“Liathróid a imirt!” That means “Play Ball!” in the Irish or Gaelic language.
Today is Saint Patrick’s Day, the traditional annual celebration of all things Irish. There are a great many ways that we can look at baseball’s connection to the holiday theme.
Due to the late start to spring training caused by negotiations on Major League Baseball’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association, actual game play in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues is set to open with four games today.
In each of those contests the teams involved are expected to wear green versions of their uniforms. Many of the fans in attendance will also be decked out in green attire, costuming, and accessories.
“The Wearing of the Green” tradition in which MLB teams don the color on Saint Patrick’s Day began on this date in 1978 when the Cincinnati Reds took the field against the New York Yankees wearing green uniforms. The Cincy players didn’t know about the switch until the new unis arrived at their lockers an hour before game time.
As Todd Radom wrote in a piece at his website back in March 2014, very few MLB teams have featured the color green in their regular season uniforms: “The National League’s Troy Trojans of 1882 wore green, as did the 1910 Philadelphia Phillies. The 1918 Chicago Cubs—eventual NL pennant winners—wore green, at least on the road. The New York Times referred to them as “Green Sox” on multiple occasions that year.”
For the 1963 season, new owner Charlie Finley first outfitted his Kansas City (later Oakland) Athletics in green and gold uniforms. The team has featured green in a variety of its combinations ever since.
There have been 35 big league players with “Green” as their surname and another 14 with “Greene” pronounced the same. Tim Ireland played in 11 games with the Kansas City Royals over a pair of brief stints during the 1981 and 1982 campaigns.
Emil ‘Irish’ Meusel played for 11 years, debuting in 1914 and then from 1918-27. He was the primary left fielder with the New York Giants 1921-25 National League pennant winners who won back-to-back World Series championships in 1921-22.
According to Baseball Almanac there have been 44 big leaguers who were born in Ireland. However, the only player in more than a century who hailed from the Emerald Isle has been pitcher P.J. Conlon. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the southpaw appeared in three games with the 2018 New York Mets.
Kyle Sammin wrote a piece at The Hardball Times on St. Patrick’s Day in 2017 in which he speculated that Tony Mullane may be the greatest Irish baseball player of all-time. Born in Cork, Ireland in 1859, Mullane was a right-handed pitcher and a switch-hitter who appeared in 13 big league seasons between 1881 and 1894.
During his career, Mullane fashioned a record of 284-220 while appearing in 555 games (504 starts) on the mound. He produced a 3.05 ERA, 1.237 WHIP and allowed just 4,195 hits across 4,531.1 innings. He was also wild, walking 1,408 against 1,803 strikeouts while registering an MLB record 343 career wild pitches.
Among the many great players with Irish ancestral roots was Michael ‘King’ Kelly. Born in Troy, New York himself, Kelly’s parents were Irish immigrants. He became one of baseball’s first true superstars during a career which encompassed 16 seasons with a half-dozen teams from 1878-93. Kelly was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945.
My personal favorite ballplayer with Irish ancestry is also the same for most of my fellow Philadelphia Phillies fans. The great-great-grandson of Irish immigrants, Tug McGraw loved to celebrate his Irish roots. The father of country music superstar Tim McGraw appeared in 463 games with the Phillies over 10 seasons from 1975-84 and recorded the final out of the 1980 World Series victory.
After spending his first nine years with the New York Mets, Tugger was dealt to the Phillies in 1975. The team rewarded their new veteran lefty with a $75,000 contract, a record for relief pitchers at that time. When asked what he would do with his big haul, McGraw famously responded “Ninety per cent I’ll spend on good times, women, and Irish whiskey. The other 10 per cent I’ll probably waste.”
After Tug passed away in early 2004 following a battle with cancer, George Kimball wrote a piece celebrating McGraw’s life and career for The Irish Times. Included was this paragraph: “He described his three varieties of fastballs, none of which was particularly fast, as the Peggy Lee, the Cutty Sark, and the John Jameson. Of the first, he explained, “I take something off it, and the hitter says, ‘Is That All There Is?’ ” The Cutty Sark was so named because it sailed. And the Jameson? “Straight. Like Irish whiskey should be.”
Another local baseball legend here in my hometown of Philadelphia who celebrated their Irish roots was Philadelphia Athletics owner and manager Connie Mack. Born Cornelius McGillicuddy in 1862 to Irish immigrant parents, the Hall of Famer would guide five different Athletics teams to World Series championships during more than a half-century here in Philly.
The Irish American Baseball Society has compiled and maintains an Irish ancestry data base for baseball players. Included among the current stars who can trace roots back to Ireland are Pete Alonso, Cody Bellinger, Charlie Blackmon, Kris Bryant, Jacob deGrom, Eric Hosmer, Clayton Kershaw, Jeff McNeil, Anthony Rizzo, Max Scherzer, Mike Trout, Trea Turner, Mike Yastrzemski, and more.
Baseball as a sport may not be the national game of Ireland, but it has established roots across the island. Team Ireland, ranked 44th in world, competes in Europe for entry into major international competitions.
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to you all. No matter your ethnicity, may the luck of the Irish be with you all year long.
MORE RECENT BASEBALL PIECES