Legendary Giants outfielder and Hall of Famer Monte Irvin passed away on Monday. He was 96.
Irvin joined the Giants in 1949, and he was the first African-American player in franchise history. He was 30 when he signed, having spent most of the previous decades starring for the Newark Eagles in the Negro Leagues, along with serving three years with the Army during World War II. Irvin played in parts of seven seasons with the New York Giants, hitting .296/.389/.477 with 84 home runs and leading the National League in RBI in 1951. If you needed more evidence of his all-around greatness, note that he won the New Jersey Penmanship Award in 1932.
The Giants retired Irvin's number in 2010, and he was one of the Hall of Famers who threw out the first pitch before Game 1 of the 2010 World Series. Irvin also made the trip with the Giants to the White House in 2015. Willie Mays, seated with him in the front row, released a statement about the passing of his long-time friend:
"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. 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."
Irvin was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1973, describing it as a way to ease the pain of all the African-American ballplayers who never got the chance to play in the major leagues:
The Giants also released a statement on the Irvin's passing:
The Giants were deeply saddened to learn of the loss of Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, who died peacefully last night at the age of 96 in Houston, Texas. Monte was a true gentleman whose exceptional baseball talent was only surpassed by his character and kindness. He was a great ambassador for the game throughout his playing career and beyond. As the first Giant and one of the first African-American players to help integrate Major League Baseball, he served as a role model and mentor to so many who followed in his footsteps -- including Willie Mays. We were fortunate that Monte stayed connected to the Giants and he made several trips to San Francisco, including for the 50th anniversary of the 1954 New York Giants World Series Championship, when we retired his number in 2010 and when he joined our other Hall of Famers to throw out the first pitch during the 2010 World Series. Most recently, Monte and his daughters joined the team and Willie Mays at the White House last summer in honor of the 2014 championship. It was Monte’s first visit to the White House where President Obama thanked him for his trailblazing efforts.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Monte's family -- including his daughters Pamela Irvin Fields and Patricia Irvin Gordon. He leaves behind an incredible legacy that will be carried forward by his family and Giants fans everywhere.
Perhaps the best Irvin anecdote comes from Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia, which describes a scene in the Mexican League, when owner Jorge Pasquel made him a deal in the bottom of the ninth of a close game.
Pasquel called the slugger over to his private box and offered him $200 if his team won. Irvin returned to the batter's box and made a deal with rival catcher Roy Campanella: "Give me a fastball, and I'll give you half." Campanella agreed but promptly double-crossed Irvin. Expecting the betrayal, Irvin sat on the curveball and crushed it for a grand slam.
Even before they were Giants and Dodgers, they both knew how the world was supposed to work.
Rest in peace, Monte Irvin. Baseball, and the world, was much better with you around.