Baseball lost one of its greatest ambassadors in Monte Irvin, who passed at the age of 96 this past Monday. Irvin made his mark as Major League Baseball’s first Black executive and had a lasting impact on the game in both America and Mexico.
Born February 25, 1919 in Haleburg, Ala., Irvin and his family moved to Orange, N.J. when he was a boy. He became a star multi-sport athlete and earned a scholarship to the University of Michigan. As he couldn’t afford the move to Michigan, he instead attended Lincoln University. He left school early to play in the Negro Leagues after clashing with his football coach at Lincoln.
The Negro National League’s Newark Eagles took him on in 1938 where he was teammates with Larry Dolby, the first to break the color barrier in the MLB’s American League. Irvin then played for a time in the Mexican Leagues before serving in the military for World War II.
After his service, Irvin returned to the Negro Leagues and eventually became a five-time All-Star, which caught the attention of Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey, in 1946. Rickey was able to wrestle Jackie Robinson away from the Negro Leagues without paying but Irvin’s manager wouldn’t let that happen. Further, Irvin didn’t feel that he was ready for the big show.
In 1949, Irvin’s time came when the New York Giants signed him. It was a productive pairing as Irvin became an All-Star with the team, winning a World Series championship all while serving a mentor to future All-Star and legend, Willie Mays. Irvin finished his career with the San Francisco Giants after a back injury forced him into retirement in 1957.
Irvin was called back to baseball in 1967 working as a scout for the New York Mets and the following year, he was named a public relations specialist under commissioner Bowie Kuhn. The appointment was a historic first for a Black person in the MLB. In 1972, the Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame inducted him and the following year, the Baseball Hall of Fame inducted him based on his time with the Negro Leagues.
In 1984, Irvin retired to Florida but continued to work on special events in baseball. In June 2010, the San Francisco Giants retired his number 20 uniform and he joined Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and other Giants greats.
Before his death, Irvin was the oldest living Black former MLB player and the oldest living member of a team that won a World Series. He lived in a retirement community in Houston where he passed peacefully of natural causes.
(Photo: Baseball Hall of Fame)