NICE GUYS FINISH FIRST: The Autobiography of Monte Irvin by Monte with James A. Riley Irvin

NICE GUYS FINISH FIRST: The Autobiography of Monte Irvin

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An inspiring if static firsthand account of a celebrated baseball career, coauthored by Riley, an authority on the Negro Leagues. Irvin has a right to be proud; he also has a gift for being humble. Born in 1919, one of 13 children, Irvin recounts with equal nostalgia both the dire poverty of his early years on an Alabama farm and his relatively stable later childhood in northern New Jersey. He also details fondly the great sacrifices and support provided by his parents. This ingratiating lack of self-consciousness extends to his descriptions of fellow Hall of Famers Josh Gibson (""without a doubt the greatest hitter I ever saw, black or white"") and Jackie Robinson (""a tremendous, well-rounded athlete"" though ""it seemed like he thought he was just a little bit better than other players""). He makes no bones about how the ""gentleman's agreement"" barring black players from the game robbed him of his prime. However, he evenhandedly remembers the good times and camaraderie of Negro League road trips, as well as a few kindnesses extended by whites who risked severe reprisal for their generosity. Irvin entered the Major Leagues with the New York Giants in 1950. Though well past his peak as an athlete, he helped pace the team to two pennants and one World Series win while also serving as mentor to a young center-fielder of unworldly talent named Willie Mays. Beginning in the mid-'50s, Monte worked in the baseball commissioner's office, and he serves up some pointed commentary about the game's evolution, opining about contract arbitration (which ""has really hurt baseball more than anything else"") and the designated-hitter rule (""Pitchers can be very aggressive . . . because they never have to come to the plate""), among other controversial topics. Never one to intellectualize needlessly, Irvin has a tempered approach to baseball that will be tonic against those who attempt to make the game more complex and ""meaningful"" than it really is.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1996
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Carroll & Graf