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.