A Tribute to Monte Irvin – Part 2

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After eight years in the Negro Leagues, Monte Irvin signed to play with the New York Giants in 1949. The first African American to play in the National League for a team other than the Brooklyn Dodgers, he made his Major League debut on July 8th in Ebbets Field against the Dodgers.

In 1951, the Giants erased the first place Dodgers’ 13 ½ August lead to force a playoff. Bobby Thomson’s ninth inning home run, the “shot heard round the world”, in the final playoff game won the National League pennant for the Giants.  However, the team may not have overcome the Dodgers had it not been for Monte Irvin who hit .312, 24 home runs, and drove in a league leading 121 runs. He also served as a mentor that season for the team’s rookie centerfielder; Willie Mays.

The Giants had three African American outfielders in the starting lineup for Game One of the 1951 World Series., a significant Major League Baseball racial milestone. On that October 4th fall afternoon at Yankee Stadium; Irvin played left field, Mays in centerfield, and Hank Thompson in right field.  In the game, Irvin got four hits and stole home; but the New York Yankees won the Series four games to two.

Due to age and injuries, Irvin began losing his playing edge. In 1954, he hit only .262 with 19 home runs as the Giants won the pennant and defeated the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.  Irvin played his last Major League season in 1956 with the Chicago Cubs.  Working in the Office of Baseball Commissioner handling public relations several years after he retired, Irvin became an ambassador for the game.

In 1970, Irvin chaired a committee formed by Major League Baseball to recommend candidates for Hall of Fame induction from the Negro League Baseball era. He had seen many of the great Negro League players in action.  He played on the same teams with many of them or on opposing teams against.  Starting with Satchel Paige in 1971, nine Negro League players were inducted into the Hall of Fame by 1977 as a result of the committee’s efforts.

In 1973 Irvin received his plaque for induction into the Hall of Fame. By the time his productive eight year Major League career began in 1949, he had already reached his 30th birthday and not in his prime as before serving in the military during the war.  However, the tremendous talent he displayed in the Negro Leagues could not be marginalized by the racial barriers that kept him out of the Major Leagues.

But no one from Negro League Baseball has been inducted into the Hall of Fame since 2006; few if any have been considered for nomination. Despite verbal denials, the museum’s actions give the impression that its doors have been shut in regards to the Negro Leagues.  Is the Hall of Fame saying that its current 41 inductees from Negro League Baseball is the extent of the Negro League era’s place in baseball history?  By its current actions, the museum is re-establishing the untrue stigma of “not being good enough” hung over Negro League Baseball that Monte Irvin spent his baseball career erasing.

What Negro League pitcher did the New York Giants sign in 1949 along with Monte Irvin?

To learn more about Negro League baseball history, read “Last Train to Cooperstown”:  http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.

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