Al Montreuil

This article was written by Richard Cuicchi

Allan Montreuil was the true definition of a baseball “phenom.” Unlike most amateur players who acquire the label when they are in high school or college, Montreuil first got attention as a two-year-old. He went on become one of the most celebrated amateur players in New Orleans baseball history as a result of his athletic accomplishments during the 1950s and early 1960s. He was one of those young boys destined to become a big-league player, and indeed he finally reached the majors with the Chicago Cubs, albeit only for the proverbial “cup of coffee” at age 29 in 1972. However, the infielder’s professional career was ultimately defined by his 12 seasons in the minors, unable to reach his full potential.

Allan Arthur Montreuil (his family pronounces the surname MON-tree-all) was born in New Orleans on August 23, 1943. His parents were Roy and Florence (Howard) Montreuil, both originally from the “Crescent City.” Roy worked on the Higgins boats at a New Orleans shipyard during World War II and later for the United Fruit Company, while Florence was a housewife. Allan grew up on Sycamore Street in the Carrollton area of the city with younger brother Glenn and sister Janet. He also had an older half-brother and half-sister, Roy and Joyce Kipker.1

Allan’s father had not played organized baseball, but instilled an interest in the sport in his son while he was a toddler. Allan picked up the skills of the game so well that he was the subject of a “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” cartoon with a caption stating that as a two-year-old he had become adept in hitting, throwing, and catching a baseball. By age six he was already playing on a 10-year-old team at the New Orleans Recreational Department (NORD). As a batboy with the New Orleans Pelicans minor-league club, he once hit a ball over the fence during an opportunity to take batting practice with the Pelicans players.2

Part of the fascination of Montreuil’s rise in baseball as a child prodigy was his diminutive size. Growing up, he was usually smaller than most of his teammates. Even as a grown adult during his professional career, he stood only 5-feet-5 and weighed 160 pounds, one of the smallest major leaguers of his era.3

Not quite 13 years old in 1956, Montreuil’s NORD team won the state Babe Ruth league championship, and he went 6-for-8 in the regionals. Then his NORD team advanced to the Little World Series in the next season of Babe Ruth competition.4 At the time, New Orleans newspaper the Times-Picayune described Montreuil, a top-notch infielder, as the “NORD sensation for years” who “made plays a grown man would be proud of.”5 One of Montreuil’s Babe Ruth coaches was former major-leaguer “Fats” Dantonio. Montreuil would later be mentored by several of the most renowned amateur coaches in New Orleans.

He attended McMain Junior High and De La Salle High School, where he excelled in baseball. His lack of height was a handicap in playing other varsity sports. His father and De La Salle coach Johnny Altobello specifically agreed it was in Allan’s best interests for the smallish player to refrain from playing varsity football because of his baseball potential.6

The De La Salle Cavaliers were a baseball powerhouse in the New Orleans area during the late 1950s and early 1960s, and Montreuil was at the core of the team beginning as a freshman in 1958. The Cavaliers made three consecutive appearances in the Louisiana state baseball championship game, winning two state titles. He was named to the Times-Picayune Metro New Orleans All-Prep team all four years of his high school career. Twice he was selected for the All-State team.

Montreuil also played on De La Salle-based American Legion teams during the summers, and they had successes similar to those of his scholastic teams. The Legion teams won two state championships and finished as runner-up in a third season.

Throughout his prep career, Montreuil’s size was never a liability. He was frequently one of the hitting leaders in his district for both his high school and Legion teams. In addition to being an outstanding infielder, he also pitched for his teams.

His high school and Legion years overlapped those of another amateur legend in New Orleans, Rusty Staub, who played for rival Jesuit High School. It was Staub’s team that prevented Montreuil’s Cavaliers from reaching the state tournament a fourth time in 1961.7 Staub went on to sign with the Houston Colt .45s and have a standout 23-year major-league career.

Throughout the early part of his career, Montreuil pursued every opportunity to play in the leagues available for his age. When he became too old to compete in the All-American League in New Orleans in 1963, he took an opportunity to play in the Basin League with the Valentine (Nebraska) Hearts. He led the league (which consisted mainly of collegians) in hitting with a .375 average and was named MVP. Later that summer he also played with the semipro Ponchatoula (Louisiana) Athletics, who finished in second place in the National Baseball Congress tournament in Wichita, Kansas.8

In addition to high school coach Altobello, Montreuil came under the mentorship of long-time New Orleans coach Rags Scheuermann, who coached him on the All-American teams and was also the head baseball coach for Loyola University in New Orleans. It was no surprise Montreuil received a baseball scholarship to Loyola, with whom he played in 1962 and 1963.9

The 20-year-old decided to forgo his final two years of college baseball after he inked a professional contract in 1963 with the Boston Red Sox, who gave him an $8,000 bonus and agreed to fund the remainder of his college education. Danny Doyle, who had played for the Pelicans in 1946, was the Red Sox scout who signed him after the NBC tourney. Montreuil was recommended by former Red Sox great Bobby Doerr, who had seen him play in the Basin League and liked him as a hitter. Reportedly, Montreuil received several other offers from major-league clubs.10

Kevin Trower, another of the widely respected coaches in New Orleans, made these comments in an interview with the Times-Picayune after Montreuil signed his pro contract. “I lived half a block from Allan. He was a child prodigy who handled himself like a major-leaguer when he was three years old. Nobody taught Allan to hit, or field, or throw. He was born with the natural physical actions of a pro and the baseball instinct of a Hall of Famer.” He added, “I have coached him on my team and against him, and have always been convinced that Allan was born to play in the major leagues.11

Coach Altobello offered this assessment: “In a ball player, a scout looks for a boy with a strong arm, who can run, hit and field. Allan can not only do all of those things, but best of all, he can think and always make the right play. Allan’s height is not a handicap. He can do everything and more that a 6’ 2” man can do in baseball.”12

Montreuil reported to Boston’s Class A affiliate, the Waterloo Hawks, for his first pro season in 1964. His Waterloo manager, Matt Sczesny, saw Montreuil’s potential right off the bat during spring training, despite his lack of optimism about the team as a whole, “We won’t hit much, but we’ve got one kid (Montreuil) who really swings a good bat. And he’ll help a lot, too.”13

It appeared Montreuil would continue to live up to his “phenom” billing, as he got off to a hot start with the bat. He was named Topps Chewing Gum’s Player of the Month in May.14 After the first two months of the season, he was batting .341 with eight homers and 30 RBIs, while scoring 29 runs and stealing eight bases. Sczesny praised Montreuil’s performance at that point: “I will say this for him. I think he has good baseball sense. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time.”15

He wound up hitting .328 with 15 home runs, 63 RBIs, and 25 stolen bases for the season. He collected 90 walks and struck out only 28 times in 479 plate appearances. He was named the North Division’s shortstop for the Midwest League All-Star Game.16

Montreuil earned a promotion to Double-A Pittsfield in the Eastern League in 1965, where he played under manager Eddie Popowski. Popowski was said to frequently joke he was glad to have Montreuil around, since the little infielder was one inch shorter than him (though by other accounts, Popowski stood just 5-foot-4 or 5-foot-5). Montreuil had the benefit of tutoring from Bobby Doerr during spring practice. Doerr was high on the prospects for a good Pittsfield team that season and was impressed by the diminutive infielder, about whom he said, “Montreuil will be a big leaguer. He can do everything.”17 However, Montreuil’s batting average (.247) and power (four homers) dropped off significantly from the year before. Yet Doerr’s prediction about Pittsfield was spot on, since they won the league championship, their first in 44 years, by one game over Elmira.

Montreuil’s 1966 season with Pittsfield was similar to 1965 from a statistical standpoint, as he hit .254 with two homers and 46 RBIs. In 1967 he got a brief promotion to Triple-A Toronto, when he filled in for the Maple Leafs’ injured second baseman, Syd O’Brien. Montreuil’s promotion came about because Toronto’s shortstop, Albert Lehrer, specifically recommended to manager Eddie Kasko that his former teammate at Pittsfield replace O’Brien. Montreuil’s game-winning home run in his first game with the Maple Leafs made Lehrer look brilliant as a judge of talent.18 However, Montreuil later appeared to be overmatched by pitching at that level, hitting only .146 in 33 games for the Maple Leafs. Yet he managed to hit a respectable .268 in 94 games with Pittsfield.

In 1968 Montreuil was a member of the Pittsfield team for a fourth season. They won the Eastern League regular season title and then lost to Reading in the finals of the playoffs. He finished with a .240 batting average, two homers, and 32 RBIs.

With shortstop Rico Petrocelli and second baseman Mike Andrews firmly entrenched in the Boston infield, the outlook for Montreuil to secure a potential spot on the major-league roster looked slim. Reportedly, he was characterized by Red Sox officials as “too big to be a jockey and too small to be a baseball player.”19 Consequently, the Red Sox dealt Montreuil to the Chicago Cubs in a trade that originated when pitcher Ray Culp was traded by the Cubs to Boston on November 30, 1967, for minor-leaguer Bill Schlesinger and cash. Montreuil became a replacement for Schlesinger in January 1969, since Schlesinger had been reacquired by the Red Sox organization during the 1968 season.20

Montreuil started the 1969 season with Double-A San Antonio in the Chicago Cubs organization, but then was promoted to Triple-A Tacoma, where he played second base for the Pacific Coast League playoff champions. For the season, he batted .285 in 63 games with Tacoma and .278 in 35 games for San Antonio.

For the next five seasons (1970-1974), Montreuil played with the Cubs’ Triple-A clubs at Tacoma and Wichita. In 1972 his slash line was .269/.376/.403 in 91 games before getting a call-up to the big-league Cubs to help fill in for second basemen Glenn Beckert and Paul Popovich, who incurred injuries in late 1972. Had Chicago still been in the hunt for the National League East championship, the call might not have come at all. There had been rumors that the Cubs might activate the beloved Ernie Banks, who was serving as the team’s first-base coach. Yet while Chicago was in second place, the Pittsburgh Pirates were a comfortable 11 games ahead.21

Montreuil made his major-league debut on September 1, going 1-for-5 against the San Diego Padres. He was inserted into the lineup only five minutes before the game, when Joe Pepitone was removed from the lineup because of a headache. The Cubs overwhelmed the Padres, 14-3, but not before a vicious bench-emptying, three-minute brawl broke out in the fourth inning following two consecutive Cubs home runs. Padres pitcher Bill Greif, who had a rep as a headhunter, triggered the episode by knocking Rick Monday down with a pitch after the second homer. Montreuil, who singled off Greif in that same inning, was reported as asking his new teammates after the game, “Does this happen every day?”22 In an interview with the Times-Picayune, Montreuil said about his debut game, “Of course it was quite a thrill to play in a big-league park, to wear a big-league uniform. I hit the ball well five times, but it was right at somebody four of them.”23

Although not in the lineup on September 2, Montreuil was at Wrigley Field to witness a notable game: Cubs teammate Milt Pappas threw a no-hitter against San Diego. Pappas came within one out of pitching a perfect game, as the only Padres baserunner, Larry Stahl, walked on a full count with two outs in the ninth inning.

After playing as a late-inning substitute in the game on September 3, Montreuil wound up sitting out two weeks with a pulled hamstring.

He was the starting second baseman for the Cubs on October 3 in Steve Carlton’s 27th victory of the season for the Philadelphia Phillies, a team that won only 59 games that season. Montreuil was hitless against Carlton in four plate appearances that included a walk and reaching base on catcher’s interference.

Altogether he played in five games for the Cubs, getting just the lone hit in 11 at-bats for a .091 average. It would be his only time in the majors.

Cubs manager Whitey Lockman said about Montreuil’s brief stay, “He didn’t get a chance to play an awful lot. He did a good enough job for us. He hit the ball real well in one game.  He’s never had a real chance, though, to prove he could hit in the big leagues for an extended period of time.”24

Another point of interest about Montreuil’s time with the Cubs arose through the team’s TV broadcaster, Jack Brickhouse. The book Cubs by the Numbers later mistakenly believed that Brickhouse was pronouncing Montreuil’s name wrongly, thinking that it should have been Mon-TROY, similar to the original French way.25 But unlike another Chicago broadcasting legend, Harry Caray, who was widely known for mangling pronunciations, Brickhouse had it right with ‘Montréal,’ like the Canadian city.

Returning to Wichita in 1973, Montreuil had an even better season than the previous year. His slash line was .302./.371/.401, including five home runs and 58 RBIs. Yet All-Star infielders Don Kessinger and Beckert were on the big-league club, and Montreuil was by then 29 years old. Thus, he didn’t receive much consideration for a permanent spot on the Cubs’ roster.

Montreuil had a disappointing season with Wichita in 1974, in which he missed almost two weeks of action owing to the death of his mother. He took a demotion to Double-A Midland for the 1975 season, becoming a player-coach. The smallest player on the roster, Montreuil hit a tape-measure home run of 440 feet at the Midland ballpark on April 13.26 He was named the Topps Texas League Player of the Month for July.27 Midland won the West Division title and was named league co-champion with East Division leader Lafayette. After the teams had split four games, the rest of the playoff was canceled because of rain. Montreuil posted his best season (.324/.414/.468, nine homers, and 62 RBIs) since his first pro campaign 11 years earlier. He was named to the league’s postseason All-Star team.

At age 31, after toiling 12 seasons in the minors and feeling the effects of nagging injuries, Montreuil called it quits as a player. Midland wanted him back as a player-coach, but Montreuil only wanted to coach. Yet there wasn’t room on the club for another full-time coach, so he asked for his release from the Cubs, wanting to continue in a non-playing aspect of the game.28 He considered taking a scouting job for a major-league organization. When New Orleans was being considered for a major-league franchise in anticipation of opening the Louisiana Superdome in 1975, he hoped to land a job in baseball related to the new franchise. But the big-league club never materialized in New Orleans.29

With no baseball-related job in sight, Montreuil went into business for himself in the New Orleans area. He co-owned a laundromat with his half-brother Roy and then worked in real estate for nearly 20 years. He retired in 1999 after having cardiac problems. He was an avid golfer and served as a coach for his son’s high school baseball team, where he enjoyed imparting his knowledge of baseball and teaching the kids to play the game the right way.30

Montreuil married Carolyn Melito in 1963, shortly after signing with the Red Sox. They had two sons, Allan Jr. and Marc. Carolyn was a registered nurse. For 40 years, the Montreuils lived in the New Orleans suburb of Terrytown.31

Allan Jr. recalled his family visiting his dad during the summers he was playing in the minors. The Sporting News noted his attendance at one of his father’s games in Pittsfield in 1967, when he was recognized for being the youngest fan in the ballpark.32 When he was 11 years old, he spent the summer with his dad in Midland while his mother was attending nursing classes in New Orleans. Allan Jr. ultimately followed in his father’s footsteps by making high school all-district teams; he later played shortstop for Delgado Community College in New Orleans, which reached the Junior College World Series in 1985.33

In a 1973 interview with the Times-Picayune, well before his minor-league career ended, Allan Sr. said his main regret about his career was he didn’t play enough in the majors to qualify for a pension. In effect, he felt like he got nothing back for his long commitment to pro baseball.34

By his own admission, Montreuil didn’t attain a permanent major-league spot with the Cubs because “I probably wasn’t good enough.” He also believed that having Kessinger and Beckert ahead of him didn’t help his chances either. He told the Times-Picayune in 1983, “You have to be in the right place at the right time. There’s a lot of luck involved. I wish my stay in Chicago had been longer. It’s a great experience, one I’ll never forget.”35

Montreuil died of complications from his cardiac problems on January 18, 2008. He was 64. During his final illness, he was a patient at West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero, another New Orleans suburb. Montreuil had served as a volunteer at that hospital after the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina hit the area in August 2005. The staff greatly appreciated his efforts to boost morale.36

A decade after Montreuil’s death, Carmen Fanzone, a former teammate in the minors and with the Cubs, echoed the point about luck. When asked why he thought Montreuil didn’t have a longer stay in The Show, Fanzone offered, “It’s a big deal to reach the majors, even if only for a short stint like Al. At times even the really good minor-league players don’t make it and sometimes they just have to be lucky.” Fanzone recalled Montreuil fighting to overcome his small stature. “He was a strong guy and often tried to hit for power, but it possibly hurt him. Maybe he should have focused more on just being a singles hitter.”

Fanzone added, “I played with Al at several levels. He was a great teammate.”37

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and fact-checked by Warren Corbett.

 

Sources

The author also conducted a telephone interview with Marc Montreuil, Allan Montreuil’s son, on August 16, 2018.

In addition to the notes below, the author consulted the following sources.

Barrouquere, Peter and Peneguy, Will.  “The Organization Man: A Tightrope,” Times-Picayune, May 28, 1976: Section 4, 1.

“Istrouma Whips Cavs for State Crown, 6-2,” Times-Picayune, May 21, 1960: Section 2, 9.

Johnson, Lloyd and Wolff, Miles, eds. Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball: Third Edition (Durham, NC: Baseball America, 2007).

Wicker, N. Charles. “Cavaliers Beat Bolton, 9-2, to Capture State Crown,” Times-Picayune, May 17, 1958: 18.

Wicker, N. Charles. “De La Salle Dominates T-P All-State Nine,” Times-Picayune, May 24, 1959: Section 6, 6.

 

Notes

1 Author’s telephone interview with Carolyn Montreuil, Allan Montreuil’s wife, on August 15, 2018.

2 Ibid.

3 Several newspaper articles during his pro career reported Montreuil as being 5’4” tall. Baseball-Reference.com lists him as 5’5”.

4 Nate Cohen. “Babe Ruth Tourneys Replete With Thrills,” Times-Picayune, July 25, 1964: Section 6, 6.

5 Bill Keefe. “Viewing the News,” Times-Picayune, August 6, 1957: 17.

6 Author’s interview with Carolyn Montreuil.

7 N. Charles Wicker. “Jesuit Dominates All-Prep Baseball Squad,” Times-Picayune, May 21, 1961: Section 6, 6.

8 Nate Cohen. “Al Montreuil Signs Bonus Red Sox Pact,” Times-Picayune, August 26, 1963: Section 2, 7.

9 Author’s interview with Carolyn Montreuil.

10 Nate Cohen. “Al Montreuil Signs Bonus Red Sox Pact”

11 Bill Keefe. “Viewing the News,” Times-Picayune, August 18, 1963: Section 6, 2.

12 Ibid.

13 Bob Herdien. “Tiny But Mighty—Montreuil Gives Waterloo Wallop,” The Sporting News, August 22, 1964: 41.

14 “Here they are: The Winners of the 5th Annual Topps Minor League Player-of-the Month Awards,” The Sporting News, October 31, 1964: 40.

15 N. Charles Wicker. “What’s What,” Times-Picayune, June 7, 1964: Section 6, 6.

16 Nate Cohen. “The Prep Beat,” Times-Picayune, June 23, 1964: Section 2, 10.

17 Roger O’Gara, “Fair or Foul,” The Berkshire Eagle, April 15, 1965: 25.

18 “Leafs Get Lift from Lehrer,” The Sporting News, August 26, 1972: 30.

19 Roger O’Gara. “Fair or Foul,” The Berkshire Eagle, August 29. 1969: 21.

20 “Allan Montreuil Traded to San Antonio, Cubs’ Farm,” The Berkshire Eagle, January 18, 1969.

21 “Montreuil Chosen Over Banks,” Kokomo (Indiana) Tribune, September 1, 1972: 19.

22 George Langford. “Cubs Romp 14-3: Fists, Base Hits Fly,” Chicago Tribune, September 2, 1972: Section 2, 1.

23 Peter Barrouquere.  “A Decade to Nowhere?,” Times-Picayune, June 18, 1973: Section 3, 12.

24 Ibid.

25 Al Yellon, Kasey Ignarski, and Matthew Silverman, Cubs by the Numbers, New York: Sports Publishing (2009).

26 “Texas League: Tape Measure Homer,” The Sporting News, May 3, 1975: 32.

27 “Topps Honors Maloof for Third Time,” The Sporting News, September 20, 1975: 36.

28 George Sweeney, “Montreuil enjoys playing in dad’s footsteps,” Times-Picayune, June 17, 1983: Section 3, 9.

29 Barrouquere.

30 Author’s interview with Carolyn Montreuil.

31 “Allan Arthur Montreuil Sr.,” Times-Picayune, January 20, 2008.

32 “Eastern League,” The Sporting News, September 9, 1967: 35.

33 Author’s telephone interview with Allan Montreuil Jr., son of Allan Montreuil, August 16, 2018.

34 Barrouquere.

35 Sweeney.

36 “Allan Arthur Montreuil Sr.”

37 Author’s telephone interview with Carmen Fanzone, October 2, 2018. Fanzone and Montreuil played together at Pittsfield (1968-68) and Tacoma (1971).