Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, has died. He was 96 and died at his Houston home of natural causes yesteday.
Irvin, an Alabama sharecropper’s son whose family relocated to New Jersey when he was a child, did not make his major league debut until he was 30 due to the color barrier. He joined the New York Giants in 1949, however, and posted a career line of .293/.383/.475 with 99 homers in eight seasons, seven with the Giants, one with the Cubs. Before breaking into the bigs he played in the Negro Leagues, the Mexican League and the Puerto Rican League.
As a four-sport letter-earning athlete in high school, one can only imagine the athleticism he possessed as a young player but which was lost by virtue of his ineligibility to play in the better-documented environment of the big leagues. He likewise lost three years of time while serving in the army during World War II, which Irvin told biographers caused his baseball skills to atrophy.
But if they did atrophy they didn’t atrophy that much. From the time he joined the Giants in 1949 until his retirement he was a key part of two pennant-winning and one World Series-winning team alongside Willie Mays in the outfield. His best season, 1951, saw him post a .312 batting average, hit 24 home runs, and drive in 121 while stealing 12 bases and getting on base at a .415 clip, all while playing stellar defense. That was when he was 32 and, really, was playing his first full season as an everyday big leaguer.
After retiring as a player, Irvin worked in public relations with Rheingold Brewery, as an assistant to the Commissioner of Baseball, and a key source for researchers and reporters telling the story of the Negro Leagues.
A full biography of Irvin can be read over at the SABR site, and is well worth your time.
UPDATE: Commissioner Rob Manfred just released this statement:
“Monte Irvin was a true leader during a transformational era for our game. A longtime member of the Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues in his native New Jersey, the All-Star slugger made a seamless transition to the New York Giants in 1949. With the Giants, he played a key role on two National League pennant-winning clubs and befriended fellow Hall of Famer Willie Mays. Monte remained an exceptional ambassador for the National Pastime long after his playing career concluded in 1956. He spent 17 years working under Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and long maintained a close association with the Giants franchise.
“Monte loved our game dearly, bridged eras of its history and touched many lives. Major League Baseball will be forever grateful to courageous individuals like Monte Irvin. On behalf of our 30 Clubs, I extend my deepest condolences to his family, friends and fans.”