Baseball has lost one of its most beloved ambassadors with the passing of Hall of Fame inductee and Negro League legend Monte Irvin. Irvin, who was named Major League Baseball’s first Black executive, was 96.
Born February 25, 1919 in Haleburg, Ala., Irvin and his family relocated to Orange, N.J. when he was young. While in the Garden State, Irvin morphed into a multi-sport athlete and earned 16 letters. His athletic prowess got the attenton of the University of Michigan, but Irvin instead chose to go to the far closer Lincoln University in Pennsylvania as he couldn’t afford the trek to the Midwest. He eventually left the school after two years amid struggles he had with the coach regarding his scholarship and his desire to take pre-dentistry classes.
The Negro National League was thriving at the time and in 1938, the Newark Eagles signed Irvin and he rose quietly in the ranks as an outfielder. In 1942, he played in the Mexican Leagues and won the Triple Crown while that. That same year, he was drafted into the Army during World War II and returned home in 1945. Irvin returned to the field with famed Brooklyn Dodgers manager Branch Rickey attempting to sign him. Rickey, who eventually pried the pioneering and color barrier-shattering Jackie Robinson away from the Negro Leagues, viewed Irvin as one of the best young Black players and a potential candidate for integration.
Irvin went on to become a five-time all-star in the Negro Leagues ahead of his shot in the majors in 1949. Signed by the New York Giants, Irvin became a productive member of the squad as he was named an all-star and helped them win the World Series championship in 1954. By this time, Irvin had grown to become a mentor for rising star Willie Mays and was in the twilight of his career. He retired in 1956 with the San Francisco Giants after an injury prevented him from continuing.
In 1968, a year after working as a scout for the New York Mets, Irvin was named the MLB’s assistant director of promotion and public relations by outgoing Commissioner Spike Eckert and worked the position until Eckert’s successor, Bowie Kuhn, stepped down in 1984. The hire made Irvin MLB’s first Black executive.
Irvin was inducted into the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972 and was named to the MLB Hall of Fame the following year.
Never far from the game, Irvin continued to work with the MLB for special events and engagements. In 2010, he and other Hall of Fame Giants players had their numbers retired in San Francisco.
Irvin passed quietly from natural causes at retirement community in Houston, Texas.
SOURCE: Sports Illustrated | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty