Monte Merrill Irvin was born February 25, 1919 in Haleburg, Alabama but his family soon moved & he grew up in West Orange, New Jersey. Irvin became one of five players from the state of New Jersey to go to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
He went to West Orange high school and starred in four different sports, setting a state record for javelin throwing. He went to play for the Newark Eagles in the Negro Leagues on weekends under a different name to keep his amateur status. In baseball Irvin could do it all and was a five tool player in the Willie Mays mold.
He was a five time All Star with his home state Newark Eagles in the Negro Leagues, hitting over .400 twice & just missing a third time batting .396. He also played in the Mexican League winning an MVP award & a Triple Crown in 1942.
He then went off to serve in World War II returning in 1945 to hit .400 again and lead Newark to a Championship over the Kansas City Monarchs. Many people believed he should have been the first player to break the color barrier and was probably the best all around player at the time.
He was approached by Branch Rickey & the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945 about being signed for the major leagues. As the story goes, Irvin felt he wasn’t ready to play at that level, especially after just leaving the military. Eventually The New York Giants paid $5,000 for his contract he while was playing in Cuba. He was assigned to their affiliate in Jersey City back near his home town. After batting .373 in 63 games at Jersey City, he was brought up the Giants big league team in July at the age of 30.
He was mostly used as a pinch-hitter, playing some outfielder, third & first base, going 16-76 in 36 games. In 1950 he started out the year in Jersey City again, but after hitting .510 after 18 games, he arrived in the major leagues for good.
In just his third game that year, On May 18th, 1950, he hit a grand slam HR off Dutch Leonard of the Chicago Cubs. He drove in five total runs in the 10-4 win. The next day he hit another HR & drove in three more runs. He cooled off into a slump that brought his average below .200 in mid June. Things got better, especially in August as Irvin had an eleven game hit streak, hit three HRs & drove in 14 runs in the month. In the first two weeks of September he hit five HRs, and had big month with 25 RBIs, falling one point below the .300 mark. On the 1950 season he hit 15 HRs with 19 doubles, five triples, 66 RBIs & a .392 on base %.
By 1951 Irvin would become one of the star players on the Giants NL Pennant winner. He came in third place in the NL MVP Voting, leading the league in RBIs (121). He hit .312 (5th best in the league) with a .415 on base % (4th best in the league).
He hit 24 HRs (10th in the NL) with 19 doubles & 11 triples (3rd in the NL).. He stole 12 bases (8th in the league) & posted the third best fielding % in the outfield (.996). Irvin would have an important role, as a mentor to a young rookie, 19 year old Willie Mays.
On April 19th Irvin hit a grand slam HR in Milwaukee, & drove in a total of six runs, although the Giants lost 13-12 to the braves. He fell into a slight slum then took off in May. He would drive in runs in six straight games from May 5th through May 9th, with three of those games being multi run games.
On May 23rd his two run HR at Wrigley Field was all Sal Maglie needed to beat the Cubs 2-1 on a four hitter. In a five day stretch in mid June he drove in ten runs in the midst of a thirteen game hits streak. ON June 12th he hit a three run HR in the top of the 10th inning, off Cincinnati’s Ken Raffensberger for the 6-3 win over the Reds. Later that week,
On June 18TH Irvin’s, single in the top of the 12TH off Cloyd Boyer, drove home Bobby Thomson with the game winning run over the St. Louis Cardinals. He continued to drive in runs & hit throughout the summer. In late August the Giants made their incredible come back from 13 games back to catch the rival Brooklyn Dodgers. On August 12th he drove in all three runs in the Giants 3-2 win over the Phillies. That win sparked an incredible 16 game Giant win streak.
In the win streak Irvin drove in runs in seven games. On August 27th with the Giants down to the Chicago Cubs 4-3 in the bottom of the 12th inning, Irvin hit a base hit to left field & then scored the game winning run on pitcher Bill Rigney’s base hit. Then in the second game of that days double header, he hit a two run HR leading to a 6-3 Giants win.
On September 5th he hit a three run HR & drove in four runs in a 9-1 win over the Braves. The next game in a 7-3 win, he hit another HR with three more runs driven in. Two days later he hit drove in both runs with a two run HR off Ralph Branca, to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field 2-1. The win cut the Dodger lead to 5.5 games.
On September 18th he hit a two run HR helping in a 6-5 win over the Reds at Crosley Field. He then drove in runs in five straight games, all Giants wins, topped off with a three run HR& four RBIs in a 10-1 win at Philadelphia. He drove in runs in five straight games from September 22nd thru the 26th during another Giants win streak, lasting nine games.
On September 26th he hit a three run HR in the first inning of a 10-1 blowout of the Phillies. On September 30th, he drove in what turned out to be the game winning run, in the 5th inning at Boston to beat the Braves. He drove in another the next day as the Giants kept pace with Brooklyn for the pennant race.
The Giants & the Dodgers finished in a regular season tie ending the ’51 campaign.
A three game playoff series was set to determine the NL Pennant. In the first game, after Bobby Thomson hit a two run HR off Ralph Branca, Irvin added an 8th inning insurance HR in the 3-1 win. In the second game he went 0-4 as the Dodgers tied the series at one game each.
In the legendary third game, on October 3rd, 1951 led off the 7th inning with a double off Don Newcombe & scored the tying run on Bobby Thomson’s sac fly. In the bottom of the 9th, he fouled out to Gil Hodges at first base with two runners aboard making the first out of the inning. Next Whitey Lockman doubled & Bobby Thomson followed with the most famous HR in baseball history, sending the Giants to the World Series.
In the three games he had a hit in each one, drove in a run & scored three runs.
Defensively he led all left fielders with a .995 fielding %, making eight assists (4th most in the NL).
Post Season: In the 1951 World Series, Irvin had big start gathering up four hits in Game #1. In the first inning he singled & eventually stole home off pitcher Allie Reynolds in the Giants 5-1 win. He would have three more hits the next day in the 3-1 loss across the Harlem River.
In games #4 & #5 he would have two more hits in each game. Overall in the Series he hit .458 (11-24) with two walks & a .500 on base percentage. He drove in two runs, scored three runs, stole two bases & hit a triple. Monte hit .500 (4- 8) in both Games at the Polo Grounds.
Trivia: In that 1951 World Series Mont Irvin along with team mates, Willie Mays & Hank Thompson made history, as they formed baseballs first all black outfield.
In 1952 he broke his ankle in April and was limited to just 46 games all season. He did bat .310 & made his only All Star appearance. In 1953 he was having another MVP type season until an injury to the same leg he had the broken ankle with the previous year affected his play.
In June of 1953 he hit 6 HRs with 30 RBIs, hitting safely in all but three games that month. On July 8TH he cleared the bases with a three run triple in the first inning in a game at Pittsburgh. He later hit a grand slam driving in seven of the Giants ten runs in the 10-7 over the Pirates. That season the Giants finished fifth going 70-74. Irvin finished the year batting .329 with 21 HRs 21 doubles 5 triples & 97 RBIs while posting a .406 on base %.
In the 1954 Giants Championship season Irvin was already 35 years old & injuries had weakened his strength in his legs. During the first week of the season, he helped beat the rival Brooklyn Dodgers with a HR & a four RBI day in a 6-3 win at Ebbets Field. On May 13th he hit a pair of HRs at the Polo Grounds in a 6-3 win over the Chicago Cubs. He was hitting for lower average but still was driving in runs, as had nine RBIs from May 31st to June 8th.
On June 8th, with the Giants down by a run, his top of the 9th inning double at Milwaukee drove home two runs, leading to the Giants 5-4 win. Starting on July 7th he would hit HRs in four straight games, all Giants wins including a three game sweep of Brooklyn at Ebbetts Field. He was hitting .286 at the end of July, but then slumped to finish off the year at .262. He only hit two HRs in the final two months, both coming in early September, over a three game stretch where he drove in two runs in each game.
In 1954 he hit 19 HRs with 13 doubles 3 triples & 64 RBIs. His 70 walks were second on the club to Hank Thompson & helped him post a .363 on base % .
Post Season: In the 1954 World Series Irvin went hitless in the first three games. He was removed for pinch hitter Dusty Rhodes in Game # in the 10th inning & Rhodes went on to hit a walk off HR. In Game #2 Rhodes pinch hit for him in the 5th inning, & went to drive in all three Giants runs in the 3-1 win.
In Game #3 he was removed in the 3rd inning in favor of Rhodes. In the final Game #4 of the Giants sweep, he had two hits driving in two runs and scoring another. In the 5th inning he singled off Hal Newhouser driving in the fifth run in the 7-4 Giants win.
hit .222 (2-9) seeing less playing time due to his aging & the huge Series Dusty Rhodes was having.
Overall in his career, Irvin played in two World Series’, batting .394 (13-33) with 13 hits four RBIs & two stolen bases.
1955 would be his last year with the Giants; he was limited to only 51 games hitting .253 with one HR & 17 RBIs. He spent his final season with the Chicago Cubs after being drafted (Rule V) away from the Giants.
In his final season he batted .271, with 15 HRs 13 doubles & 50 RBIs while playing in 111 games.
He retired at the age of 37 in 1956 after an eight year playing career in the majors. Lifetime he batted .293, with 731 hits 99 HRs 443 RBIs 366 runs scored 97 doubles & 31 triples in 764 games played with a .383 on base %.
Quotes: His Dodger rival, Roy Campanella once said “Irvin was the best all around player I ever saw”.
Retirement: While in New York, he & Willie Mays owned the Wilmont Liquor store located in Washington Heights.
After his playing days he served as a scout for the New York Mets in the late sixties. Then he spent seventeen years (1968-1984) as a public relations specialist for the baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.
Honors: In 1973 he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame for his play in both the major leagues & in the Negro leagues. He also served as a member of the Halls Veterans & Negro Leagues Committee.
On June 26th 2010, Irvin’s uniform number was officially retired by the Giants in a ceremony at AT&T Park. Irvin joined fellow Giants Hall of Famers; Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry & Orlando Cepeda in tossing out the ceremonial first pitch of the 2010 World series. This week Irvin turns 93 years old.