This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com
Turning 92 years old on February 25th, Monte Irvin represents an entire generation of ballplayers that played at the highest level possible and then transitioned that ability into a Hall of Fame Major League career when given the chance.
Born in 1919, Monte Irvin began his professional career at the age of 19 as a member of the Newark Eagles. Playing alongside future Hall of Famer Leon Day, Larry Doby, Ray Dandridge, Biz Mackey and others, Irvin carved out a solid career in both the Negro Leagues and the Major Leagues.
Irvin played four seasons with the Eagles(1938-1942) before being shipped off to serve in the U.S. Military during World War II. Before he left, he managed to earn the Most Valuable Player Award while playing in the Mexican Winter League in 1942.
Upon his return from the war in 1945, Irvin and the rest of Eagles stormed through the league and won the 1946 Negro League World Series over Buck O’Neil and the Kansas City Monarchs.
After Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, Irvin was one of the first black players to sign. He spent the 1949 season with the Jersey City Giants of the International League, hitting .373 in 63 games. Later that same year, Irvin and Hank Thompson became the first black players to debut with the New York Giants.
In a March 1951 issue of Baseball Digest, Charles Dexter wrote about Monte Irvin’s impact on the New York Giants. Click here to check it out!
Despite beginning his major league career after the age of 30, Monte Irvin nonetheless displayed the offensive abilities well into his 30’s. Over the course of an eight year MLB career, Irvin slugged 99 homers to go along with a .293 average and an OPS+ of 125. He hit better than .300 three times, hit 20 or more homers twice, and ranked third in MVP voting in 1951. It was during that season that Monte Irvin made his mark.
In his only season selected as an All-Star, Irvin hit 24 home runs during the 195 campaign and played a huge role in pushing the Giants to their World Series matchup with the New York Yankees. Though the team eventually fell to the Yankees, Irvin hit .458 with eleven hits in six games. Three years later Irvin and the Giants were redeemed, as they defeated the Cleveland Indians for the World Series title.
Since his retirement following the 1956 season, Irvin has worked within the league in many capacities. Most recently, he serves as a member of the Veterans Committee of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and works to give recognition to Negro League ballplayers.
Also Born On This Day:
Paul O’Neill(b.1962) is a veteran of 17 big league seasons, reaching the World Series six times, including five trips with the New York Yankees between 1996 and 2001. Between his time with the Cincinnati Reds and the Yankees, he played in 85 postseason games and had 299 at bats, hitting .284 overall.
Ron Santo(b.1940) was a 15 year veteran almost exclusively with the Chicago Cubs. A nine time All-Star and five time Gold Glove, Santo was one of the best third basemen in baseball history. At his retirement, he ranked close to or surpassed Hall of Fame third baseman Eddie Mathews in many offensive categories. Widely regarded as one of the best players not in the Hall of Fame, Santo died on December 3, 2010 due to complications from bladder cancer and diabetes.