By Rhonda K. Miller • Photography by Bill Cardoni
If there is one truism in baseball, it’s that the sport has lifelong, die-hard fans, especially when a legendary player is in town. A near standing-room-only crowd jammed into the Elaine Langone Center’s Forum on Oct. 19, 2011, to hear Hall of Famer Monte Irvin’s stories about Negro Leagues Baseball, even though it meant they’d miss the first pitch of the 2011 World Series that night.
The 92-year-old slugger is one of a few athletes able to bridge the divide between the Negro Leagues and Major League Baseball. He played for the Newark Eagles and in the Mexican Leagues from 1938–49, then for the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs from 1949–56. Irvin, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973, visited Bucknell as part of a series exploring the history of Negro Leagues Baseball and America’s pastime during the era of segregation.
During “Only the Ball Was White,” a talk facilitated by Lawrence Hogan, author of Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African American Baseball, Irvin recalled the days when the Eagles sometimes played three games in one day. “We played a whole season and only made $1,000, but we loved the game. It was better than working,” he says. When asked about the effects of segregation, Irvin says he was raised to live by the Golden Rule. “If you do the right thing, maybe you can have an impact on your adversary,” he adds, saying he was happy he lived long enough to see the transformation to desegregation, which began with Jackie Robinson in 1946.
In addition to Irvin’s talk, the series included the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum’s traveling exhibit of 90 black-and-white photographs of black players from the late 1800s through the 1950s. The exhibit, which transformed the second floor of Bertrand Library into a ballpark-like setting, came to Bucknell thanks to the work of series creator Gregory Krohn, associate professor of economics.
“One of my interests was using a sport like baseball to provide an opportunity for us to learn about the segregation era in the United States,” says Krohn, who was inspired when he heard about the 100-year birthday celebrations of Buck O’Neil and Josh Gibson, two well-known Negro Leagues players. Other events were “The Story of Strat-O-Matic Baseball and the Negro Leagues Players Set” with Hal Richman ’58, Strat-O-Matic’s inventor; “If It Ain’t Got That Swing: Black Baseball and Black Music in the Era of the Color Line,” featuring a jazz performance; and a talk by author Robert Ruck titled “Raceball: How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game.”
Krohn, who teaches sports economics, says he wanted to bring complementary arts together. “The presentation of black music and baseball, plus the photograph exhibit, gave the series more depth and a more humanistic aspect to that time in history.”