Two players destined for the National Baseball Hall of Fame made their debuts in 1939; although their paths to Cooperstown took different routes.On April 20, 1939 at Yankee Stadium, Ted Williams got one hit in four at bats in his first Major League game as a Boston Red Sox. Williams hit a double off of New York pitcher Red Ruffing. The Yankees won the game 2 – 0. Other Red Sox players in the field that day destined for the Hall of Fame were Jimmie Foxx, Joe Cronin, and Bobby Doerr; who like Williams was 20 years old. Future Hall of Fame members Bill Dickey, Joe Gordon, Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig were in the Yankees’ line up. Williams had better days swinging the bat that year. He hit 31 home runs, drove in 145 runs, and batted .327. He went on to have a 22 season Hall of Fame career, despite it being interrupted twice by military service (1943 – 1945, 1952).
Also in 1939, Monte Irvin hit .365 in his first season in Negro League baseball with the Newark Eagles. Irvin played seven year with the Eagles, having as teammates in 1939 Willie Wells, “Mules” Suttles, and Ray Dandridge; all currently in the Hall of Fame. When he left baseball for military service in 1943, many considered Irvin the best player in Negro League baseball. Irvin returned to the Eagles in 1946 and helped them capture the Negro League World Series Championship. When African Americans finally broke through baseball’s color barrier to get into the Major Leagues, Irvin was past his prime years as a player. However, he still had seven solid years in the big leagues; seven years with the New York Giants (1949 – 1955) and one with the Chicago Cubs (1956).
Williams was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1966, Irvin in 1973.