November 9, 2002

Baseball greats turn out to honor one of their own

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times - published November 9, 2002

HOMOSASSA -- Monte Irvin retired from baseball in 1956 and entered the hall of fame 29 years ago, but he hasn't been forgotten.

Thursday night at the Elks Lodge in Homosassa, luminaries of the sport such at Dom DiMaggio and hall-of-fame second baseman Joe Morgan were among the approximately 300 people who attended the Monte Irvin Tribute, which honored the 83-year-old Sugarmill Woods resident for his baseball accomplishments and charitable contributions.

A silent auction featuring items signed by Irvin and other well-known baseball players raised money for the Key Training Center.

"It's been great to get a chance to spend time with a hall-of-famer," said Morgan, who came from California to serve as master of ceremonies. "He's got so many stories. I don't do a lot of these things. I have a habit in the winter of staying home with my family. But I have a lot of respect for him and that's why I'm here."

The tribute began with a dinner and followed with a roast. The event lasted about four hours.

"It was just delightful," Irvin said. "I had a great time and most of the people I talked to said they enjoyed themselves. It was a fun night."

Irvin, a Negro Leagues star in the 1930s and 40s, joined the New York Giants in 1949, two years after Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball's color barrier. He played eight seasons in the Majors, leading the league in RBIs in 1951. Irvin carried a .373 lifetime average in the Negro Leagues.

"He was a hell of a ballplayer," said Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer, who attended. "He's been a great man, not just a great ballplayer."

Irvin, a New Jersey native who moved to Citrus County in 1984, was joined at the tribute by Dee, his wife of 60 years, and his youngest daughter, Pat.

Hall-of-fame pitcher Robin Roberts, former Devil Rays manager Hal McRae and Dr. James Parker, Irvin's college roommate, also were present.

"He had a ball," Dee Irvin said.

The tribute was organized by the Key. Through the years, Irvin has donated numerous pieces of memorabilia to the center, which provides daily living, social skills, job training, residential services and life-sustaining care for the developmentally disabled. Organizers hoped to raise between $3,000 and $5,000, but Bob Mallock of the center said the final figure will be greater than anticipated.

"We were very pleased with the entire evening," Mallock said. "We have received a lot of compliments from people. I think everybody had a good time."