Celebrating Black History in Baseball: Monte Irvin
Monte Irvin is one of many great players from the Negro Leagues whose tenure in the MLB started too late because of the color barrier in baseball. Born in Columbia, Alabama in 1919, Irvin began his baseball career as a member of the Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues in 1937. He was a highly successful player there, finishing his nine seasons with the Eagles with .358 AVG and .564 slugging, based on available statistics. During his tenure as an Eagle, he played alongside legends like Larry Doby, Mule Suttles, Biz Mackey, and Willie Wells. He also played in the Mexican League, where he hit .397 and led the league in 1942.
Monte Irvin finally joined the major leagues in 1949 when he was signed by the New York Giants and became one of their first black players, along with Hank Thompson, who started on the same day. Irvin was already 30, spending nine years playing baseball and three serving in the military in World War II. Despite his late start in the majors, Irvin finished his career in the MLB with a career .293 AVG and an .858 OPS. He only played five full seasons in the league, and parts of three others. His best year was 1951, when he led the league with 121 RBI, and finished the season with a .929 OPS, the same year that Willie Mays played his first year with the Giants and won the Rookie of the Year award.
In 1973, Monte Irvin was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, primarily on the strength of his career in the Negro Leagues. He now serves on the Veterans Committee, where he campaigns to bring deserving members of the Negro Leagues into the Hall. In 2010, the San Francisco Giants officially retired Irvin’s number, joining other Giants greats in the ceremony. Irvin is still alive today at the age of 93, and is the oldest living African-American to play in the MLB.
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