clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Former Cub And Hall of Famer Monte Irvin Dies At 96

One of the greatest of the early African-American players in baseball has passed away.

Monte Irvin as a Cub, at the Polo Grounds in New York in 1956
Monte Irvin as a Cub, at the Polo Grounds in New York in 1956
Kidwiler Collection/Diamond Images/Getty Images

When Lennie Merullo died last May, aged 98, the title of "Oldest Living Cub" passed to Hall of Famer Monte Irvin.

Irvin, who was also the eighth-oldest living former major leaguer, died at his home in Houston Monday of natural causes, aged 96.

Irvin wasn't a Cub for very long, just one season, 1956. He was acquired, according to his baseball-reference page, from the Giants in the Rule 5 draft before the 1956 season. That draft must have had different rules in those days, as Irvin had played seven seasons for the Giants before that and more than a decade in the old Negro Leagues. His best big-league season was 1951, when he led the National League with 121 RBI, finished third in MVP voting and posted 6.9 bWAR as the Giants won the pennant. Here's a photo of Irvin as a Giant, taken at Wrigley Field in August 1953:

monte irvin (Hall of Fame Library)

Courtesy Hall of Fame Library

His one year with the Cubs was decent, as he hit .271/.346/.460 with 15 home runs in 111 games at age 37. Irvin's addition to the team in 1956 meant that in the first game Sam Jones started that year, April 20 against the Cardinals, the Cubs fielded a majority African-American lineup for the first time (Irvin, Jones, Ernie Banks, Gene Baker and Solly Drake). They were the second team to do so. (First was the Dodgers, July 17, 1954.)

Irvin was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973.

"Monte Irvin’s affable demeanor, strong constitution and coolness under pressure helped guide baseball through desegregation and set a standard for American culture," said Jeff Idelson, President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. "His abilities on the field as the consummate teammate are undeniable, as evidenced by World Series titles he contributed to in both the Negro and Major leagues, and a richly-deserved plaque in Cooperstown. He was on the original committee that elected Negro Leagues stars to the Hall of Fame, something for which the Museum will always be grateful."

Commissioner Rob Manfred said, “Monte Irvin was a true leader during a transformational era for our game. A longtime member of the Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues in his native New Jersey, the All-Star slugger made a seamless transition to the New York Giants in 1949. With the Giants, he played a key role on two National League pennant-winning clubs and befriended fellow Hall of Famer Willie Mays Monte remained an exceptional ambassador for the National Pastime long after his playing career concluded in 1956. He spent 17 years working under Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and long maintained a close association with the Giants franchise. Monte loved our game dearly, bridged eras of its history and touched many lives. Major League Baseball will be forever grateful to courageous individuals like Monte Irvin. On behalf of our 30 Clubs, I extend my deepest condolences to his family, friends and fans.”

Irvin had a long and productive life; he also was a longtime scout and later was on the Commissioner's office staff, working in public relations.

With Irvin's passing, the title of "Oldest Living Cub" passes to Red Adams, who pitched in eight games for the Cubs in 1946. Adams is 94 and 22nd on the oldest living former player list.