Position: Outfielder, 1937 - 1948
Height: 6' 2"
Weight: 210 lbs.
B/T: Right, Right
Born: 1919 in Halesburg, AL
Living in Homosassa, FL
Hall Of Fame Induction: 1973
A high-energy player with vitality, vigor and vim, shortstop Monte Irvin was the anchor of the Newark Eagles championship infield. In 1937, at the age of 18, Irvin joined the Newark Eagles under the assumed name of Jimmy Nelson, to protect his amateur collegiate status. After two years under the management of Willie Wells, Irvin matured into a fine shortstop earning his first berth to the 1941 East All-Star team. After serving in the military, he played in three other Negro League All-Star Games in 1946, '47 and '48.
Irvin possessed fine hitting skills, hitting .422 in 1940, and leading the Negro National League the next year with a .382 average. He had signed a contract in 1941 for $165 a month. When Irvin asked for a $25 raise, owner Effa Manley rejected his offer. So he just packed his bat and glove and left for Mexico. In 68 games, Irvin slammed 30 home runs and hit .398 to win the Mexican League triple crown. Irvin was at the top of his game, when Uncle Sam called him to serve in the U.S. Army for the next three years, possibly preventing him from being the first African American to break baseball's apartheid system.
"Monte was our best young ballplayer at the time," declared James "Cool Papa" Bell. "He could do everything. You see, we wanted men who could go there and hit the ball over the fence, and Monte could do that. He could hit that long ball, he had a great arm, he could field, he could run. Yes, he could do everything. It's not that Jackie Robinson wasn't a good ballplayer; but we wanted Monte because we knew what he could do. But after Monte went to the Army and came back, he was sick (it was an inner ear problem), and then they passed him up and looked for somebody else."
In 1946, he returned to the Newark Eagles and joined forces with Larry Doby, Leon Day, and Lennie Pearson under the management of Biz Mackey to led the Eagles to a Negro National League pennant. He won his second batting championship hitting .401 and was instrumental in beating the Kansas City Monarchs in a seven game series with three round-trippers and hitting a grandiose .462.
After the 1948-49 season in Cuba, the New York Giants paid the Newark Eagles $5,000 for Irvin's services. Irvin played in 764 Major Leagues games and become the first product from the Negro Leagues to win the RBI title with 121 in 1951. That year he teamed with Hank Thompson and Willie Mays to form the first all-black outfielder in Major League Baseball.
In 1951, he sparked the Giants' miraculous comeback to overtake the Dodgers in the pennant race when he batted .312 with 24 homers and league-best 121 RBI.
The '51 season was the pinnacle of his Major League career. He hit .312 with 24 home runs and finished third in the MVP voting, en route to the World Series. Although the Giants lost to the New York Yankees in six games, Irvin hit .458 and flashed some of the old speed with a steal of home plate against Allie Reynolds.
He finished his Major League career with a .293 average, 97 doubles and 99 home runs with 443 tallies. Irvin added a dazzling .394 average to his list of credits for two World Series performances.
After the 1956 season, the cerebral Monte Irvin traded his bat for a pen, scouting for the New York Mets from 1967-68 and later spending 17 years (1968-1984) as a public relations specialist for the commissioner's office under the Bowie Kuhn administration. Today, Irvin serves on the Veterans' Committee of the Hall of Fame and actively campaigns for recognition of deserving Negro League veterans.