Historic Baseball

Historic Baseball

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Monte Irvin

Monford Irvin
Born: Feb. 25, 1919 in Columbia, Ala.
Debut: 1949 | Pos: OF
H: 6’1″ | W: 195 | B: R | T: R


>> Visit the Monte Irvin biography on Baseball Almanac for complete statistics.

As is the case with many of Monte Irvin’s contemporaries, the impact they could have had on Major League baseball is always based upon the impact they did have on the Negro Leagues. What is known, however, is, that even at the age of 30, Monte Irvin played impressively in professional baseball.

Irvin, who had spent much of the prime of his career in the Negro Leagues, got the opportunity to play for the New York Giants in the 1949 season, when he was 30 years old.

“This should have happened to me 10 years ago,” Irvin said, talking about his signing with Major League Baseball. “I’m not even half the ballplayer I was then.”

Athletic success was not something new to Irvin. As a high school athlete, Irvin had been all-state caliber in baseball, football and basketball. He had even been offered a football scholarship to Michigan that had been revoked when he asked for $100 to help him move to Ann Arbor. He ended up at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania where he was studying to become a history professor.

In 1937, while he was still in college, Irvin signed a deal with the Newark Eagles, a Negro League baseball club. Because he was an undergraduate, Irvin played only in road games and then, only, under an assumed name. After his sophomore year at Lincoln, Irvin dropped out to become a fulltime baseball player.

As a rookie, in 1939, with Newark, Irvin made the All-Star team. After a brief break for military service, Irvin returned to Newark and played for the club until it was disbanded by the ownership.

In the Negro Leagues, Irvin had been a bona-fide star. He had hit above .400 three times and, in 1952, the he had made the Pittsburgh Courier’s list of all-time African American All-Stars.

He was eventually signed by the New York Giants in 1949. He struggled against Major League pitching in his first season, hitting just .224 in 76 at-bats with seven runs batted in. He earned a trip back to the minors.

Early in the 1950 season, the Giants recalled Irvin from Jersey City where he was hitting a lofty .510 and they put Irvin in leftfield. Irvin responded in 1950, hitting .299 with 15 home runs, 66 runs batted in and two stolen bases.

In 1951, Irvin had what is considered to be the single greatest season of his career. With Irvin and Bobby Thomson leading the offense, the Giants won 54 of their last 66 games to win the National League pennant. Irvin hit .312 that season with 21 home runs and a league-leading 121 runs batted in. In addition, he had 12 stolen bases.

The Giants, however, lost the World Series, four games to two, to the New York Yankees. Irvin had a superior series, collecting 11 hits and leading all batters in the series with a .458 average. He even stole home in the first inning of the series.

His career, however, took a detour in spring training in 1952 when he broke his ankle sliding into third in a game against the Cleveland Indians. Giants fans had falsely accused the Indian’s Al Rosen of causing the accident by faking a tag on Irvin and forcing him to make the slide. Irvin returned late in the 1952 season and hit .310 with 4 home runs and 21 runs batted in. I

He rebounded somewhat in 1953, hitting .329 with 21 home runs, 97 runs batted in and two stolen bases. However, the Giants finished in fifth place, 35 games behind the Brooklyn Dodgers.

In 1954, the New York Giants returned to form and won the National League pennant. Irvin hit .282 that season with 19 home runs, 64 runs batted in and seven stolen bases. The Giants won the World Series, 4-2, over Cleveland. Irvin appeared in four games in the series, collecting two hits in nine at-bats and driving in two runs.

In 1955, Irvin played in 51 games for the Giants, hitting just one home run and driving in 17 runs. In 1956, he played one final season in the majors with the Chicago Cubs, hitting .271 with 15 home runs and 50 runs batted in.

After finishing his career as a player, Irvin went to work for the baseball commissioner’s office. He was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1973.