Emilio Navarro, the oldest surviving professional baseball player, died at 105 April 30. But he leaves behind a legacy of memories for Atlantic City.
ATLANTIC CITY — Michael Everett, director of the Atlantic City Pop Lloyd Committee, remembers the day he met Emilio Navarro, believed to have been the last surviving baseball player to have actually shared a field with Lloyd in the 1920s
“He was in his 90s and he was traveling with his son,” Everett explains. “So I figured his son would only be a couple decades younger, so I show up with two wheelchairs to help them. And I waited as the plane emptied, and nothing.
“I checked with the flight attendant and she said there’s nobody left on the plane. So I’m wondering what’s going on and finally I see his son Eric, and he’s fine, you know? He asks me: ‘Are you waiting for someone?’ And then Emilio comes walking out of the restroom. He sees the chair and laughs. Then he starts doing squats and toe touches and he’s laughing. I was stuck with these two wheelchairs.”
But that was Navarro, flashy dresser, spirited dancer and filled with a contagious energy for more than a century of life.
Navarro made several appearances at the committee’s annual Pop Lloyd Weekend celebration — held in Atlantic County, N.J. — featuring former Negro League players up until last October at the age of 105.
By that time, Navarro wasn’t just remembered as the last player to take the field with Lloyd (on opposing teams), but was believed to be the oldest living professional baseball player anywhere.
On April 30, however, Navarro’s long run finally ended as he died surrounded by family in his Ponce, Puerto Rico, home after suffering a heart attack. And he died with the recognition that so few Negro League players ever received.
As a shortstop and leadoff hitter for the New York-based Cuban Stars of the Eastern Colored League, Navarro batted .337 in 1929.
But he also played throughout Latin America during a long career including 20 years as a second basemen in Ponce. He was elected to the Puerto Rico Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Puerto Rico Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.
“He was very, very proud of Puerto Rico,” Everett recalls. “Whenever he was out, he would be dancing and laughing and people would just be thrilled by him. And there would always be a point that he would announce he was Puerto Rican. He was very proud of that.”
And he was a good friend to the local committee. As part of the annual Pop Lloyd celebration, the committee hosts former Negro League players at a series of events and symposiums, held at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and in Atlantic City over the past several years.
But to have a player who had actually played against Lloyd made Navarro a star of the events.
John Henry “Pop” Lloyd was born and raised in Florida and passed away nearly 50 years ago, but his name is still mentioned often in this area and his memory lives on, without exception, as one of Atlantic City’s most revered adopted sons.
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Today, most funding comes from city grants, local businesses and casino donations.
“I really don’t think there is a name as beloved in baseball as Clemente’s,” says Michael Everett, director of the Pop Lloyd Committee. “We already know a lot of people are turning out solely because of the connection to Clemente. It’s really amazing the command and the respect the name brings with it.”
Widely considered the top prospect in baseball, Trout was selected 25th overall by the Angels in the 2009 MLB Draft. Since then, the local product has been tearing up the minor leagues, which led to his promotion.
Pop Lloyd played professional baseball in the Negro Leagues from 1906 to 1932, as a shortstop, second baseman and first baseman, including two stints with the Bacharach Giants of Atlantic City. In 1910 he out-hit Ty Cobb in a Cuban winter league series — .500 to .385.
This year, the 17th annual John Henry "Pop" Lloyd weekend celebration kicked off on Friday, Oct. 2, with a slate of speakers in the Performing Arts Center at Richard Stockton College, beginning at 9am. Among the speakers were Belinda Manning, Pop Lloyd Committee president; Jerry Izenberg, Star Ledger columnist and author of Through My Eyes, Glenn Stout, author of From Highlands to History, Peter Golenbock and author of Jackie & Monte among numerous sports books. Baseball great Monte Irvin, Former Negro League and MLB star, will be joining other celebrants as the special weekend continues Saturday evening, Oct. 3, for the annual “Pop” Lloyd Dinner & Awards Program Honoring Veteran Negro League Players, which will be held in Atlantic City at the Trump Taj Mahal at 6pm. Tomorrow on, Sunday, Oct. 4, the weekend continues with a “Pop” Lloyd Commemorative Church Service at the Historic Asbury United Methodist Church, 1213 Pacific Ave., in Atlantic city at 10am. The things shift over to the Garden Pier where the Atlantic City Art Center will hold a special reception for the exhibit “Baseball & Jazz: The Art of Wayne Manns," which beings at 2pm. To find out more about the former baseball player who Babe Ruth...
AS MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL’S regular season winds down this week (c’mon Phils, nail that NL East title down already!) and most of the playoff match-ups have been determined (this Red Sox fan would like to thank rival AL West division winners the Los Angeles Angels for beating the Texas Rangers Tuesday night, thus helping the Sox clinch the AL Wild Card spot) there’s a lot of fantastic baseball watching to be had this month.
When it comes to celebrating the life and career of John Henry “Pop” Lloyd, one of the greatest stars of the early 20th century Negro Leagues and a man who adopted Atlantic City as his home, there is never a shortage of stories.
Babe Ruth's granddaughter Linda Ruth Tosetti with Pop Lloyd Youth Award recipient at the Pop Lloyd Dinner and Awards ceremony last weekend (photo by lou perri). Participants in Sho...
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