He played in a different era. A time when the color of your skin determined what league you could play in. When your culture, that you had no choice being born into, was your burden. If only we could all learn to be more like Monte Irvin.
Montford Merrill Irvin, one of the coolest names in both New York and San Francisco Giants history, was an American trailblazer. His contributions to the history of this country, and how he assisted in the integration of baseball shortly after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, are remarkable.
Irvin passed away yesterday at the age of 96, of natural causes.
Irvin wasn’t just a run of the mill player who was out there playing for a paycheck and nice place to sleep. He was playing for a change in the thinking of a country. He was playing to continue what Jackie had started. He was playing for us.
He was just the fourth African-American player, after Larry Doby and Hank Thompson, to play on the major leagues. The Giants outfield of Irvin, Thompson, and Willie Mays was the first time three African-Americans were playing in the outfield together. These weren’t easy times being a black athlete, and he was productive both on the field and off.
The then-New York Giants picked up Irvin’s contract in 1949, for $5000. He was a .354 hitter in the Negro Leagues, and was a very steady player. He was the perfect mentor available when the team brought aboard a young star by the name of Willie Mays. His tutelage of Mays in his early years helped him blossom into the greatest player of all time.
More from SF Giants History
- SF Giants farm system: Updated top 31 prospect rankings
- Former SF Giants catcher breaks up minor league brawl
- SF Giants hitting prospects week in review (8/14-8/20)
- Reds DFA former SF Giants prospect Heath Hembree
- Former SF Giants pitcher Andrew Suarez earns KBO All-Star selection
Irvin will be remembered for his unbelievable year of 1951, when the Giants came back on the Brooklyn Dodgers. He drove in a league best 121 runs that year, and hit .458 in the World Series against the New York Yankees. He was also part of the last team in franchise history to have won a World Series before the 2010 San Francisco Giants, which was in 1954, a sweep of the Cleveland Indians.
In terms of statistics, they really mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. Numbers are only as good as the era that we play in. Many records may not stand today if racial barriers were never there. Perhaps Cool Papa Bell would have stolen second, third, and home in multiple games had he been allowed in the league.
Irvin made his debut in the big leagues at the age of 30. He had served in the military in World War II, and was carrying the hopes of many on his back. And yet he thrived.
Proudly, Monte Irvin was a player who called the Giants his home team. He was named to the Hall of Fame in 1973 (his induction speech), and his number was retired by the team in 2010. He wasn’t just a player, but a man who had to play while fighting. Think an 0-11 hurts now, try it with a hostile audience, sometimes even at home.
His ability to play was determined by his ability to practice restraint. And while some guys these days have to calm themselves down about going into the stands to pummel a heckler talking about their mom, Irvin was more likely to get death threats just for being black.
Irvin was a true ambassador in every sense of the word. He was the first African-American executive in baseball. and continued his work in the game late into his life. His contributions to the game will never be equally compensated with the proper appreciation. His legacy lives on in every major league player, of any race, because the game is better without segregation, as is the country.