ORANGE, NJ - The baseball world stopped today for a moment to give homage to one of the sport’s great contributors, Monte Irvin from Orange, NJ.
Before the Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson and made him Major League Baseball's first African-American player, the team owners in the Negro League believed that one day Monte Irvin would be the one to break baseball's color barrier.
Even though Robinson made the big leagues first, Irvin came to MLB two years later. He started what would be a Hall of Fame career with the New York Giants and went on to lead the league in RBIs in 1951. That was also the year Willie Mays came to the big leagues and the Giants picked Irvin to show a 20-year-old Mays the ropes. At the time of his death, Irvin was the oldest living former Negro Leagues player, New York Giant and Chicago Cub.
Irvin grew up in Orange, New Jersey, one of five players who grew up in the Garden State to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. In high school, he starred in four sports and set a state record in the javelin throw. Irvin played baseball for the Orange Triangles, the local semiprofessional team. The Irvin family boast several outstanding athletes, including Monte’s brother Calvin who was a Morgan State All-CIAA running back and basketball captain.
In 1951, Irvin sparked the Giants' miraculous comeback to overtake the Dodgers in the pennant race, batting .312 with 24 homers and a league-best 121 runs batted in (RBI), en route to the World Series (he went 11–24 for .458). In the third game of the playoff between the Giants and Dodgers, Irvin popped out in the bottom of the ninth inning before Bobby Thomson hit the Shot Heard 'Round the World. That year Irvin teamed with Hank Thompson and Willie Mays to form the first all-black outfield in the majors. Later, he finished third in the NL's MVP voting.
“Monte was like my brother,” Mays told MLB.com in 2012. “I didn’t understand life in New York until I met Monte. He knew everything about what was going on, and he protected me dearly.”
TAPinto corespondent contacted family member Jon McGriff who commented, “I just received a call that our beloved cousin Monte passed last night down in Houston. Approaching the age of 97 on Feb 25th he leaves us all with much respect for humanity, as individuals and the game of Baseball just to name a few. A mentor! I am sure many sports/news outlets will cover the life of Monte Irvin in majestic detail. It's time for me take yet another read of Monte's auto-biography which is appropriately titled, 'NICE GUYS FINISH FIRST'. As to the 'ole saying, which takes on unique meaning, he is gone but will never be forgotten! All the best to the Irvin family.”