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For Monte

It is said that history gets recorded by the “winners”.  It resides in the half-truths of books that we feed to our young and around which ...

Thursday, January 14, 2016

For Monte

It is said that history gets recorded by the “winners”.  It resides in the half-truths of books that we feed to our young and around which they, and we, construct our reality. So it’s important that as we learn better, as we understand better, that we do better.  We must fill the empty spaces of our past so we can construct a reality that honors all that is our past and all of those who forged it.
When I read writer, Jerry Izenberg’s tribute to Monte Irvin today, I remembered that day at the Newark/Bears stadium.  Monte in his wheelchair, Ray Dandridge’s son, Geraldine Day (the wife of Leon Day), Larry Doby’s son, Red Moore and me with my father’s great-grandson on my lap.


I also remember the last conversation I had with Jerry when he spoke of Monte Irvin’s declaration that he couldn’t die because there would be no one to tell the story.  When I heard that Monte had passed, I waited for Jerry’s story because I knew it was coming, and I knew there was no one who could write it as well as he.  I knew he could capture the essence of the man and what was important to him.  I was not disappointed. You can read his tribute here.

There are few left who can articulate the stories of the men of the Negro Leagues.  And because their history for years remained largely unrecorded, it is left to those of us who were privileged enough to sit at their feet, who store those stories, images and memories in the libraries of our hearts and minds to tell them and live them day-to-day.  My father met Monte Irvin when they were both freshmen at Lincoln University.  They were both on the baseball team.  They both wanted nothing more than to play baseball.  They both left to try out for the Newark Eagles and both made the team, the youngest members at the time.  Until the day my father died, I could tell when he was talking to Monte on the phone because I could hear him laughing the minute I opened the door.  A loud raucous laugh similar to men telling each other dirty jokes.  Although Jerry describes Monte Irvin as the last of the Newark Eagles, there remains one more...Red Moore, who lives in a small town outside Atlanta.  Red left the Eagles early in his career.  He went on to play with the Baltimore Elite Giants. He was missing from the roster of the dynamic team of the ‘40s; the legendary winning team of the 1946 Negro League World Series.  That team included: Larry Doby, Leon Day, Monte Irvin and my father, Max Manning.  It was managed by Hall of Famer, Biz Makey.   Ray Dandridge, Don Newcombe and Willie Wells, who would also find there way into the Hall of Fame, had left earlier.  There are no members of that 1946 team left.  With the exception of Red Moore, there are no Eagles left.  They have flown to higher ground.

They would come together for gatherings at card signings and the meetings of the Negro League Player’s Association.  Before the NLPA formed in the early ‘90s, they would share conversations on the phone or with brief visits.  
For 20 years, they would sit together at their beloved Pop Lloyd Weekends here in Atlantic City with other former league players from the Philadelphia Stars, the Kansas City Monarchs, and the Birmingham Black Barons to name a few.  They would talk way into the night with guests like Congressman John Lewis, Bob Feller, photographer Gordon Parks, Earl Woods, the father of Tiger and most importantly the children of this community.


They were remarkable men, not because of how they played the game, even though their sheer talent would have been enough to win them distinction.  They were remarkable because of how they lived their lives...refusing to allow anyone to take their joy and by creating a parallel universe that was filled with it...to the brim.

As I have mark each passing, another crack appears somewhere deep inside me.  Although I know that is how the light gets in, I’m also aware that I become more fragile.  We all become more fragile.  When our stories, the fullness of stories of our nation and our world, are not explored and told by those that lived them, all of us become defined by those that are considered the “winners”.  Those pictures, those images, those representations are and will always leave us less than we can be.  They leave us as incomplete as they are.  As Monte would say:  “...true story.”  And tonight I say: "Good Night, sweet prince. One of the sweetest of them all.  TRUE STORY!