Another Silverback has fallen. Irv Noren died two weeks shy of his 95th birthday on Nov. 15. When we spoke in March 2019, he said he did not feel well. Irv was struggling with low blood pressure but he sounded like a young man on a phone. We did not talk about World Series titles (though Irv had 5 rings). We talked about his "journey" through life, his Swedish roots, and the people who influenced him.
Irv's idol was his father Perry, who came to America from Sweden, settling in Jamestown, New York before the family moved to Pasadena. His father ran a bakery, got up at 3 a.m., and managed to go to Irv's basketball and baseball games. He even took his sons to a World Series where Irv declared that he "wanted to play for the Yankees" when he grew up. Though Irv's father respected that wish, he assured his kids that life was hard - really hard. He said they would face huge obstacles, and failure, but in America he believed that anyone could achieve a dream if they were willing to work hard enough. In 1952, Irv helped the Yankees win the World Series.
When Pearl Harbor was bombed Irv recalled that he was playing in a semi-pro game, somewhere around Bakersfield, "the announcer came on, telling us that we'd been hit, and the game stopped." He downplayed his Army service where he spent the better of 3 years at Fort Ord, a base on Monterrey Bay that's now shuttered, and returned to parkland. He told me that he definitely grew up in the military, and "became a man." In the major leagues Irv knew all of the greats: Mantle, Stengel, Rizzuto, Berra, Lasorda, Branch Rickey ... but he was most profoundly inspired by his good friend Jackie Robinson,"the greatest player I ever saw," he said.
In my opinion, it was that deeply-rooted anticipation for "adversity" known by immigrants and outsiders that sealed their friendship. All of the WWII-era players I've interviewed were incredibly versatile athletes who mastered multiple sports at the highest levels. If they got injured or side-tracked they picked another sport. Irv played basketball with Jackie in the mid-40s with the integrated Los Angeles Red Devils. He was awed of the way "Jack" (as he called him) kept his cool and led baseball through its most brutal era.
After pro ball Irv opened a series of upscale bowling alleys, then he got into horse racing at Del Mar and was still going to the track when we spoke. My takeaway on Irv: his life journey was all about the chase. He was energized by the bumps in the road. He could pick the winners on the baseball diamond and the track, and what a journey it was.