By Dan Schlossberg
Playing major-league baseball takes a lot of skill. It also takes a lot of luck, such as avoiding illness, injury, or other events that can interfere with a career.
On this St. Patrick’s Day 2023, here’s a look at how the Luck of the Irish helped so many players, past and present.
Let’s start with the Baseball Hall of Fame.
John McGraw, who managed the New York Giants for 30 years, heads the list. Brash, arrogant, and argumentative, he hit .334 as a rough-and-tumble third baseman of the Deadball Era but was far better known as a manager who would do anything for a win.
He roomed with his polar opposite — pitcher Christy Mathewson — in an odd pairing of player and manager but had no problem leading his team to three world championships.
The best Irish hitter? Maybe Ed Delahanty, one of five brothers who made the big leagues. A right-fielder with a strong arm, Ed’s calling card was his bat. In a 16-year career that started in 1888, he hit .346 with a .411 on-base average and .505 slugging percentage while playing for the Philadelphia Quakers, the Phillies, the Cleveland Infants (a nickname even worse than Guardians) and the Washington Senators. He hit .400 or better three times.
Another Irish star of the 19th century was pitcher Tony Mullane, a Cork native who could also box, roller-skate, and ice-skate. A handsome lad who attracted considerable female attention, he won at least 30 games for five successive seasons — quite an achievement for anyone, let alone an ambidextrous pitcher! He finished with 284 wins.
Mike (King) Kelly was even more of a drawing card, according to Marty Appel’s marvelous book Slide, Kelly, Slide. The first catcher to wear a glove and chest protector, he was also the first to earn $10,000 — a princely sum at the time — and the first to write an autobiography, not to mention the first to be lionized in song.
Like McGraw, Kelly hailed from Troy, NY, which once had a major-league team. A two-time batting champion, he was known for devising a myriad of trick plays, helping eight different teams from 1878-91. Kelly was best-known for teaming with Cap Anson on the Chicago White Stockings.
The Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame, founded in 2008, was located inside Foley’s, an Irish pub on W. 33rd Street, steps from Fifth Avenue, in Manhattan. Owner Shaun Clancy, born in Ireland but bred in baseball, spent more than a decade hosting baseball personalities and events before COVID-19 caused him to shut down temporarily (a 2023 induction class will be announced soon).
Inductees, listed alphabetically, have included Sean Casey, Kevin Costner, Adam Dunn, Chub Feeney, Steve Garvey, Tom Gorman, Ed Lucas, Connie Mack, Tom McCarthy, Hal McCoy, Tug McGraw, Mark McGwire, Jack McKeon, Bob Murphy, Dale Murphy, Bill Murray, Dave O’Brien, Peter O’Malley, Walter O’Malley, Paul O’Neill, Nolan Ryan, Vin Scully, Bill Shea, Mike Sweeney, and many more.
And let’s not forget Joe McCarthy, the first manager to win pennants in both leagues; MLB Network’s Brian Kenny; 19th century hotshot Ned Hanlon; iron man pitcher Joe McGinnity; long-time White Sox owner Charles Comiskey; Johnny Evers of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance; Hall of Fame umpire Hank O’Day; and Wee Willie Keeler, who “hit ‘em where they ain’t.”
There are plenty of solid Irish stars in today’s game. Jeff McNeil, second baseman for the New York Mets, just won the National League batting crown and Sean Murphy, newly-acquired catcher for the Atlanta Braves, brought a Gold Glove with him from Oakland.
Ireland is also among the 20 teams in the 2023 World Baseball Classic.
So enjoy the Wearing of the Green today and every day. Cheers, l’chaim, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all of you!
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ covers the game for forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, Memories & Dreams, and many other outlets. A baseball historian, he’s also a published author and after-dinner speaker. E.mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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