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Monte Irvin
Nice Guys Finish First
By Monte Irvin with James A. Riley

Chapter One: A Mission in Life

When Monte was seventeen, he was sick and near death, but our mother said that she had talked to a "Higher Doctor" and that Monte wasn't going to die. Maybe the Lord knew he had a mission to perform on earth.

--Cal Irvin, younger brother

I always felt that I had a mission in life. I thought I was born to play sports. Even now, I still feel that must have been my mission because I came through so many close calls where my life could very easily have been ended.

The first crisis occurred when I was only two years old and could have been trampled when I walked under a spirited horse's belly. Then, about a year later, a doctor had to be rushed to our farm to save my life because I had engorged such a great quantity of plums, pits and all.

Again, as a teenager, I survived two close calls that could have proved fatal. First, I was riding in a car that was missed by a speeding train by only a matter of seconds. Then, as a high school senior, I almost died from a streptococci infection when nearly everyone had given up on me.

The next incident came after I started playing professional baseball and had signed to play in Mexico. On the flight down there, the plane hit an air pocket going over the mountains to Mexico City and dropped about two or three hundred feet before righting itself.

A year later I was drafted, and during World War II, I had two more close calls where I could have been killed. I was in a troop convoy on the way to Europe that passed through waters in the north Atlantic where German submarines were operating, and we were without air cover for a time. And, after we had reached England, the German air force bombed a supply depot a few hours after my outfit had moved out of the area. If we hadn't moved, all of us might have been killed.

Looking back, it seems that what I have learned from my experiences down through life might benefit somebody, someplace, in some way. I'm sure there are people who will face some of the same problems that I had in my life. Maybe, by learning how I handled each situation, it will enable them to deal with their problems successfully.

Early in life I learned, just through observation, that right always wins out over wrong. If a person has good intentions in his heart and wants to do the right thing, then there are certain ways that any obstacle can be overcome. I was very fortunate to have the kind of parents that I had, who believed in doing the right thing, and always tried to be honest, trustworthy, and forthright. My mother was a Bible student and when I was a youngster, both my mother and father would say, "If people would only live by the Golden Rule, there wouldn't be the problems that there are." In other words, "treat people the way you want to be treated." If somebody mistreats you, two wrongs won't make a right.

That doesn't mean that you have to kowtow to a bully, or if someone physically abuses you, that you can't strike back. I'm not talking about that at all. You should be tough as nails when you have to be. For instance, when I was a youngster about nine years old, I was on my way to school on the very first day and a kid bigger and older than me beat me up. That night, after I got back home, I sat and thought about what I was going to do to make that kid sorry for what he did. So I decided that the first thing I had to do was to get bigger and stronger. That way, the next time we met, the situation would be a little more even.

So, I worked hard to get stronger and, sure enough, in about a year, I had grown and I had gotten stronger. Now I was ready to get even with this kid who had embarrassed me. One day I saw him and I told him, "You know the last time we met, you beat me pretty badly and I want a rematch. I think that I can make you sorry you ever did that." He said, "Anytime you're ready." I replied, "How about right now?" So we began fighting, just the two of us, but I had learned a little something since the first time. I didn't go for his face, I went for the body. Every time he would swing at me, I would hit him in the ribs or in the stomach. After about three or four minutes, I had hurt him so badly, he went down to one knee and said, "I give up. You're the best." "Okay," I replied, "but don't ever try to bully me again."

This was way back in 192X and many years later we happened to meet at a gas station. He was glad to see me and I was glad to see him. We shook hands and kind of hugged and talked about what we had been doing for the past twenty years. Then he said, "By the way, you taught me a lesson." "How so?" I asked. "Well," he said, "I used to try to be bad, but after you evened the score, I found out I wasn't as bad as I thought I was. And, instead of becoming a bully, I tried to become a decent human being. But if you hadn't beaten the hell out of me the way you did, I probably would have taken the wrong path." "Well, I'm sorry it had to happen that way," I replied. ' But I'm glad that we're friends now, and I just wish you the best." I'm certainly glad that the whole thing turned out the way it did.

You've got to be smart enough to do the things that are needed in a given situation. Do the very best you can and always try to improve yourself. Observe others who are successful in handling their affairs and take the good from a lot of people. If you admire someone, try to emulate them. My all-time heroes are Thurgood Marshall and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., two men who had to really work to achieve what they did. And I had the privilege of meeting them both.

I first met Thurgood Marshall at an affair in Harlem when I was with the New York Giants and he was a lawyer for the NAACP. I met Dr. King in 1961 when he spoke in Westchester County, New York and I was working for Rheingold Brewery. Tickets for the occasion were quite expensive, but Wrangled sent me and my wife to represent them. Dr. King was a great baseball fan, and I was impressed that he was so knowledgable about the sport.

But there was a greater significance for me in our meeting because he presented his philosophy that you could win a person over through nonviolence. Sometimes if you don't strike back, that person feels bad about what he's done to you. I think the only way Dr. King could have succeeded in his movement was by it being nonviolent. He tried to affect the consciences of the people who were him mistreating him and the cause.

Right until today, if I meet a person who is not particularly friendly, or if he seemingly doesn't like me or my kind, I try to do something to change his mind. I'll go a long way in trying to win this person over. If after a lengthy period I find out that it's an impossibility, I'll just leave him alone, hoping that one day he will soften and things will be okay.

There have been some people who didn't like me at first, but we later became good friends. Because they found out that I didn't hold grudges and that I tried to do the right thing. They also learned that I could go either way. I could be as tough as I had to be, or I could be mild. And we're good friends today because I won them over. I'm glad I handled it that way. It made them feel better and it made me feel better. They have mellowed and I'm really happy that I've lived long enough to see this kind of change.

But I'm just happy that things have worked out. You can get by without a lot of violence, just by being smart and trying to improve yourself, while also trying to impress those who oppose you. Consequently, from 1928 until today, I've never had another fight with an individual. So I must have done something right.

© 1996 Monte Irvin

Simon & Schuster

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