Monte Irvin was one of the few fortunate players whose age and ability allowed them to bridge the divide between the two once-separate worlds of baseball. A power hitter who also hit for average, the right-handed slugger won two batting titles in the Negro National League. The first by hitting .395 in 1941, and after returning from service during World War II, .394 in 1946 to lead the Newark Eagles to the pennant.
Monte’s post-season encore produced three home runs and a batting average of .462 to spearhead the Eagle victory over the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro World Series.
Irvin began his career by playing under the name Jimmy Nelson on weekends to protect his amateur standing while he was in high school and college. A versatile athlete, he played both infield and outfield, often starting at third base or shortstop.
The Eagle favorite was voted to the East-West All-Star game four times, including the last three years before entering organized baseball after the 1948 season. He would have annexed three more all-star appearances had he not been inducted into the army during his prime. Had it not been for World War II, he might have been the first black player in the Major Leagues instead of Jackie Robinson. Prior to the war, Irvin had been selected by the Negro League owners for that pioneering role.
After the New York Giants signed him, the 6’1″, 195-pounder went on to a successful career in the major leagues. His best seasons were in 1951 and 1953, when he hit .312 with 24 home runs and .329 with 21 home runs, respectively. An integral factor in the Giants’ pennant-winning years of 1951 and 1954, Monte’s biggest thrill in baseball occurred in the 1951 Series when he stole home against the Yankees, with Allie Reynolds on the mound.
The hard hitting outfielder retired after the 1956 season with a .293 lifetime batting average to show for eight years in the major leagues. This came after most of his prime years were spent in the Negro Leagues, where his lifetime average was .373. Monte’s accomplishments during his 11-year career in black baseball were sufficient to merit his selection to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973.
outfielder, shortstop, thirdbase
Ken Griffey, Jr., David Justice
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Nice Guys Finish First , Monte Irvin and James A. Riley