The 1949 season was a historic one for the New York Giants, but not necessarily due to performance on the field.
The 1949 Giants finished 73-81 and in fifth place in the National League. But on July 8, 1949, the franchise would be changed forever. On that afternoon, Monte Irvin and Hank Thompson would become the first African-Americans to play for the Giants in a game against the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field.
Thompson broke into the majors with the St. Louis Browns in 1947, becoming the third African-American to do so behind Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby.
However, this was Thompson’s first big league game in nearly two years after being released by the Browns prior to the 1948 season. The game was Irvin’s big league debut following a nine-year career in the Negro Leagues.
Thompson led off for the Giants and played second base. He would go 0-3 with a walk. In doing so, Thompson would become the first African-American player to integrate two different teams, and the first to play in both the American and National League.
The 30 year-old Irvin had to wait a while before making his debut. He would enter the game in the top of the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter for Giants starting pitcher Clint Hartung and draw a walk. Irvin’s first major league hit would come 10 days later in his first career start with a double off Cardinals pitcher Al Brazle.
Irvin would go on to a Hall of Fame career as he was inducted in 1973 by the Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues. He hit a career-best .312 with 24 homers and 121 runs batted in during the 1951 season that saw him finish third in the MVP voting.
Irvin was so highly thought of both on and off the field that future Hall of Famer and Newark Eagles owner Effa Manley said that he was considered as a possible candidate to break the color barrier prior to Robinson.
Hank Thompson, primarily a third baseman, played with the Dallas Green Monarchs, the Kansas City Monarchs, the St. Louis Browns and the New York Giants (National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum).
Monte Irvin was elected to four East-West All-Star Games in the Negro Leagues before signing with the New York Giants in 1949. In New York, Irvin finished third in National League MVP voting in 1951 and was voted to play in the MLB All-Star Game the following year. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973. BL-7168-89 (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)
Hank Thompson (left) and Monte Irvin try on their New York Giants caps. In 1949, Thompson and Irvin became the first African-Americans to play for the Giants. BL-13-2008-41 (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)
“We all agreed, in meeting, he (Irvin) 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,” Manley said.
That Irvin and Thompson’s first game with the Giants occurred in Brooklyn is significant, with Ebbets Field being the site where Robinson had first broken the color barrier in baseball just two years earlier. In addition, Future Hall of Fame manager Leo Durocher was the skipper of the Giants that year and had been the Dodgers manager the previous year, where he coached Robinson.
Ryan Turnquist is the 2015 public relations intern in the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
Monte Irvin (far left) goes over the basics of hitting with a group of children alongside fellow Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson. Newark Eagles owner Effa Manley, another Hall of Famer, once said that Irvin was the first choice among Negro League club owners to break the major league color barrier. BL-4156-68-HT1i (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)