Former Negro League & MLB player Monte Irvin passed away yesterday at the age of 96.
Irvin’s baseball career would begin in 1938 with the Newark Eagles at the age of 19 and would play with them through 1948 except for a three year stint in the Army where he served in Europe with the GS Engineers, 1313th Battalion.
When he returned to the States, Brooklyn Dodgers President & General Manager Branch Rickey approached him about the possibility of being the first African-American to play in MLB. However, Irvin felt he was rusty after being away from baseball for three years and declined. Of course, Rickey would ultimately sign Jackie Robinson.
But Irvin was the first black player to be signed by the New York Giants in 1949 and would make his debut with the club later that year. Irvin’s finest season in the bigs was 1951 when he led the NL in RBI with 121. That was the year the Giants came back from a 13 ½ game deficit against the Dodgers to win the NL pennant. Irvin would finish third in NL MVP balloting behind Stan Musial and Roy Campanella who would win the first of his three NL MVPs.
A broken leg would limit Irvin to 46 games in 1952, but he would earn his only NL All-Star selection that season. Irvin would earn a World Series with the Giants in 1954 in which they swept the Cleveland Indians. As much as anything else, Irvin served as a mentor to Willie Mays.
Irvin finished his big league career with the Chicago Cubs in 1956. In eight big league seasons, Irvin hit .293 with 99 HR and 443 RBI. For his play both in the Negro Leagues and in MLB, Irvin would be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973.
After serving as a scout for the New York Mets, Irvin spent many years working for MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.
At the time of his death, Irvin was the oldest living Negro League player and second oldest living MLB player. Only Boston Red Sox legend Bobby Doerr, who turns 98 in April, is older.
Here is a video of Irvin’s Hall of Fame induction speech in 1973. Irvin began his remarks by saying he’d “rather face Warren Spahn than make a speech.” Irvin also paid tribute to Roberto Clemente who was posthumously inducted after a plane crash claimed his life the previous New Year’s Eve. Irvin said he hoped his induction would “ease the pain of all those (Negro League) players who didn’t get a chance to play in the major leagues.”
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