community.
In recent years, Irvin has been a major contributor to the Key Training Center, which provides daily living, social skills, job training, residential services and life-sustaining care for the developmentally disabled.
"He has always been there," said Bob Mallock of the training center. "If we needed an autographed bat or this and that, he's always there to donate it."
Tonight at the Elks Lodge in Homosassa, the Key Training Center will honor Irvin with a tribute dinner/roast that will bring baseball heavyweights such as Dom DiMaggio, Hal Lanier, Hal McRae, Gene Michael, Joe Morgan, Robin Roberts and Don Zimmer to town. Morgan, master of ceremonies, and Roberts, are Hall of Famers.
Irvin "called me and asked me to come out and see him," said Morgan, who lives in California. "I don't like to travel in the offseason, especially from one coast to the other, but I hold him in high esteem so this won't be that hard of a trip."
Tickets for the event, which cost $50, sold out weeks ago. Organizers expect about 300 people to attend. After a dinner, Morgan will host the roast.
"I talked to Dom DiMaggio and asked him to get up and roast Monte," Mallock said. "He said, 'I can't roast Monte, he's too nice. He's never done anything wrong in his life.' "
Proceeds from the event, which includes a silent auction (featuring items autographed by Irvin), will earn the Key Training Center $3,000-$5,000, Mallock said.
"Monte never asked for anything," Mallock said. "We discussed it with him and he said, 'I don't want any money out of it.' "
Irvin and Mallock once owned a baseball memorabilia shop in Crystal River, Mallock said. At that time, Irvin began donating bats, balls and photos to the training center. About a year ago, Mallock said, he and some of Irvin's other friends thought a tribute to Irvin would be a good way to say thanks for all of his fundraising efforts.
"I feel highly honored the citizens of the county and surrounding counties are coming to pay tribute to me and help to try to raise money for the Key Training Center," Irvin said. "It's an organization that does outstanding work."
BORN: Feb. 25, 1919, Columbia, Ala. Irvin now lives in Homosassa.
HEIGHT/WEIGHT: 6-2, 210.
POSITIONS: SS, 3B, OF.
PLAYED FOR: Newark Eagles, New York Giants, Chicago Cubs.
HONORS: Elected to Baseball Hall of Fame by Committee on Negro Leagues, 1973.
1937: Joined Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues using assumed name (Jimmy Nelson) to keep amateur status.
1938: Graduated from Orange High School, N.J.
1943: Drafted into U.S. Army.
1945: Played in Puerto Rican League.
1946: Returned to Newark Eagles.
1949: Signed with Major League Baseball's New York Giants.
1951: Best year in majors. Hit .312 and had 24 home runs and league-leading 121 RBIs.
1956: Retired after spending last season with Chicago Cubs.
1968: Began working as special assistant in commissioner's office.
1973: Elected to Hall of Fame along with Roberto Clemente, Warren Spahn and Mickey Welch.
1984: Retired from commissioner's office and moved to Citrus County.
As a teenager, Irvin set a New Jersey state high school record for throwing the javelin.
Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1947, but according to several accounts, Irvin also was considered for that honor. One web site devoted to the Negro Leagues (www.theforgottenleagues.com) quotes Newark Eagles owner Effa Manley as saying, "Monte was the choice of all Negro National and American League club owners to serve as the No. 1 player to join a white major-league team. We all agreed, in meetings, he was the best qualified by temperament, character, ability, sense of loyalty, morals, age, experience and physique to represent us as the first black player to enter the white majors since the Walker brothers (Moses and Weldy) back in the late 1880s."
What happened? Irvin was drafted into the war, and returned with an inner ear problem.
"When I went into the service, I got ill and had to wait a while," Irvin said. "I would have loved to have been the first, but it didn't happen."
Robinson became one of the sport's most legendary figures. "I was a little envious of Jackie," Irvin said, "but a lot of guys were."
The Negro League Players Association quotes James "Cool Papa" Bell, a famed Negro Leaguer and Hall of Famer, as calling Irvin the "best young ballplayer at the time ... He could do everything. It's not that Jackie Robinson wasn't a good ballplayer, but we wanted Monte because we knew what he could do."
Hit career-best .422 in 1940, then led Negro National League the next year with a .396 average.
Won batting title in 1946 (.401).
Batted .400 or better three times.
Earned four All-Star berths.
Irvin's plaque at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., reads: Regarded as one of Negro Leagues' best hitters. Star slugger of Newark Eagles won 1946 Negro League batting title. Led N.L. in runs batted in and paced "Miracle" Giants in hitting in 1951 drive to pennant. Batted .458 and stole home in 1951 world Series.