Honoring the Irish Ball-Players on St. Patrick's Day

 

I wrote this brief post on Irish baseball players two years ago. Once a year it is relevant.

According to the venerable baseball-reference, forty three Major Leaguers have hailed from Ireland. That's a surprisingly large total, although all but a handful of those forty made their debuts in the ninteenth century. The golden age, or should I say, the green age, of Irish baseballers was 1870-1900, which not coincidentally was also a time of massive Irish immigration.

A number of Irish baseball players have no specific place in Ireland as their listed birthplace, an oddity that bespeaks the relatively shoddy bookkeeping of the nineteenth century (by our standards) and, possibly, the fact that many Irish Catholics refused to tie their children to a British-associated birth certificate. Interestingly, Cork has produced almost as many ball-players as Dublin, despite being Ireland's much-smaller second city. Limerick, of Angela's Ashes fame also produced one Major Leaguer, as has Belfast.

 

  • The most recent Irish born Major Leaguer is Joe Cleary. Cleary, born in Cork in 1918, appeared in one game with Washington in 1945. It did not go well. He recorded one out, allowed five hits and walked three, en route to allowing seven runs. His career ERA stands forever at 189.00. Cleary died in Yonkers, NY, in 2004.
  • Prior to Cleary's appearace in 1945, no Irishman had appeared in the Majors since 1918, when Jimmy Archer (1904-1918) and Paddy O'Connor (1908-1918) were still active. 
  • The greatest Irish pitcher of all-time is probably Tony Mullane (stats). Mullane, born in Cork in 1859 (!) pitched from 1881-1894, appearing in 555 games, mostly for variations of the Reds. Mullane posted a 118 ERA+ over his career, and was a fixture on the statistical leaderboards of the 1880s. Mullane won 284 games. A handsome man and known as "The Count" or "The Apollo of the Box", Mullane died in Chicago 1944.  Famous for being able to pitch with born arms, Mullane joined the Chicago Police after baseball. It is actually somewhat surprising that he is not in the Hall of Fame. Tommy Bond, a pitcher from the same era, was also quite good.
  • The greatest Irish position-player is either Jack Doyle or Patsy Donovan. "Dirty Jack"  (for his feuding with umpires, fans and players) Doyle played in 1564 games from 1889-1905 with a number of teams, posting a career line of .299/.351/.385, which was good for an OPS+ of 105. Doyle was born in Kilgorlin in 1869, and died in Holyoke in 1958. Doyle leads all Irish hitters with 26 career home runs. Patsy Donovan meanwhile, played longer, and appeared in more games, 1821 total. He had less power than Doyle, hitting .301/.347/.355 over his career, good for an OPS+ of 97. Donovan leads all Irish ballers in steals, with 518, just edging Doyle's 516.  Born in Cork in 1865, Patsy Donovan died in Lawrence, MA, in 1953. Surprisingly, there is a very good website dedicated to him.
  • Donovan is also the most prolific Irish manager of all-time, managing 1597 games between 1891-1911. Ted Sullivan is the only Irish manager to manage a first-place team. Sullivan skippered the 1884 St. Louis Maroons to a first place finish with an incredible record of 94-19. Oddly, that same season, or at least that same year, Sullivan played/managed the Kansas City Cowboys, a team in the Union Association like the Maroons. The Cowboys went 16-63. The Cowboys only seem to have existed for one season, that 1884 campaign.
  • In that regard, Ted Sullivan is most likely the only Irish-born player with direct ties to Kansas City as a player.
  • In conclusion, while the pattern exhibited by Irish-born players generally mirrors that of other European countries, it is a bit shocking that it has been over sixty years since an Irishman played in the Major Leagues. England, by comparison, has produced only 33 big leaguers, but produced two players in the 1960s, one in the 1980s, three (!) in the 1990s, and even a current player, Phil Stockman, who pitched for the Braves (!!) last year. Even France has done better than Ireland since 1945, sending notable players such as Bruce Bochy, Charlie Lea, and Steve Jeltz, to the Major Leagues. I predict we'll see an Irish big leaguer by 2020... the Emerald Isle is due.
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