Monte Irvin

A photo of Monte Irvin.

Monford Merrill "Monte" Irvin (February 25, 1919 – January 11, 2016) was an American left fielder and right-handed batter in the Negro Leagues and Major League Baseball who played with the Newark Eagles (1938-42, 46-48), New York Giants (1949-55) and Chicago Cubs (1956).

Although born in Haleburg, Alabama, Irvin grew up in Orange, New Jersey, one of five players who grew up in the Garden State to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. In high school, he starred in four sports and set a state record in the javelin throw. Monte Irvin attended Lincoln University and was a star football player.

Irvin was one of the first black players to be signed after baseball's color line was broken by Jackie Robinson in 1947. He fashioned a career of dual excellence both with the Eagles in the Negro Leagues, and with the Giants in the National League. After hitting in the Negro Leagues for high marks of .422 and .396 (1940-41), Irvin won the Triple Crown in the Mexican League with a .398 batting average and 30 home runs in 68 games, being rewarded with the Most Valuable Player award. After serving in the military in World War II (1943-45), he returned to the Eagles to lead his team to a league pennant. Irvin won his second batting championship hitting .401, and was instrumental in beating the Kansas City Monarchs in a seven-game Negro League World Series, batting .462 with three home runs. He was a five-time Negro League All-Star (1940-41, 1946-48).

He was approached in 1945 by Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey about being signed for the major leagues, but Irvin felt he was not ready to play at that level so soon after leaving the service. Irvin earned MVP honors in the 1945-46 Puerto Rican Winter League, and after he spent the 1948-49 winter in Cuba, the Giants paid $5,000 for his contract. Assigned to Jersey City (International League), Irvin batted .373. He debuted with the Giants on July 8, 1949 as a pinch-hitter. Back with Jersey City in 1950, he was called up after hitting .510 with 10 HR in 18 games. Irvin batted .299 for the Giants that season, playing first base and the outfield.

In 1951, Irvin sparked the Giants' miraculous comeback to overtake the Dodgers in the pennant race, batting .312 with 24 homers and a league-best 121 runs batted in, en route to the World Series (he went 11-24 for .458). That year Irvin teamed with Hank Thompson and Willie Mays to form the first all-black outfield in the majors. Later, he finished third in the NL's MVP voting. In 1952 he was named to the NL All-Star team.

In his major league career, Irvin batted .293, with 99 home runs, 443 RBI, 366 runs scored, 731 hits, 97 doubles, 31 triples, and 28 stolen bases, with 351 walks for a .383 on base percentage, and 1187 total bases for a .475 slugging average in 764 games played.

After retiring, Irvin worked as a scout for the New York Mets from 1967-68 and later spent 17 years (1968-1984) as a public relations specialist for the commissioner's office under the Bowie Kuhn administration. In this capacity he became the target of scorn--not racial, but because of what the public saw as a double standard. When Commissioner Kuhn, who had ordered the Braves not to bench Hank Aaron in the opening series in Cincinnati at the start of the 1974 season, sent Irvin to Atlanta, the fans booed Irvin because the Commissioner was holding Aaron to a stricter standard than he cared to follow himself (he attended a "boosters" event for the Cleveland Indians).

Monte Irvin was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973, primarily on the basis of his play in the Negro Leagues. Today, he serves on the Veterans Committee of the Hall of Fame and actively campaigns for recognition of deserving Negro League veterans.

On January 11, 2016, Irvin died of natural causes in Houston at the age of 96. Prior to his death, he lived in a retirement community in Houston. He also served on the Veterans Committee of the Hall of Fame. The Giants wore a patch in his memory for the 2016 season, a black circle with an orange outline with "Monte" on top of his number 20, to be worn on the left sleeve.

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Preceded by:
Del Ennis
National League RBI Champion
Succeeded by:
Hank Sauer
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