Friday was St. Patrick’s Day and was celebrated all over the United States with parades, corned beef and cabbage, parties and lots and lots of green beer. My mother was Irish, her family name was Keane, and her mother’s generation came from what they called the Auld Sod.  

I don’t recall that St. Patrick’s Day was a big deal to my mother’s family, at least not as big as the present day celebration in Boston, once you get past the controversy of whether or not your sexual preference disqualifies you from Irish-ness.

In this country today, with all the controversy about legal and illegal aliens, Irish immigrants from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s are often pointed out as examples of why immigration made this country great. The Irish were looked upon as hard working, frugal people, who got jobs, worked hard and were assimilated into our culture. Many of them, particularly in the Northeast, held political office, which meant that many more became police officers, firemen and other types of public servants, often thanks to their politician relatives.

Since I write about baseball, both in this column and the books I write, which seem to be coming out all too frequently, I thought I would try to do a piece about Irish baseball players.  

I thought, at first, that I would put together an All-Ireland baseball team, picking the best player, born in Ireland, at every position. The first place to look for the names and records of those players is a source I use frequently, baseballreference.com. 

The web site, in a distant corner of their archives, lists players by country of birth.  Being aware that the baseball color line was broken by Jackie Robinson in 1947, I decided to limit my search to the period from then until 2016, thinking that, after that color line was broken, there was more of a level playing field for people of all races and nationalities.

I found that, from 1947 until 2016, 10,979 players made their debut in Major League Baseball. Of those 10,979 players, 8,974, or 81.7% were born in the United States. The second highest number, 669, or 6.1%, were born in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela had contributed 356, or 3.2%.  

Puerto Rico has added 255, or 2.3% of the total players, Cuba has had 159, or 1.4%, Canada 128, or 1.2% and Mexico 118, or 1.1%.  Thirty-five other countries have had players born in their countries make it to the Major Leagues, including Saudi Arabia, with two and Viet Nam, Afghanistan, China and Russia with one each.

At this point you are probably wondering why I have not mentioned Ireland, where all those politicians, policemen, highway workers, etc., came from.  There is a very simple reason. Believe it or not, from 1947 until 2016, not a single person born in Ireland played in the Major Leagues. Even after the color line was broken in 1947, not a single one, not even a representative of that group known as Black Irish (which term refers to the color of their hair not their skin, by the way) made it to the Big Leagues.  

So much for my idea of an All-Ireland baseball team. There have been 43 players with the last name Murphy in baseball history but none of them born in Ireland. One of them, who apparently went by the name Murphy, no first name, played in 1884 and one of them, named Dummy Murphy, played in 1914. Another, with the unlikely first name of Yale, played from 1894-1897.

Curiously, prior to Jackie Robinson integrating baseball in 1947, there had been 47 players who had been born in Ireland who played in the Major Leagues, most of them before the turn of or shortly after the beginning of the twentieth century. Of those 47, only one, Patsy Donovan, hit over .300, batting .301. He played for seven different teams, 15 years in the National League, one in the American League and one in the old American Association, in a career that ran from 1890-1907. None of the others, who had over a minimum of 20 Major League at bats, achieved a batting average over .300.

Perhaps the fact that baseball is not the National Pastime in Ireland is the biggest reason that home grown Irishmen do not succeed in baseball. That certainly has to be a contributing factor and perhaps accounts for their collective inability to hit.

Ireland did not have a national team until 1996 when they played their first game. Since then, they have won the Bronze medal in the European Championships in Germany in 2004 and the silver medal at Brussels, Belgium in 2006. The Irish Baseball League, founded in 1997, has teams from different areas in Ireland.  

P. J. Conlon, a left handed pitcher in the Mets system, who was a non-roster invitee to spring training this year, was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland and attended San Diego State University. He was 12-2 with a 1.65 ERA last year between St. Lucie, in the high A Florida State League and Columbia in the Class A Southern Atlantic League. He looks like Ireland’s best chance to field their first modern, Ireland born, major leaguer.

Or could it be that there is a level of prejudice among Major League management that keeps them from having exhibition tours, like they have had in Mexico, Japan, Australia and Cuba, in Ireland. Perhaps Irish baseball players should form an organization to promote their countrymen. I would suggest that an appropriate name for the group might be the Federation Of United Irishmen or F.O.U.I., pronounced “Fooey,” which I think might express the majority of the Irish peoples’ attitude towards American baseball.


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