RIP Monte Irvin, 1919-2016

20 01 2016

2011 Lineage 75 mini Monte Irvin 2nd best card

I am a little embarrassed to say that I didn’t hear about the passing of Monte Irvin last week.  Monte was 96 (almost 97), so he lived a good and long life, but I also remember reading that he was in very good health for his age.  So I was surprised.

Irvin first played professionally in 1938 with the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League.  As a youngster, he played with future Hall of Famers Mule Suttles and Leon Day.  Like many Americans, he spent most of 1942-1945 overseas for World War II.  This probably robbed him of some of his prime baseball years – he would have been among the best (if not the best) hitters in the Negro Leagues during those years.  After returning from the service, he went back to Newark where he played with future HOFers who also transitioned to MLB, Larry Doby and Don Newcombe.  In 1946, his first year back from the war, Irvin teamed with Doby to lead the Eagles to the Negro League World Series title, beating the Kansas City Monarchs and their famed ace, Satchel Paige.  Around that time, Branch Rickey approached Newark’s owner Effa Manley about signing Irvin.  There was at least some consideration that he, not Jackie Robinson, would break MLB’s color barrier.

Irvin was eventually signed by the crosstown rival Giants, coming up briefly in 1949 and playing his first full season in 1950.  He was instrumental in the Giants’ comeback to overtake Brooklyn for the 1951 pennant.  He led the league with 121 RBI, was 3rd in the MVP vote, and hit .458 in the World Series, which the Giants lost in 6 games to the Yankees.  That was his best year, but he played 4 more seasons for the Giants, and was the starting left fielder for their 1954 World Series victory.  He finished his career with the Cubs, then went on to become the first black executive in MLB’s front office.  In 1973, he was the 4th player elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by baseball’s Negro League committee, following Paige, Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard in that distinction.  He was the first player elected by that committee to have played significant time in the Majors.  His number was retired by the Giants – all the way on the other coast – in 2010.

Like many Negro League players, he doesn’t have a ton of cardboard.  But because he was an excellent MLB player for over half of a decade, he does have some.  I never got an in person autograph from him, but I do have an autographed card of his from 2011 Lineage.  It’s a reprint of his 1952 Topps card, and it’s one of my favorite reprints – putting a real signature on a 1952 Topps design just looks great.  His card (shown above) in the base set of that year is my favorite card from the Lineage set.

Irvin is the 12th HOF-er to pass away since I started this blog.  He was by all accounts a gentleman, and the baseball world will miss him.

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