Tribe Missed Out on Negro League Legend Irvin
Vince Guerrieri | On 13, May 2014
In 1947, Bill Veeck was becoming friends with Effa Manley, the owner of the Negro Leagues’ Newark Eagles.
Among the players on the Eagles was Larry Doby, who was born in South Carolina but raised in Paterson, New Jersey, not far from Newark. He played briefly for the Eagles before World War II. After a stint in the Navy, he returned to the Eagles, which at the time was the only opportunity for black baseball players.
The game remained lily white, but that was about to change. On Oct. 23, 1945, Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson, an Army veteran of World War II who had played for the Kansas City Monarchs.
Veeck made an overture at buying the Philadelphia Phillies, ostensibly to stock the perpetual cellar dwellers with Negro League talent, but Major League Baseball blocked the sale. In 1947, Veeck bought the Cleveland Indians, and set about changing the landscape of the sport in his own way.
Robinson debuted with the Dodgers on April 15, 1947. Eleven weeks later, Veeck paid $10,000 for Doby’s contract, and he made his major league debut on July 5 of that year. Veeck paid Manley another $5,000 after Doby made the club.
Manley, the only woman enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, offered Veeck another player. He’d been looked at by Rickey, but he’d felt his skills were rusty after his time in the service during World War II, and wanted to play himself into shape. Also, Rickey, of whom it was said he would go to the vault to get a nickel’s change, didn’t compensate the Monarchs after signing Robinson, and Manley wanted to get something in return.
Veeck declined, saying, “I think I’m going to have enough trouble bringing in one black. I’m afraid two might not be twice as complicated, but would instead be arithmetical, geometric.”
The player was Monte Irvin, who had spent 10 years with the Eagles. Irvin ended up being signed by the New York Giants and made his major league debut in 1949 at the age of 30. He batted .485 in the 1951 World Series and stole home as the Giants succumbed to the Yankees. He was also on the Giants team that swept the Indians in the 1954 Fall Classic.
Irvin spent 1956 with the Cubs and then retired. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973, and his number 20 was retired by the Giants in 2010. Irvin, the oldest living player from a World Series champion team, lives in the Houston area. He’s also on the hall of fame’s veterans committee.
“Most of the black ballplayers thought Monte Irvin should have been the first black in the major leagues,” from no less an icon that Negro Leaguer Cool Papa Bell.