Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, a power-hitting outfielder who starred for the New York Giants in the 1950s in a career abbreviated by major league baseball's exclusion of black players, has died. He was 96.
The Hall of Fame said Irvin died Monday night of natural causes at his Houston home.
"Today is a sad, sad day for me," Giants legend Willie Mays said in a statement. "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 30 when he joined the Giants in 1949, two years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Irvin spent seven of his eight big league seasons with the Giants and one year with the Chicago Cubs in 1957. A native of Haleburg, Alabama, Irvin played in the Negro, Mexican and Puerto Rican leagues during his 20s.
Irvin, who played from 1949 to 1956, was an All-Star in 1952 after leading the league with 121 RBI in 1951, when he finished third in the MVP voting. He won a World Series with the Giants in 1954.
Although he never played a game in San Francisco, the Giants retired his jersey number in a ceremony at AT&T Park in 2010.
"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."
Irvin was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.