In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, let’s take a modern day look at the history of the Irish and their contributions to Major League Baseball.
The Irish American Baseball Society is doing just that with some important research, headed by amateur genealogist Tim Carr. This being Irish American Heritage Month, the IABS has announced the discovery of the Irish ancestors of some prominent current and former MLB players, including Hall of Famers Derek Jeter, Wade Boggs, Nolan Ryan and Mets ace Jacob deGrom, who is (almost certainly) heading to the Hall.
Carr’s wealth of knowledge is impressive.
A former CEO in the automotive industry, Carr, who is retired, is going deep on the subject and is putting forth the same type of effort that made him such a success in business. Carr has 22 years of research experience in genealogy.
The Story appreciates efforts of those who do things for the love of baseball. It is the kind of devotion to the game baseball needs more of this day and age.
Carr loves research and is currently working on his second book, more on that later.
He came across the IABS on the web, call it the luck of the Irish, and became interested in helping tell the rich Irish baseball story.
It is much more than wearing a green cap in exhibition games on St. Patrick’s Day.
Carr, by the way, has dual citizenship.
“I got my passport because my grandparents were born in Ireland,’’ Carr told BallNine. “I was always into the Irish stuff for sure and baseball has always been a love of mine. I’m a geek about old time baseball and all that so when I found John Fitzgerald online with the IABS, I was ‘Oh boy, this is right up my alley,’ and it’s only 20 bucks to join.’’
The Baseball United Foundation is the parent organization of IABS and Fitzgerald is the executive director of Baseball United.
Carr purchased some merchandise, donated some money and Fitzgerald gave him a call one day. The website is IrishBaseball.org and their information can be found on Twitter @IABSociety Facebook @IrishAmericanBaseballSociety and Instagram @IABSociety.
“When I told him I was an amateur genealogist John was like: ‘Let’s talk,’ ’’ Carr said.
Yes, the Irish can talk and that is well documented in one of my favorite films: “The Quiet Man’’ starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. John Ford’s 1952 classic gave us such lines as Michaleen Flynn’s response after he was asked by Mary Kate Danaher: “Could you use a little water in your whiskey?”
Flynn: “When I drink whiskey, I drink whiskey; and when I drink water, I drink water.’’
There is plenty of information to soak up from the Irish American Baseball Society.
The IABS researches the intersection of the Irish diaspora and baseball history, Fitzgerald said. “Our research has already uncovered details about baseball being played in Ireland in the late 19th century, including a game between the Boston Red Stockings and the Philadelphia Athletics in Dublin in 1874,’’ Fitzgerald noted.
The 1874 Red Stockings and Athletics.
“We got this idea together to promote interest on both sides, both in America and in Ireland of just how prevalent Irish American heritage, and Irish born in the early days, but even today, Irish American heritage ballplayers are in the game,’’ Fitzgerald added.
A format was created for the players’ Irish background, and their baseball statistics to put it all together for the IABS members as part of the organization’s “Irish Baseball History Studies’’ project.
What county did their Irish ancestors come from? What generation Irish are they? What does their surname mean?
Bits of information were standardized with reports on players old and new. Carr is about 60 players into his research and Fitzgerald will feature them as time goes on at IABS. Fitzgerald will release three or four player information packets this week for St. Patrick’s Day.
The newer players drum up a little more interest, of course, but the former players are fascinating in their own right. They helped build the game.
“Right after the Civil War, which was about 15 years after the potato famine, there were a bunch of Irish here and that is when baseball started getting popular,’’ Carr explained. “Even the North vs. the South would stop fighting so they could play baseball together.
“In the 1870s and 80s there was a ton of Irish infusion into baseball, it’s amazing how much they were involved. Of course, if they played cricket in Ireland, they probably had a leg up on somebody who never played baseball before,’’ Carr said. “I think they were just good athletes. Baseball was a natural thing. There are a lot of Irish American players out there. It sort of mimics our American citizenship, pretty much one out of seven has some Irish blood in them.’’
Carr noted that one of those he studied “was the manager of my favorite team, the Tigers, Sparky Anderson. Now he was 10th generation Irish, I followed it all the way back and boy did he have the gift of the gab. That one was fun for me personally.
Tim Carr and his wife Jen Ozment
“Wade Boggs was another I found,’’ Carr said. “That Boggs name sounds pretty British to me or German. Some of the newer players, it just shocks you and one I just got done yesterday was Joe Mauer. Now that’s a huge German name, right? But if you go on his mom’s side it gets Irish really quick. There are four different lines that are all Irish. He’s very, very Irish.
“So some of these guys with non-sounding Irish names will shock you when they turn out to be Irish,’’ Carr said. “The characteristics of the Irish sportsman is in their blood. I do think the whole struggle of being Irish is in their blood and that comes out well in a sporting activity. The whole underdog mentality of sports is perfect for an Irishman. And, like I said, they probably don’t even know they have it in their blood, but they do, and I think that is why they excel at this sport. Bat and ball games have been around a long time in Europe. Baseball they excel at.’’
Carr has looked into Dodger great Steve Garvey’s genealogy as well.
“The Garvey name is really prominent from where I am from County Donegal,’’ Carr said. “I’m thinking maybe he will be related to me because I have Garvey on my family tree.’’
There is more research to be done on Garvey.
“I will not guess. I’m an amateur genealogist but I follow a lot of the groups and their organizations and their codes of ethics. The integrity of their data, so I never just guess. I get corroborating evidence’’
As for Jeter, his great-great-great grandparents, John Connors and Ann Maloney, hailed from County Cork and County Clare. Boggs great-great-great-great-great grandfather Peter Donnelly was born in Dublin in 1720. DeGrom’s great-great-great grandparents William and Chaney Lonegran , were born in County Laois. They came to America and settled in South Carolina. Ryan’s great-great-great-great-great-grandparents were from Tipperary and came to America in the 1700s.
“I think most assumed Nolan Ryan was Irish because of his name,’’ Carr said, “but the origins and extent of his Irish ancestry weren’t previously known. The Irish connections of greats like Boggs and Jeter will come as a surprise to many baseball fans.’’
Carr, who lives in beautiful Birmingham, Michigan, published a book based on his findings of his own family tree, written in a historical fictional manner, dating back 500 years. “It’s called ‘Rocky Road to America.’ ’’
He is in the process of working on a “what if things changed in time’’ baseball/history/future book, including information about the Tigers, John F. Kennedy and how history’s dominoes would have fallen differently if certain things had happened. His working title is “Timing is Everything.’’
Carr also has done family trees for friends and people in his church, Holy Name Catholic Church in Birmingham. After his first marriage ended in divorce, Carr dated Jen Ozment, someone he knew in high school and re-connected with in Michigan.
“We found out we lived less than a mile from another,’’ Carr said, “and we said, ‘Hey, let’s go out.’ ’’
Yes, timing really is everything.
They wound up getting married. “We have five kids together, four grandkids, and property, it’s busy but I’ve used genealogy as a way to give back to the community,’’ Carr explained.
Past Irish players like Hall of Famer King Kelly are fascinating.
“In the beginning, baseball was more about grind it out, you didn’t get paid well, but I think King Kelly was the first celebrity, the first guy who turned it into a star-type idol thing and I think he doesn’t get enough credit,’’ Carr said. “I think before Babe Ruth, he might have been the biggest thing there was as far as star power.’’
Manager Ned Hanlon is another person Carr has looked at extensively. Hanlon was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996 and was known as the father of modern baseball back when he won five NL pennants in seven seasons from 1894-1900 with Baltimore and the Brooklyn Superbas.
“He was the one who developed all these strategies,’’ Carr said of Hanlon’s small ball, hit and run approach to the game.
It certainly would be refreshing to see some of Hanlon’s game played in today’s strikeout/home run game.
“Hanlon started out as a player on a team that even nobody from Michigan knows about called the Detroit Wolverines,’’ Carr said. “He had all these unbelievable accolades but he managed too long and he became sort of this tragic figure at the end of his career. He’d sit in the dugout and none of his players would listen to him, it was kind of sad. He’s a figure that kind of never gets talked about.’’
History never disappoints, there are always more stories to tell and some of the photos the IABS publish are remarkable. I love the team photos from way back when and the uniforms, plus such wonderful pictures of players like Ed Walsh, Willie Keeler, Tony Mullane and Bill Carrigan. Then there are the nicknames. Mullane was known as Apollo Of the Box. Keeler, who was only 5-4, was Wee Willie or Hit ‘Em Where They Ain’t, perhaps my second favorite nickname of all time. The Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth is No. 1. If Keeler played today he could be Hit ’Em Where They Ain’t a Shift. Walsh posted a 1.82 ERA and that’s featured in Gold on the Baseball Reference website, meaning the all-time record.
Say what you will about stats and eras.... that last one is undeniable.
The IABS is growing. And that is not all.
The Baseball United Foundation and Healthy Kidz CIC have just announced a partnership that will introduce baseball to school children throughout Northern Ireland. Under the partnership Baseball United will provide a curriculum and remote video instruction to prepare coaches to teach to children, ages 8-12. Baseball United will also send baseball equipment to the program.
“Great coaches are crucial to introducing a new game into a place where the sport is not traditionally played,’’ Fitzgerald said.
Baseball United has been working in Ireland for nearly two decades. “We are very excited to expand our efforts throughout Northern Ireland,’’ said Chris Foy, the president of BU’s board of directors. Foy’s paternal grandmother and wife both hail from Derry. “Many of our board members and volunteers have Irish connections, through family, friends and ancestry, so working with Healthy Kidz to introduce baseball to Irish school children is very important to our organization.’’
The Irish heritage list also includes media. According to IABS research, Tom Verducci’s great grandfather Edward Corridan was from County Langford and Brian Kenny’s father Charles was born in County Roscommon.
On the website is information on Hall of Famer Pud Galvin. He threw the first perfect game in baseball history, was the first to win 300 games. He was born in St. Louis on Christmas Day 1855 and his pickoff move was the stuff of legends. Perhaps pitchers could study a little more about him to learn how to hold runners.
Great research, and a most interesting website, filled with unique information.
So, here is a toast, similar to the one given in “The Quiet Man’ to the happy “Trooper’’ Thornton couple, a toast that could have been said long ago to those who would one day have their children’s, children, children come to America and play baseball:
“May their days be long and full of happiness; may their children be many and full of health; and may they live in peace … and freedom.’’
Erin go Baseball.