Although Monte Irvin had a terrific baseball career in both the Negro Leagues and MLB that spanned nearly two decades, his only baseball cards as a player were issued from 1951 to 1956. With a cardboard career that burned so brightly and so quickly, it can be difficult to know where to start as all of Irvin's playing days cards are valuable. This list outlines the best Monte Irvin cards and expands out to Irvin's days in the Negro Leagues and his later autograph appearances.
Irvin played in the Negro Leagures for the Newark Eagles before joining the Army and serving in World War II from 1942 to 1945. He joined the New York Giants in 1949, and when a hot prospect named Willie Mays joined the team in 1951, Irvin was tasked as being his mentor. After his playing days were over, Irvin became the first black executive in Major League Baseball and he was the official MLB representative at the game in which Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's career home run record.
Cards dedicated exclusively to Negro League players are limited overall. However, when available, Irvin is often included in the checklist. There are a handful of smaller releases that you should consider picking up, including the 1990 Eclipse Stars of the Negro League that features an Irvin. Be sure to also check out item #9 on the list below.
Other noteworthy Monte Irvin appearances in contemporary sets include the first Topps Allen and Ginter set from 2006, his Distinguished Service insert from 2007 Topps highlighting his World War II service, and autographed cards from the 2002 Topps Super Teams set.
Not surprising, as he has aged, his autograph appearances have become more limited. 2012 Press Pass Legends Hall of Fame Edition is one place to find his recent autographs and more signed options have been offered in several newer Hall of Fame products from Panini.
Although Irvin only had a brief eight-year career in the majors, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973 based on the entire breadth of his career. This is something collectors should strive for as well and the following list can help you build a well-rounded Monte Irvin card collection.
Top 10 Monte Irvin Baseball Cards
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Following the 1955 season, Monte Irvin was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in a Rule 5 draft. The Rule 5 draft is designed for veteran players who are not on the 40-man roster of their current team to be given a chance on another team. The Giants left Irvin unprotected after his injury-filled 1955 season and his selection by the Cubs is sighted as one of the most interesting Rule 5 picks ever. Irvin's 1956 Topps appearance is his only Cubs card in his brief cardboard career.
Unfortunately, there are no original Monte Irvin trading cards from his days in the Negro League with the Newark Eagles, so collectors must turn to comprehensive Negro League sets that were issued much later. The 1986 Fritsch Negro League Baseball Stars set is one of the largest of its kind and although it is an independent card release, it is common enough that collectors can find individual player cards.
Irvin has few certified autographs (with even fewer on-card autographs), but his very first autographed card is found in the 1992 Front Row All-Time Greats. The card itself is a beautiful piece of art and the on-card signature only adds to that. Irvin's autograph is famous for his large and extended "M" and you'll find many great examples from this set. Five base cards usually accompany the autograph as they were sold as sets.
After breaking his ankle during the 1952 season, Irvin returned to form in 1953, hitting 21 home runs and batting in nearly 100 runs. He even received votes in the MVP race and finished 15th overall.
Irvin's full-color Topps debut came in the 1954 set and the reverse side reminds us that "Monte" was really Monford Merrill Irvin. It also includes a three-panel cartoon describing the ankle injury he sustained in a 1952 exhibition game. That injury bothered him the rest of his career and may have ultimately cut it short.
Part of the 1953 Topps set, Monte Irvin's card seems to have been double printed, making it one of the most available cards in Irvin's early cardboard appearances. It offers an ideal starting point for collectors looking for their first Irvin card from the "painted era."
Monte Irvin's second Bowman card is another painted card of Irvin possibly taking batting practice. The geometric background design of the batting cage gives this card a distinct feel and an inadvertent look similar to Topps Tek.
Of his two rookie cards, Monte Irvin's 1951 Topps rookie gets short changed because of the small size and the board-game nature of the card. Believe it or not, at the time the card was issued, you could pull an Irvin rookie card for a single penny as Topps issued these in two-card packs for one cent. That is certainly not a bad return on your investment!
Although it is not his Topps rookie, Irvin's 1952 Topps card can command prices that are significantly higher than his true rookie card from the previous year. Mid-level graded versions can go as high as $150-$200 and it is the must-have Topps release from Irvin's cardboard canon.
Monte Irvin had been a professional ball player for more than a decade by the time Bowman issued his first trading card in 1951. Similar to other Negro League greats like Satchel Paige and Jackie Robinson, who didn't make their baseball card debuts until much later in their careers, the value of Irvin's rookie would certainly be even higher if he had been included in trading card sets during the 1940s.
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