The Army sent Willie to Fort Eustis, Virginia, and assigned him to play baseball for the most part. According to Mays, Durocher kept an eye on him from afar, chiding him when he stole a base with his team leading and sending him money from time to time. The August 13, 1953, edition of Jet magazine reports that Mays broke a bone in his foot sliding into third base in an Army game and would wear a cast for five weeks. Mays recalled that he also sprained his ankle in a basketball game, prompting another call from Durocher, telling him to stay off the court.
During his time in the service, his mother Anna died, and Willie harbored some bitterness that he wasn't allowed to resume his playing career to support all his half-brothers and -sisters, since his stepfather was unemployed.
Willie estimated that he played 180 games while in the service. When he returned to the Giants in the spring of 1954, he was one-half inch taller and 10 pounds heavier, now 5'11" and 180 pounds. When Mays showed up at the Giants' camp in Phoenix on March 1, the consensus among New York writers seemed to be, "Here comes the pennant," despite the Dodgers' 105 wins in 1953. Newsweek predicted in its April 5 issue that Mays could mean the difference between "the second division and the pennant in 1954."- John Saccoman, SABR
Irvin recently explained that black soldiers had a rough time in the Army because white soldiers treated them badly. "The black troops were treated better in Europe than they were in the US," Irvin said. "They got a taste of freedom over there."
He agrees, however, that many white American soldiers realized the incongruity of fighting in Europe to free oppressed people while blacks were oppressed at home, and that may have made things a little easier for the black soldiers when they returned.
In addition to the psychological trauma Irvin faced in combat, he also developed tinnitus, a ringing in the ears that affected his dexterity. That and three years away from baseball made his return to the game difficult. - Baseball in Wartime
When he returned to the Negro Leagues in 1946, he was approached by Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers, but having been away from baseball for three years, Irvin felt he was not ready and needed to get into shape. Had he accepted Rickey's offer he may have been the first black Major Leaguer. He returned to the Eagles to lead his team to a league pennant. Irvin won his second batting championship hitting .401, and was instrumental in beating the Kansas City Monarchs in a seven-game Negro League World Series, batting .462 with three home runs. He was a five-time Negro League All-Star (1941, 1946–48, including two games in 1946).
Irvin led the Negro National League hitters in 1946 with a .346 average. In 1949, aged 30, he signed with the New York Giants. He spent eight years in the major leagues with the Giants and Cubs and finished with a lifetime batting average of .293. A back injury forced Irvin to retire after the 1956 season. He became a scout for the Mets in 1967 and in 1968 he became Assistant Director of Public Relations on the Baseball Commissioner's staff. Monte Irvin was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by a special Negro Leagues committee in 1973.