Monte Irvin with the New York Giants, ca. 1953 (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)“Baseball is a game you’d play for nothing. And I am so happy the Lord gave me a little ability, because it allowed me to meet a lot of good people and see so many exciting places.” ~ Monte Irvin
Yesterday would have been Monte Irvin’s 100th birthday. Irvin, who passed away in 2016, spent eight years in the major leagues, after nine years in the Negro Leagues and three in the Army. He was just the seventh African American player in Major League Baseball, and a member of the first all-black MLB outfield in 1951, along with Willie Mays and Hank Thompson.
Monford Merrill Irvin was born in Haleburg, Alabama, on February 25, 1919. He moved to Orange, New Jersey, with his family when he was a child. After playing for the semi-pro Orange Triangles, Irvin joined the Newark Eagles in 1938. When he did not get the raise he asked for in 1942, Irvin went to Mexico and played for the Veracruz Azules. During the off season, he was drafted into the Army, where he spent three years in England, France, and Belgium, and served in the Battle of the Bulge.
Irvin returned to the Eagles in 1945. While with the Eagles, he played winter ball in Puerto Rico and Cuba. In 1949, Irvin signed with the New York Giants, earning a salary of $5,000. In 1949 and 1950, he split time between the Giants and their AAA affiliate, the Jersey City Giants, making his major league debut on July 8, 1949. Irvin played with the Giants through the 1955 season, after having been an all-star in 1952 and playing in two World Series – the Giants lost in 1951, but won the World Series in 1954.
Monte Irvin’s baseball awards and accomplishments include:
- 5-time Negro League All-Star, 1941, 1946-48 (two All-Star games in 1946)
- Mexican League Triple Crown winner, 1942
- Puerto Rico Winter League MVP, 1945-46
- Negro League Batting Champion (with a .401 batting average), 1946
- NL RBI leader, 1951
- MLB All-Star, 1952
Irvin signed with the Chicago Cubs for the 1956 season, but in 1957 a back injury during spring training led to his retirement. After his playing career, held a variety of jobs, including being a scout for the New York Mets from 1967 to 1968. In 1968, he became the first Black MLB executive when he was appointed to the position of Public Relations Specialist for the Commissioner’s Office, a position he held until his retirement in 1984.
Irvin was elected to the Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame a year later. The San Francisco Giants retired his uniform number in 2010.
Happy Birthday, Monte!