Three years ago, Skip Bertman traveled to Furman University to deliver a speech at the school’s first pitch banquet.
Bertman, LSU’s championship-winning baseball coach, may not have made the trip without a promised reward when he arrived in South Carolina.
“I got to meet Alvin Dark,” Bertman said.
Dark, a longtime major league manager and All-Star shortstop who played football and baseball at LSU and Louisiana-Lafayette, died Thursday. He was 92.
“He was always a hero of mine,” Bertman said.
Dark, the 1948 major league Rookie of the Year and a three-time All-Star, played on two New York Giants World Series teams in the 1950s and led the Oakland A’s to a World Series title.
In 1951, Dark began one of the greatest rallies in baseball history with a leadoff single in the bottom of the ninth inning for the New York Giants in an NL pennant playoff against Brooklyn. Bobby Thomson capped that comeback with a home run that became known as “The Shot Heard ’Round the World.”
Born in Comanche, Oklahoma, Dark was an all-Southeastern Conference halfback for the LSU football team in 1942, and he played for the Tigers baseball squad in 1943 before transferring to Southwestern Louisiana Institute (now UL-Lafayette) through the V-12 Navy College Training Program.
He was a football and baseball star for the Bulldogs, now the Ragin’ Cajuns.
Dark has a street named after him — Alvin Dark Ave. — just south of LSU’s campus in Baton Rouge. He still has relatives living in Lake Charles.
“This guy is a legend,” LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri said. “Tremendous loss for the LSU community.”
Mainieri met Dark about two years ago and received an autographed photo from him. A Dark-signed baseball is in a glass case in LSU’s hall of fame room at Alex Box Stadium. Dark was inducted into the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame in 1981.
“Gritty manager,” Mainieri said. “He was a throwback. He played for the love of the game in a hard-nosed aggressive way. I learned a lot from him. Didn’t even know him, but learned a lot.”
Mainieri said he never realized Dark played at LSU until becoming the coach of the Tigers in 2007.
“I thought that was really cool,” Mainieri said.
Dark’s relationship with his Latin players proved a source of friction during his time as manager of the San Francisco Giants in the ’60s. He was said to have asked them to refrain from speaking Spanish at the ballpark; among the Latin stars on those teams were future Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal, plus Felipe Alou.
Cepeda told The Associated Press on Thursday that he often saw Dark in later years and “Every time he saw me, he felt very sorry for what he did to the Latino players.”
“He didn’t know our background or where we came from. I said, ‘Alvin, that’s in the past now, that’s in the past,’ ” Cepeda said. “I don’t have grudges against nobody.”
Cepeda said that as he got older, he could better appreciate the baseball advice that Dark imparted to his players.
“He was ahead of his time,” Cepeda said. “He was a great baseball man. He made me play hard, because he said I had so much talent.”
Dark was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles. He chose baseball and was named the sport’s top rookie in 1948 with the pennant-winning Boston Braves.
A shortstop for most of his 14 big league seasons, Dark was a three-time National League All-Star (1951, ’52, ’54) during his seven seasons in New York. He was a .289 career hitter with 2,009 hits and 1,064 runs in 1,828 games, and he finished his playing career in 1960 with the Milwaukee Braves.
“To me, as a kid growing up, he was a baseball superstar,” Bertman said.
Dark became the manager of the Giants in 1960 — the club had moved to San Francisco in 1958 — and led them to the 1962 World Series, where the Giants lost in seven games to the New York Yankees.
After leaving San Francisco in 1964, Dark managed the Kansas City Athletics (1966-67), the Cleveland Indians (1968-71), the Oakland Athletics (1974-75) and the San Diego Padres (1977). He led Oakland to the 1974 World Series title as the A’s defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Dark is survived by his wife of 44 years, Jackie; his ex-wife, Adriene Dark; and six children — four from his previous marriage (Gene Dark, Allison Walling, Eve Carpenter and Margaret Robinson) and two with Jackie (Lori Nail and Rusty Dark).
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.