Giants honor Irvin with 2014 World Series ring

Franchise has given its five living Hall of Famers rings after past three titles

Giants honor Irvin with 2014 World Series ring

HOUSTON -- Monte Irvin's loyalty to the Giants was so evident that he might as well have been wearing a San Francisco uniform instead of the natty ensemble (blue blazer, perfectly knotted, yellow-patterned necktie, tasteful slacks) that he sported Wednesday.

"I was born a Giant," the 96-year-old Irvin said, "and I will die a Giant."

The Giants reciprocated Irvin's sentiment by presenting him with his 2014 World Series ring, an honor shared by the franchise's five other living Hall of Famers -- Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry and Orlando Cepeda. They also were accorded this recognition following the team's '10 and '12 Fall Classic triumphs.

Though all of them retired generations before the Giants' current run of success, the organization believes strongly that the incandescent legacy of these living legends requires that they receive championship jewelry.

Irvin is often overlooked, partly because his accomplishments were obscured by Mays -- whom Irvin shepherded through his early Major League days -- and partly because his playing career ended prematurely due to injuries.

Giants president Larry Baer, however, understood Irvin's significance. It's what compelled Baer and vice president and general manager Bobby Evans to travel to the West Houston home of Irvin's daughter, Patricia, to give the former outfielder his ring.

"He represents our roots, our history, our heritage," Baer said. "Nobody represents that more than Monte and Willie [Mays].

Irvin expressed his deep appreciation.

"It's a wonderful gesture," he said. "I'm simply overwhelmed."

Irvin is the oldest surviving Negro League performer. Were it not for a World War II military stint and the reluctance of his Negro Leagues team, the Newark Eagles, to relinquish his contractual rights, he, and not Jackie Robinson, might have broken the Major Leagues' color barrier. As it was, Irvin became the Giants' first black player with a pinch-hit appearance on July 8, 1949. He's the second-oldest living Hall of Famer; former Red Sox second baseman Bobby Doerr is 97.

"While he obviously wasn't on the field in 2014, what he did made it possible for those who were," Baer said. "To me, he's a baseball treasure and certainly a Giants treasure."

Irvin proved that by sharing a wealth of reminiscences and anecdotes remarkable for a man his age. Naturally, he talked enthusiastically about Mays, his protégé with whom he shares an enduring bond.

Irvin joked about how he finds his bearings when he travels to San Francisco International Airport: "If you turn right, you go to San Francisco; if you turn left, you go to Willie's house [in Atherton]."

He trumpeted Mays' considerable defensive skills. Range? "He thought if the ball stayed in the ballpark, it was his solemn duty to catch it." Arm? "Everybody talks about Roberto Clemente, but Mays had a much better arm. He had a quicker release."

Irvin marveled over the abilities of the men he competed against and heard about during his Negro Leagues career, which included five All-Star selections.

"The guy who everybody should have seen was Josh Gibson," Irvin said. Also: "They say that Oscar Charleston was the Willie Mays of his day."

Irvin recalled developing his powerful throwing arm by skipping stones across a brook as a youth. If he and his friends couldn't find a ball, they'd wind string around a rock and bind it with tape.

Hearing such recollections, Baer began an observation. "When you were growing up," he said, "baseball was ..."

Irvin finished the sentence. "... king," he added.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.