BY KEVIN KERNAN
Music made the family come together.
“My dad and my mom were all about family,’’ Jim Leyland told BallNine this week. “There were seven of us and my dad was one of 16. My dad had 15 brothers and sisters.’’
Leyland, Jim Palmer, and umpire John McSherry, who passed away in 1996, will all be inducted into the Irish-American Baseball Hall of Fame this year. Steve Garvey, who is also a member of the IABHOF, will make the official announcement – and this is a big deal because it is the re-launch of this Hall of Fame. This will be the first class since 2019.
Leyland is thrilled to be inducted, as is Palmer, and he would have been inducted much earlier but he only discovered several years ago that he was Irish, thanks to the research of his wife Susan. But more on that later, at Baseball or Bust.
“Family was always the big thing with us,’’ Leyland said. “My father was a factory worker, and on Sunday nights we would sit around the piano. I had a brother and a sister who played the piano and I played the trumpet.’’
Imagine that, Jim Leyland, who would go on to become one of the best managers in the history of baseball, was a trumpet player. A guy who would never toot his own horn, could play the trumpet.
“McSherry came up a lot and the members were enthusiastic about him. Palmer was a shoo-in but he couldn’t be inducted before because he didn’t know he was Irish.”
“I played the trumpet until I went to high school; then I decided to play sports more,’’ Leyland said of growing up in Perrysburg, Ohio and going to Perrysburg High School, where he earned nine varsity letters in football, basketball, and baseball and was voted the most popular senior boy in 1962. “I still played it on the side a little bit. Eventually, I smoked too much and I don’t have the wind to blow it anymore. But I still know the notes and everything and we’d sit around the piano on Sunday night – that was our family exercise, so to speak. It was great.’’
It turned out to be more than that in the bigger picture.
“It was really interesting for me to have six brothers and sisters,’’ Leyland said, “and it was really interesting to me – I didn’t know all my dad’s brothers and sisters, but I knew most of them – and it was always interesting for me because it helped me throughout my baseball career, because each one of those aunts and uncles kind of had a different personality, and it helped to actually learn how to deal with people and handle people. Actually it was a very good lesson for me.’’
As a manager, you have to deal with so many personalities; and Leyland, throughout his career, 11 years in Pittsburgh, two years with the Marlins, one season in Colorado, and eight years in Detroit, Leyland had to deal with every kind of personality from bench players to superstars like Barry Bonds and Miguel Cabrera. That big Irish family proved to be an education in human behavior as Leyland went on to win three pennants, one World Series, and three times was named Manager of the Year as he compiled a 1769-1728 record. He also was the manager of the Team USA that won the World Baseball Classic in 2017. Someday, he’ll be in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown as well.
“I’m really happy to be inducted into the Irish Baseball Hall and really looking forward to it,’’ Leyland said.
Jim Leyland of the Florida Marlins poses for a photo on February 16, 1997 in Melbourne, Florida. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images)
John Fitzgerald, the founder of the Irish American Baseball Society, and Shaun Clancy, who ran the legendary Manhattan baseball bar Foley’s, and is the founder of the Hall, are thrilled to be back up and inducting people into the IABHOF after three years of sitting on the sidelines.
“The Hall was founded in 2008,’’ Fitzgerald said, “and it was in Foley’s forever and Foley’s shut down with the pandemic so this is the relaunch of the Hall.’’
There will be plaque presentations made on Irish Night at PNC Park in Pittsburgh for Leyland, Citi Field in New York for McSherry, and Camden Yards in Baltimore for Palmer, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990.
On a personal note, Leyland, who still works for the Tigers (I talked to him after a spring training game), was always one of my favorite managers to deal with because he knew the game so well and was so honest – but most of all, he was so darn competitive.
Those smoke-filled media sessions in his office in Bradenton or Lakeland were really an education in the art of the game. In fact, it was sitting around and talking the game like family – and now that makes perfect sense considering Jim Leyland’s Sunday nights at home around the piano. Same goes for Palmer. We used to chat regularly near the coffee machine at Yankee Stadium whenever he was broadcasting a game for the Orioles.
These are two good men who can easily talk about life and baseball.
“I’ve seen some of the people getting into this Hall of Fame and it’s pretty impressive,’’ Leyland said of the HOF members.
He’s right about that and the IABHOF includes players like Nolan Ryan and Dale Murphy, media members Dan Shaughnessy and Dave Wills (the Rays radio broadcaster who just sadly passed away), managers Casey Stengel and Brian Snitker, and another one of the game’s all-time greats as a catcher and a broadcaster Tim McCarver, who died last month; and, of course, legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully. The list also includes Kevin Costner, Bill Murray, Walter O’Malley, and Connie Mack. Go to https://irishbaseball.org/hof/ to check out the entire roster.
Pitcher Jim Palmer #22 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches during an Major League Baseball game circa 1976 at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. Palmer played for the Orioles from 1965-84. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Palmer, who is one of the best broadcasters in the game after being one of the best pitchers, has an incredible story about his Irish heritage.
He told BallNine that the credit belongs to his wife Susan, “because she got tired of watching the baseball playoffs and actually followed my heritage and connected with some people in Ireland.’’
Palmer was born in 1945 and was soon adopted, and simply did not know of his Irish background. When Palmer was watching those four-hour October baseball games in 2017, Susan began her genealogical laptop research and eventually discovered Jim’s biological parents Mary Ann Moroney and Joe Geheran. Susan persuaded Jim to take a DNA test to further trace his lineage.
Born on October 15, 1945 in Manhattan, Jim was 72 when he learned he was Irish.
As Dave Sheinin wrote in detail in The Washington Post in May 2018 about the journey, Moe Wiesen was Palmer’s adoptive father. Moe died of a heart attack in 1955. His wife Polly later became engaged to Max Palmer, a Hollywood character actor; and at the age of 11 Jim Wiesen formally changed his name to Jim Palmer.
The rest is baseball history. Irish history, too.
Susan connected with a descendant of the Moroneys of County Clare in Ireland. A first cousin, Pat Moroney, was located and visited the Palmers at their Florida home. Moroney, when he lived in the Bronx, used to watch Jim pitch against the Yankees.
“We went to lunch and Susan asked Pat, ‘do you have a favorite team?’’’ Palmer told me. “Pat, in his Irish brogue, said, ‘Oh I love the Mets.’ ‘’
Then came the subject of the 1969 Miracle Mets beating Palmer’s Orioles. Turns out, like any true Mets fan, Pat hated the Yankees. He told Palmer he used to watch him pitch in the Bronx all the time against the Yankees because, “You would always beat them.’’
Home Plate Umpire John McSherry signals out as Terry Kennedy, catcher for the San Francisco Giants tags Philadelphia Phillies pinch hitter Mark Ryal during their MLB National League West game on August 28, 1989 at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, California... The Phillies won the game 6 - 1. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Allsport/Getty Images)
Palmer won 30 games against the Yankees over his amazing career, a lifetime 268-152 record with a 2.86 ERA, two ERA titles, three Cy Young Awards, three World Series titles, and four Gold Gloves.
Palmer has spoken to the Yankees’ Aaron Judge about being adopted. The Judge family and the Palmer family also have this in common: they both are proud owners of dachshunds. Palmer’s dog is named Teddy, “The cutest most annoying dog in the world,’’ Palmer said with a laugh. “They bark a lot.’’
The third member of the class, John McSherry, was one of the most respected and beloved umpires in the game. His longtime partner, Marion Doyle, is so thrilled with the honor.
“John has been gone so long and you really don’t hear anything about him anymore, so this is wonderful,’’ she told me from her home in Riverdale in the Bronx. McSherry died at the age of 51 while umpiring behind home plate in Cincinnati on Opening Day, 1996 – shocking the baseball world.
“This would probably thrill him more than anything because of his Irish roots,’’ Marion said.
The two first met in 1977.
Marion laughed and said, “Where did anyone meet back in the ‘70s, it was in a bar. We became friends immediately. The first time I met him was at Piper’s Kilt in the Bronx and it was during his first World Series. He was a big deal back then. You know who else used to come in every once in a while? Mel Allen.”
“I can’t imagine anyone in baseball would have a bad word to say about John.’’
That’s the truth.
Jim Leyland first met John McSherry in the minor leagues. He was an umpire’s umpire.
“John was a great guy; it was sad what happened to him,’’ Leyland said. “I went way back to Tiger Town in the minor leagues with John, waaay back. He had very good judgement and he was one of those guys who knew how to handle situations.’’
And that’s the key with umpiring. It is not just about making the call, it’s about handling any situation; the human element in a game that now depends too much on technology.
First baseman Steve Garvey #6 of the Los Angeles Dodgers bats against the Atlanta Braves during a MLB game circa 1978 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. Garvey played for the Dodgers from 1969-82. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
“The members nominate and the members vote,’’ Fitzgerald said of the process. “McSherry came up a lot and the members were enthusiastic about him. Palmer was a shoo-in but he couldn’t be inducted before because he didn’t know he was Irish. People were saying, ‘How is he not in? Well he only found out in like 2018.’ And Leyland, people know his story.’’
Three great choices.
“It means a lot to me and to Shaun and to have this re-started is great,’’ Fitzgerald said. “It also means a lot that a guy like Steve Garvey makes the announcement. He’s in the Irish Hall and he’s a proud member and is the Irish Baseball Ambassador with the Hall and everything else. He knows all these guys.’’
When the dates are set for the presentations, they will be announced on the website – Irishbaseball.org.
Garvey is thrilled to be a part of this all.
“I’ve been inducted into the Florida Hall of Fame, the California Hall of Fame, Michigan State, and I put the Irish HOF right there on top,’’ Garvey told me. “It’s been a great idea over the years to start that – and the celebration of these wonderful Irish Americans who have come over and made significant contributions to the game of baseball I think has been fabulous. We’ve got to keep the orange, white, and green flying high.’’
Garvey’s family hails from County Clare and County Louth.
“One of the members of the society is a genealogist and he came back with three pages of just phenomenal stuff, going back to the late 1700s,’’ Garvey said.
“Shaun essentially laid the foundation for all this with Foley’s, which was one of the great bars, besides being an Irish Bar, in the world,’’ Garvey said. “That really created the environment that started this. If you look at the list of the Hall of Fame, significant contributors to not only Irish history, but baseball history – and we have a pretty great all-time All-Star team along with executives, umpires, and media. I’m just proud to be part of it and perpetuate it.’’
And with that, Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone.
Enjoy the song for Ireland in baseball.