Remembering Monte Irvin
A terrific amateur athlete who starred throughout integrated baseball in the 1940s, Irvin was thought by many – including future Hall of Famer Effa Manley – to be the player who would eventually integrate the big leagues.
“Monte was the choice of all Negro National and American League club owners to serve as the No. 1 player to join a white major league team,” said Manley, who owned the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League and passed away in 1981. “We all agreed, in meeting, he was the best qualified by temperament, character ability, sense of loyalty, morals, age, experiences and physique to represent us as the first black player to enter the white majors since the Walker brothers back in the 1880s.
“Of course, Branch Rickey lifted Jackie Robinson out of Negro ball and made him the first, and it turned out just fine.”
It also turned out fine for Irvin, who starred for eight seasons in the majors with the Giants and the Cubs before being elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973.
“I always respected Monte Irvin as much as any player I played with,” said teammate Bobby Thomson before his passing in 2010. “He would show up and do the job every day; one of the strong guys on the ball club.”
Irvin, born Feb. 25, 1919 in Haleburg, Ala., was a four-sport athlete in high school and began playing professional baseball while in college under an assumed name to keep his amateur status. He joined the Newark Eagles and quickly became an outstanding all-around player.
“Monte Irvin’s affable demeanor, strong constitution and coolness under pressure helped guide baseball through desegregation and set a standard for American culture,” said Jeff Idelson, President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. “His abilities on the field as the consummate teammate are undeniable, as evidenced by World Series titles he contributed to in both the Negro and Major leagues, and a richly-deserved plaque in Cooperstown. He was on the original committee that elected Negro Leagues stars to the Hall of Fame, something for which the Museum will always be grateful.”
Irvin was the second-oldest living Hall of Famer, behind only Bobby Doerr, and the eighth-oldest living former big leaguer overall.
“Baseball is a game you’d play for nothing,” Irvin said. “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.”
Samantha Burkett is a freelance writer from Fairport, N.Y.