Alvin Dark, a hard-nosed shortstop and team captain for the New York Giants in the 1950s who later led two other teams to the World Series as a manager, including the world champion 1974 Oakland A’s, died Nov. 13 at his home in Easley, S.C. He was 92.
Robinson Funeral Home in Easley confirmed the death. The cause was not disclosed.
Mr. Dark was a multi-sport college athlete in Louisiana and a Marine Corps veteran of World War II before he played his first professional baseball game. In 1948, he was named rookie of the year with the pennant-winning Boston Braves and established a reputation as a smart, tough player skilled at every part of the game.
Traded to the Giants before the 1950 season, Mr. Dark was named team captain by manager Leo Durocher and became one of the most respected players on a club that won the National League pennant in 1951 and 1954.
With excellent range at shortstop and solid power at the plate, Mr. Dark had a .300 batting average four times. He was the first shortstop in National League history to have more than one season with at least 20 home runs, hitting 23 in 1953 and 20 in 1954.
On Oct. 3, 1951, he had a key role in one of baseball’s most historic games, the decisive contest between the Giants and Dodgers to determine the National League champion. With the Giants trailing, 4-1, Mr. Dark led off the ninth inning with a single, then scored on a double by Whitey Lockman.
Later in the inning, with two players on base, Bobby Thomson hit a dramatic home run — forever known as “the shot heard ’round the world” — to win the pennant for the Giants, 5-4. The Giants went on to lose the World Series to the New York Yankees, despite a stellar performance by Mr. Dark.
Three years later, the Giants claimed the National League pennant again, then went on to win the World Series in four games over the Cleveland Indians. Mr. Dark was playing shortstop in the first game of the series when his teammate Willie Mays made a catch in deepest center field off the Indians’ Vic Wertz that is considered one of the most remarkable plays in baseball history.
Mr. Dark often said Mays was the greatest player he had ever seen.
In 1956, Mr. Dark was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. He later played for the Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Braves before retiring as a player in 1960. He finished with a career average of .289.
During his prime, many observers considered him the equal of New York’s other shortstops of the early 1950s, Pee Wee Reese of the Dodgers and Phil Rizzuto of the Yankees.
“Dark was a great hit-and-run guy, and very tough to strike out,” Rizzuto told the New York Times in 1996. “And he was a fiery ballplayer. He got into more fights than either Pee Wee or me.”
Reese and Rizzuto were elected to the Hall of Fame, but despite his superior statistical performance, Mr. Dark never was.
In 1961, Mr. Dark was named manager of the Giants, after the franchise had moved to San Francisco. He led the team to the World Series in 1962, only to lose to the Yankees in seven games.
The Giants had one of baseball’s most racially and ethnically diverse teams, with such star players as Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and Orlando Cepeda. Mr. Dark was seen as insensitive when he asked Latin American players to refrain from speaking Spanish.
“You can’t make most Negro and Spanish players have the pride in their team that you can get from white players,” Mr. Dark reportedly said in an explosive 1964 interview with Newsday. “And they just aren’t as sharp mentally.”
Mays helped quell an open revolt by the team. Mr. Dark, who maintained that he was misquoted, was fired at the end of the season.
He later managed in Kansas City and Cleveland before taking over the Oakland Athletics in 1974. He led the A’s to a World Series title that year over the Los Angeles Dodgers and a divisional title a year later. He finished his managerial career with the San Diego Padres in 1977.
The racial controversy with the Giants followed Mr. Dark for years.
“Let me say this: Some reporters always tried to find a reason that a manager like myself wouldn’t like people from different countries,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2012. “We have 25 on the ballclub, and every one is important to me. I don’t care where they came from.”
Alvin Ralph Dark was born Jan. 7, 1922, in Comanche, Okla., and grew up in Oklahoma and Texas before his family settled in Lake Charles, La. His father worked for oil companies.
He went to Louisiana State University on an athletic scholarship before transferring to Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana atLafayette) to enter a Marine Corps officer-training program. At Southwestern, he was a standout football tailback and also a member of the basketball, track and golf teams.
After his military service during World War II, he returned to Southwestern to complete his bachelor’s degree in 1947.
His first marriage, to Adrienne Managan, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 44 years, Jacolyn Troy Dark of Easley; four children from his first marriage; two children he adopted during his second marriage; 20 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
When Mr. Dark managed the Giants, one of his best pitchers was Gaylord Perry, who later was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. But he was such a weak hitter that Mr. Dark said “there would be a man on the moon before Gaylord Perry would hit a home run.”
Perry hit his first major-league home run July 20, 1969, the same day Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon.