Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, a power-hitting outfielder who starred for the New York Giants in the 1950s in a career abbreviated by major-league baseball’s exclusion of black players, has died. He was 96.
The Hall of Fame said Irvin died Monday of natural causes at his Houston home.
A native of Haleburg, Ala., Irvin played in the Negro, Mexican and Puerto Rican leagues in his 20s. He starred with the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League before joining the New York Giants in 1949, two years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.
Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, said Irvin "epitomized the caliber of player and man that called the Negro Leagues home. His pioneering role in helping usher in integration in Major League Baseball helped changed the game and our country too." Irvin was one of the founding members of the museum.
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Irvin was one of the most important contributors during the Giants’ amazing pennant drive in 1951 when they overtook the Brooklyn Dodgers after trailing by 13 1/2 games in mid-August. That season Irvin batted .312 with 24 homers and an NL-leading 121 RBIs, teaming with Hank Thompson and Willie Mays to form the first all-black outfield in the majors.
Irvin then led the Giants with 11 hits and a .458 batting average in the World Series against the New York Yankees. He finished third in the NL’s MVP voting.
Irvin was rewarded with a contract estimated at $25,000, a pay raise of almost 100 percent.
In a 1952 exhibition game against the Cleveland Indians in Denver, Irvin suffered a compound fracture and dislocation of the right ankle after a hard slide into third base. Four months later, Irvin was back in action. In 1954 he helped the Giants sweep Cleveland to win the World Series.
Irvin’s days in a Giants uniform came to end on June 24, 1955, at the age of 36, when he was sold outright to Minneapolis of the minor leagues. He played one final year in the majors with the Chicago Cubs before retiring in May 1957 while with Los Angeles of the Pacific Coast League.
In his eight big-league seasons — all coming after he turned 30 years old — Irvin batted .293 with a .383 on-base percentage, racking up 99 home runs and 443 RBI.
On Aug. 21, 1968, Irvin made history when baseball Commissioner William D. Eckert named him assistant director of public relations for baseball, becoming the first black to be named to an executive position in professional baseball’s hierarchy. Later, Irvin was named special assistant to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.
He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues in 1973, becoming the fourth Negro Leagues candidates inducted following Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard.