Before he made his big-league debut in 1949, Monte Irvin had been a star in the Negro Leagues who was among the most-respected in the game — a player who had all-around skills and quite a strong career before making the leap to MLB and ultimate enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.
“Monte was the choice of all Negro National and American League club owners to serve as the No. 1 player to join a white major-league team,” Newark Eagles owner and Hall of Famer Effa Manley once said. “We all agreed, in meeting, he was the best qualified by temperament, character ability, sense of loyalty, morals, age, experiences and physique to represent us as the first black player to enter the white majors since the Walker brothers back in the 1880s. Of course, Branch Rickey lifted Jackie Robinson out of Negro ball and made him the first, and it turned out just fine.”
Irvin, who went on to eight seasons in the big leagues, hitting .293 with 99 homers and 443 RBI beginning as a 30-year-old “rookie,” died on Tuesday. He was 96.
Irvin made his MLB cardboard debut in 1951, appearing on cards in the Bowman and Topps Red Backs sets as a member of the New York Giants. He went on to appear on more than 800 different cards — a relatively low number — in his lifetime after winning a World Series ring with the Giants in 1954. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973.
His autograph can be found on more than 250 different certified cards, while he has fewer than 100 game-used memorabilia cards. His earliest ink can be found in a 1992 set from Front Row, while most of his autos are from Topps and Upper Deck. He hadn’t had any memorabilia cards produced in any meaningful volume since 2011.
His Hall of Fame teammate Willie Mays remembered Irvin.
“Today is a sad, sad day for me. I lost someone I cared about and admired very, very much; someone who was like a second father to me,” Mays said. “Monte was a kind of guy that you had to be around to get to know. But once you became friends, he always had your back. You had a friend for life. Monte Irvin was a great left fielder. Monte Irvin was a great man. I will miss him. There are no words for how I feel today. I could say so much more about Monte, but this is not so easy to do right now.”
Follow Buzz on Twitter @BlowoutBuzz or send email to BlowoutBuzz@blowoutcards.com.