Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Monte Irvin

Monte Irvin, one of the first African-Americans to play major league baseball and the oldest living veteran of the Negro Baseball Leagues passed away on Monday, a month before his 97th birthday.  Monte Irvin was a great ballplayer. Baseball Hall of Fame)

Joining the Newark Eagles in 1938 as a 19-year old, by 1940 Monte was a star in the Negro Leagues.  Like many of those players he was unable to play in the still-segregated major leagues during his prime years.  Things slowly changed after Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 and two years later the now 30-year old Monte was signed by the New York Giants and assigned to their top-level farm club in Jersey City.  Tearing up the league and hitting .373, Irvin was called up to join Giants at the end of the season hitting .224.

The start of the 1950 season found Monte back in Jersey City where in the opening weeks he hit .510 (yes, you are reading that correctly) prompting his recall to join the big league team.  It took Monte a bit to adjust to the majors.  On August 13 after 210 at bats he was hitting only .243 with an OPS of .754 when he caught fire for the rest of the campaign, hitting .372 with an OPS of 1.103. 

Big things were expected of Monte the following year as these excerpts from THC's 1951 Giants Yearbook demonstrate.

Monte delivered, hitting .312, hitting 24 homers, driving in a league leading 121 runs and with his fiery leadership, playing a key role in the Giants historic comeback from 13 1/2 down in mid-August to tie the Brooklyn Dodgers on the last day of the season, forcing a playoff which they dramatically won.  Irvin finished third in the MVP voting and also comprised 1/3 of the first all black outfield in the major leagues along with Hank Thompson and young rookie Willie Mays.

As you can see, Monte's performance led to a bigger spread in the Giants 1952 Yearbook but he broke his ankle early in the season.

Irvin returned to have another fine year in 1953 but age was beginning to catch up with him and 1956 was his last year in the big leagues.  Monte was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973.Willie Mays released this statement upon Monte's death:
I lost someone I cared about and admired very, very much: someone who was like a second father to me.  Monte was a kind of guy that you had to be around to get to know.  But once you became friends, he always had your back.  You had a friend for life.

Monte Irvin was a great left fielder.  Monte Irvin was a great man.  I will miss him. 
(Monte & Willie)

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