Former Negro league star, Baseball Hall of Famer Monte Irvin dies at 96

Baseball Monte Irvin, the oldest living former Negro leagues baseball player and a member of the Hall of Fame, died Monday night in Houston at the age of 96.Irvin played nine seasons with the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League before spending six seasons with the New York Giants and a final season in 1956 with the Cubs. While with the Eagles, he was a teammate of Larry Doby, the first player to break the color barrier in the American League. Irvin was inducted into the Baseball 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," Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson said in a statement. "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."MORE: Notable

sports deaths of 2015 Born on Feb. 25, 1919, in Haleburg, Ala., Irvin was an exceptional athlete. He earned 16 varsity letters in high school and was an all-state selection in football, basketball, track, and baseball, and set the Alabama state record in the javelin throw.Irvin was offered a football scholarship by Michigan coming out of high school. Instead he turned to baseball and started playing professionally at the age of 17.After leading the Negro leagues in hitting with a .397 average in 1941, Irvin spent the 1942 season in the Mexican League, where he was the batting champ with a .397 average and a league-high 20 home runs.His playing career was then interrupted for three seasons while he served in the Army during World War II. While in France, Irvin was part of the secondary line at the Battle of the Bulge in case the Germans broke through at Bastogne.Despite suffering tinnitus, a ringing in the ears that affects dexterity, after the war, Irvin returned to baseball to hit .383 with a .584 slugging percentage and led the Eagles to a Negro League World Series championship.The first @sportingnews reference to Monte Irvin, who died Monday at 96. (Sept. 11, 1946)— Sporting News (@SN_Baseball) January 12, 2016After the 1948 season, he was signed by the Giants. Irvin hit just .224 in 36 games during the 1949 season but batted .299 in 1950 before three straight seasons over .300 — including a .329 average in 1952. In 2,499 at-bats, the outfielder had 731 hits with 99 homers and 443 RBIs and struck out only 220 times.Irvin’s walkoff homer in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series helped spark the Giants to a sweep of the Indians. Irvin had been the oldest living member of a World Series championship team.Irvin's Hall of Fame class included Warren Spahn, Billy Evans, George Kelly and Mickey Welch. He was inducted into the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame a year earlier. Irvin was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1981.With fellow Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry and Orlando Cepeda in attendance, the Giants retired his No. 20 in 2010.“Baseball is a game you’d play for nothing,” Irvin said during his Hall of Fame induction in Cooperstown. “And I am so happy the Lord gave me a little ability, because it allowed me to meet a lot of good people and see so many exciting places.”Following his playing career, Irvin worked as a scout and later became the first black executive in professional baseball when he was hired as an public relations specialist for the commissioner's office under Bowie Kuhn in 1968.When Kuhn retired in 1984, Irvin also stepped down from his position – retiring to Florida – but remained involved in baseball. He served on the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee. At the time of his death, Irvin was living in a Houston retirement community.Irvin married his high school sweetheart, Dee, in 1942, and the couple had two daughters, Pam and Patti. Monte and Dee Irvin were married for 67 years until her death in 2008.