When Monte Irvin recently passed away, at the age of 96, baseball lost yet another ballplayer from yesteryear. Irvin was more than just another ballplayer though; as he was a Hall of Famer who spent his formative professional years in the Negro Leagues, played in the golden age of the big leagues and wrapped up his career with a short stint in the old Pacific Coast League. As each and every year passes, there are less people around who can say they played in or even witnessed these eras of professional baseball, and this is saddening. If you’re not familiar with Monte Irvin, I strongly suggest doing some reading up on his career in baseball and life in general, as it was interesting and he seemed to pack a lot of living in during his 96 years on this planet. Irvin will be missed by all, and as I do with all fallen baseball heroes, I pay respect here, with a collection of related photos that I find interesting and worth sharing.
The Newark Eagles.
Prior to breaking into the major leagues, Irvin spent a decade with the Newark Eagles. He was a star in the Negro Leagues and this time of his career sealed his candidacy into the Hall of Fame, as his big league stats alone wouldn’t of been enough to get him immortalized in Cooperstown.
The above photo features Irvin in 1947, as a member of the Eagles, along with teammate and future major leaguer, Larry Doby. Shortly after this photo was taken, the Cleveland Indians came calling for Doby and signed him, where he broke the American League color barrier and quickly became a star in the big leagues. Unfortunately, Irvin would have to wait until 1949, at the age of 30, for his shot at the big leagues.
After Irvin passed away, it came to my attention that he was the last living member of the Newark Eagles. And with that, he very well could’ve been the last living notable star of the Negro Leagues. Yes, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron are both still alive, but they both spent minimal time in the Negro Leagues before getting signed by major league clubs, so the label of “star” is not necessarily applicable. Either way, this is one of the sad aspects of Irvin’s death. (Image Source: The National Pastime Museum)
Like many ballplayers from this era, Irvin also ventured to Cuba to play baseball during the winter months. In 1947, Irvin joined the Almendares club in the Cuban Winter League, where he continued to play until 1949. Irvin was no stranger to playing in Latin countries, and prior to the Cuba, he spent time in the Puerto Rican Winter League from 1940-1942 and again from 1945-1946. This is in addition to playing in the Mexican Leagues in 1942, where he won the triple crown.
The Cuban Winter League existed from 1878 to 1961, and countless Negro League and Major League players played in the league. The Cuban Winter League is actually recognized as being the first racially integrated professional league in history, so prior to integration, many Negro League players first played with white Major Leaguers down in Cuba. Unfortunately, Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution put a stop to professional baseball in 1961 and quickly replaced the Winter League with the Cuban Baseball League System, which is essentially a national amateur league.
A few years ago, I watched the movie, “The Bases Are Loaded,” which documents Irvin’s return to Cuba after 50 years to visit former teammate, Connie Marrero. It’s a great movie, that gives you incredible insight to baseball and life in Cuba, along with history of both players. Last I checked, you can rent the DVD through Netflix, so watch it if you get the chance. (Image Source: Tom Hawthorn’s Blog)
The New York Giants.
After a deal fell apart in which the Brooklyn Dodgers attempted to purchase Irvin from the Eagles, he was picked up by the Giants in 1949, along with pitcher Ford Smith, and therefore became the first black players in the history of the Giants organization.
Even at the age of 30 years old, Irvin still made an impact in the big leagues and had some productive years during his time with the Giants, even earning MVP votes in three consecutive seasons and earning a trip to the All-Star game in 1952. Unfortunately, Irvin did not get a chance to play in the mid-season classic due to an ankle injury. (Image Source: WNYC)
The 1951 World Series.
Irvin made his post-season debut against the New York Yankees in 1951 and he didn’t waste time in making a impact on the field. In the first inning of Game 1, he singled and then successfully stole home against Allie Reynolds. This very well may be one of my favorite baseball photos, especially due to the fact that Yogi Berra is in it.
Game 1 of the 1951 World Series is also notable because it featured the first all-black outfield in Major League history, which consisted of Irvin, Hank Thompson and a young rookie in centerfield by the name of Willie Mays. (Image Source: The Washington Post)
The Chicago Cubs.
After the 1955 season, the Cubs picked up the soon to be 37 year old veteran via the Rule 5 draft. Slowed by injuries and age, Irvin was still productive and hit at a .271/.346/.460 clip, while knocking in 15 home runs. Unfortunately, it would be his last season in the big leagues.
Irvin did attempt to play in 1957, with the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League, but only played in 4 games before hanging up his cleats due to a back injury. Still, in those 4 games, Irvin hit at a .300/.364/.600 clip. Obviously, that’s a small sample size, but it shows he could still hit. If Irvin didn’t get hurt, it’s quite possible he would of ended up a Dodger, due to the fact that the Angels were an open class affiliate of Brooklyn at that time. This is something that Giants fans certainly would not have enjoyed seeing. (Image Source: Bleed Cubbie Blue)
The Hall of Fame.
In 1973, via the Negro Leagues Committee, Irvin was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He went in the hall with other notable names, such as Warren Spahn and the late Roberto Clemente. I’d say that’s a pretty respectable class, regardless of voting circumstances.
In addition to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Irvin is also a member of the Mexican, Cuban and Puerto Rican baseball Hall of Fames. I could be wrong, but I assume that he’s the only person who can add all of this to his baseball resume. (Image Source: The Washington Post)