Obituary: Irv Noren (1924-2019)

RIP to Irv Noren, who for 10 years was an All-Star outfielder/first baesman and a three-time World Series champ as a player. He died on November 15 in his home in Carlsbad, Calif. He was 94 years old. Noren played for the Washington Senators (1950-52), New York Yankees (1952-56), Kansas City Athletics (1957), St. Louis Cardinals (1957-59), Chicago Cubs (1959-60) and Los Angeles Dodgers (1950).

Irving Noren was born on November 29, 1924 in Jamestown, N.Y., although he attended high school and college in Pasadena, Calif. He wasn’t just a talented baseball player. Early on in his minor-league career, he also played some pro basketball; his teammates included Jackie Robinson and George Mikan, according to the New York Times.

Noren signed his first pro baseball contract in 1946 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, after completing his military service. He’d made a name for himself as a pitcher and first baseman in California, in high school, college and semipro ball. The Dodgers had him focus on his offensive abilities, and Noren wouldn’t pitch in a professional ballgame until he was working as a player/manager in Hawaii in his late 30s.

Source: Iowa City Press Citizen, July 20, 1954.

It didn’t take long for Noren to demonstrate his potential. He hit .363 in his first pro season with Santa Barbara of the California League, and he kept hitting as he moved up through the Dodgers organization. Two good seasons with the Fort Worth Cats (He was the Texas League MVP in 1948) led to a breakout season with the Hollywood Stars in 1949. In 180 games, Noren clobbered 29 home runs and drove in 130 runs while hitting .330. For the second year in a row, he was named league MVP, this time the Pacific Coast League, and the Stars became PCL champions.

The Dodgers didn’t have a spot for a hard hitting rookie center fielder in their lineup, but the Senators did, and Washington owner Clark Griffith paid a whopping $70,000 to acquire Noren in 1950. Senators manager Bucky Harris had plans to convert Noren to a first baseman, but the rookie was sidelined for three weeks in May due to an appendectomy, and the team nabbed Mickey Vernon from Cleveland while he was out. So, Noren stayed in center field and delivered a wonderful rookie season. He slashed .295/.375/.459, with 14 home runs and 98 RBIs, finishing 15th in the MVP voting.

Noren kept pace in his sophomore season of 1951, with a .279 average, 86 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. One of those base thefts ended up being particularly painful, as he caught a throw from the catcher in the face, knocking out four teeth and fracturing his jaw. That injury, which cost him a month of playing time, came days after he missed time from a collision with teammate Gil Coan in another game. He would spend most of his career battling injuries.

“If I can stay healthy, I know I can hit .300 in the big leagues,” he said. “I’m sure I could have driven in 100 runs each year if I hadn’t been out of the lineup.”

Through his first two seasons, Noren became an attractive bargaining chip with other teams. The Senators finally cashed in on him on May 3, 1952. He was traded to the Yankees in a six-player deal that saw Jackie Jensen and Spec Shea move to the Senators. The Yankees needed a power bat, and while Noren didn’t perform well after the trade, he would give the Yankees some good seasons. The Yankees beat the Dodgers in the ’52 World Series, and Noren contributed 3 hits and an RBI in 10 at-bats.

These early 1950s Yankees teams had great outfielders, including Gene Woodling, Hank Bauer and, of course, Mickey Mantle. As good as Noren could be, that was an exceptionally tough starting lineup to crack. While he didn’t play every single day, he was able to spell all three outfielders regularly, along with first baseman Joe Collins. He saw plenty of playing time and made the most of it.

Noren was called “the best fourth outfielder in baseball” by his Yankee mates, but he played so well at times that manager Casey Stengel couldn’t keep him on the bench. Stengel made him a regular outfielder in early 1954 and he responded by going on a month-long tear of hitting around .440. He made the All-Star team in 1954 and led the Yankees in hitting, with a .319 average to go with 12 home runs and 21 doubles. He played an inning of left field in the All-Star Game, replacing Ted Williams in the 9th inning.

Stengel marveled at more than Noren’s hitting. “He’s made some amazing catches, diving and running, and he throws well. He runs the bases good and he hits the ball to all fields. I’d say he’s covered just about everything in the business during the past month,” he said of Noren.

Noren won two more World Series and an AL pennant with the Yankees. He was 0-for-1 with a walk in the 1953 Series win over the Dodgers. He also ended up $100 poorer, as he was fined by Commissioner Ford Frick for protesting an error on a Billy Martin grounder that he felt should have been a hit. He waved a towel from the dugout, which Frick characterized as an “outburst.” Noren hit just .055 in the 1955 Series loss to the Dodgers, grounding into 5 double plays. The Yankees also won the Series in 1956, but Noren didn’t play in the postseason and barely played in the regular season. He had undergone offseason surgery in 1955 to have cartilage removed from both knees in 1955, but he was limited to 29 regular-season games and a .216 average in 37 at-bats in ’56.

Irv Noren owned and operated several businesses in California, including Irv Noren’s Lanes bowling alley. He shows the basics here to his daughter. Source: Los Angeles Times, February 1, 1959.

Noren spent the final seasons of his playing career on the move pretty frequently. He was traded to the Kansas City A’s in February, 1957 and stayed with the team until August. He batted .213 in 81 games with only 2 home runs and was claimed by the Cardinals. He returned to form with St. Louis, hitting .367 in 17 games to close out the ’57 season and then .264 in a part-time role in 1958. He was traded to the Cubs in May, 1959 for outfielder Chuck King and went on his last great tear in the majors. In 65 games, Noren hit .321 with 4 home runs. He struggled badly in 1960, hitting a combined .167 for the Cubs and Dodgers.

In 11 seasons, Noren slashed .275/.348/.410, with 65 home runs among his 857 hits. He drove in 453 runs and generated 14.9 Wins Above Replacement. He was an above-average outfielder at all three outfield positions.

Noren was involved with many businesses during his playing career. The opening of the Irv Noren Lanes bowling alley in Pasadena in 1957 attracted stars from across the sporting world. Noren returned to baseball in 1962 to serve as player/manager of the new Hawaii Islanders. He held the position for two seasons and occasionally gave his pitching staff a break by putting himself on the mound. He hit fairly well and even won a game as a pitcher in 1963. He served as a scout for the Senators for a season in 1964 before turning back to his businesses.

Noren returned to the diamond to serve as a third-base coach for the Oakland A’s from 1971-74, working with old friend and A’s manager Dick Williams. The A’s won three World Series during that time. He was considered a favorite to land the manager role in 1974 after Williams left, but the job went to Al Dark. Dark fired Noren on July 9, after claiming Noren gave incorrect signals to batters. He spent a season as third base coach for the Cubs in 1975 before retiring from baseball.

According to The New York Times, Noren bred thoroughbred horses in Southern California, in addition to his other businesses.

One fun anecdote: When the Islanders began play in 1962, its games were televised in Hawaii. Harry Kalas, future Hall of Fame broadcaster for the Phillies, was in Hawaii on military service and got his first announcing job with the team. In the first televised game, he was hurried onto the field to conduct a pre-game interview with Noren.

“I began my interview, ‘It is only fitting that the first game to be played in Hawaii is on television, Irv how do you think the team will do this year?'” Kalas recalled in 1977.

“Noren looked at me and said, ‘Harry, we have a lousy club and we’ll be lucky if we win 20 games this year.’ My heart went up into my throat and I thought my career was over before it got started.”

None of that made it onto the air, of course. It was an elaborate set-up, and Noren welcomed the new broadcaster into baseball with a classic prank.

For more information: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/15/sports/baseball/irv-noren-dead.html

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One thought on “Obituary: Irv Noren (1924-2019)

  1. During the years that Mr. Noren was out of baseball, he owned a couple of sporting goods stores. He personally sold me my high school letterman’s jacket back in 1967. Very nice man and a thrill to meet a former MLB player.

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