Moser: Cubs would have gotten a real star in Monte Irvin

From SABR member Zack Moser at Baseball Prospectus on January 22, 2016:

A mere seven years after his major league debut, Monte Irvin was without a job in the major leagues.

Despite posting an impressive .296/.389/.477 batting line over his Giants career, socking 84 home runs, and garnering a third-place MVP finish in 1951, the New York Giants did not renew the left fielder’s contract for the 1956 season, after seven years roaming the Polo Grounds. They had demoted Irvin to the Minneapolis Millers, their top minor league squad, midseason 1955, and he remained there until season’s end, his major-league future very much in doubt.

At the winter meetings in December 1955, the Cubs nabbed Irvin in the minor league draft —sort of equivalent to today’s Rule 5 Draft—for a fee of $10,000, ahead of reported competition from the Tigers (for whom he would have been the first black American player) and the Reds. Irvin went on to hit .356 at Minneapolis, and major league clubs clamored for a shot to add him to their big-league rosters, hoping for the Irvin who averaged a .302/.394/.495 line from ’50-’54 and not the player who slipped to a .767 OPS in 1955.

Irvin was 36 when the Cubs acquired his services via the draft, and part of the reason they were able to get him was that the Giants doubted his ability to rebound from a poor 51 games in 1955. But how was he so worn out, already, after a brief seven-year stint in the majors? The short answer: as a black player in the 1940s, Irvin was shut out of the major leagues by a color barrier, ultimately “broken” by Jackie Robinson in 1947. The longer answer, however, is worth revisiting.

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Originally published: January 25, 2016. Last Updated: January 25, 2016.