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Philly’s Early Baseball Connection To The Emerald Isle

This post about famous Irish ballplayers from Philadelphia was originally published on March 17, 2011. Sláinte!

Before Tug McGraw, Connie Mack, Ed Delahanty, or even Chris Wheeler – Philadelphia has seen its fair share of Irishmen associated with Philadelphia baseball.

43 players born in Ireland have played baseball at the professional level starting when Andy Leonard debuted for the Boston Red Stockings on May 5th, 1871. Leonard stared previously with the “champion” Cincinnati Red Stockings which dominated the beginnings of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players in 1869-70.  Philadelphia would debut its first native Irish player only fifteen days later when Fergy Malone would open the season behind the plate for the Philadelphia Athletics, in Boston no less, during an 11-8 loss. That season, Malone and the Athletics would go on to defeat the Chicago White Stockings four games to one in the National Association’s first championship game.

Here comes the tricky part about baseball in the 19th century. How could there be two Irish-born baseball champions, from the same league, when professional baseball didn’t begin until the 1871 season? Baseball in the 19th century was a spider web of non-affiliated amateur leagues whose rules weren’t uniform and can become quite confusing to the most seasoned of baseball historians.

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The year that featured fully professional players (where all players on all teams were paid a salary) was in 1871. NAPBBP. In the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, the precursor to the National League we now know and love, was the first time a league featured fully professional players. Prior to the 1871 season however, the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first team to offer a salary to its players, ranging from $800 to $1200 dollars a season. Soon, other teams followed to pay its players while some still competed with unpaid amateurs.  Andy Leonard is considered the first professional Irish baseball player because he was paid $800 in 1869 and 1870 while with Cincinnati.  Due to the mix of professional and amateur teams competing against one another, along with other details like not having a uniform schedule for example, the years 1869 and 1870 aren’t counted as part of the leagues’ historical record. But, the 1869 Red Stockings are heralded by some baseball historians as champions of baseball that year because they had an impressive 57-0 touring record. Other historians lay claim that the true champions of that year are the Brooklyn Atlantics because they played against a higher caliber opponents despite having two losses to their record. Both claims are unofficial and hotly disputed.

So, according to this rationale Andy Leonard was a professional baseball player playing in a semi-professional league. Due to this, Leonard can be considered Ireland’s first professional baseball player but not its first baseball champion. That is why I believe that Fergy Malone is Ireland’s first professional baseball champion since Malone’s 1869-70 championships are unofficial and aren’t officially counted.

Below I created a chart highlighting all of Philadelphia’s native Irish players that played for the various incarnations of Philadelphian baseball teams. Save for Jimmy Walsh, who played for the Connie Mack’s A’s from 1912-13 and again from 1914-16, the remaining players played ball in the 1870’s through 1890’s. Only twenty per cent of white males born between and 1850-1890 were expected to live to their fiftieth birthday. I’d like everyone to keep in consideration that even by yesteryear’s standards; these players were active during their prime years.

Most of the native Irish players who played in Philadelphia had underwhelming statistics even in respect to the eras in which they played. Furthermore, of the eleven players to play in Philly, six had modest careers of five seasons or less. The table below highlights these players, their length of service and their ages while playing.

Player Professional Seasons Seasons In Philadelphia Playing Ages In Philadelphia
John Curran 1 1 24
Bill Collins 4 2 24, 26-28
Andy Cusik 5 4 19-23
Conny Doyle 2 1 21-22
Jack Doyle 17 1 19-35
Jacko Fields 6 1 22-27
Con Lucid 5 2 19-23
Fergy Malone 7 4 26-31
John McGuinness 3 1 19,22,27
Barney McLaughlin 3 1 27,30,33
Jimmy Walsh 6 5 26-31

A couple players jump out immediately from the chart: the previously mentioned Malone, along with Andy Cusik, Jimmy Walsh and Jack Doyle. Andy Cusik played four seasons for the Philadelphia Quakers, primarily as a reserve catcher. He logged less than ten games in 1884 and 1887 making his four seasons in Philly more like two and one-eighths. Jimmy Walsh played in two World Series with both the Athletics and the Boston Red Sox as a reserve outfielder. Walsh hit .300 or better ten times for the Baltimore Orioles in the International League. He was posthumously inducted into the IL Hall of Fame in 1958.

Jack Doyle was Todd Zeile-like playing for 10 major league teams from 1889-1905. His stolen base numbers are extremely inflated due to the rules during his playing days. They stated a base-runner who took an unexpected bag on a ball hit in play i.e. 1st to 3rd on a single, was credited with a stolen base. He would amass 73 stolen bases in 1896 for the National League’s Baltimore Orioles. In Philadelphia, Doyle played his penultimate season with the Phillies in 1904 batting .220 in 63 games. He played one game for the New York Yankees the following season, going 0-3. Just like another New York Yankees player who would retire 63 years later, he ended his career just short of batting .300, finishing at .299.

Doyle earned the nickname “Dirty” for his many altercations with fans, players (opposing and teammates) and umpires.

Per Wikipedia:

On one occasion, in Cincinnati on July 4, 1900, while in the 3rd inning of the second game of a doubleheader, Doyle slugged umpire Bob Emslie after being called out on a steal attempt. Fans jumped from the stands as the two got into it, and players finally separated the two fighters. Two policemen chased the fans back into the stands and then arrested and fined Doyle. On July 1, 1901, when he was being harassed by a Polo Grounds fan, he jumped into the stands and hit him once with his left hand, re-injuring it after having broken it several weeks earlier.

See, New York fans have a much longer history of being obnoxious at sporting events than our forefathers.

Despite Philadelphia’s lack of quality Irish players, Ireland did boast some of baseball’s earliest stars. Patsy Donovan was an elite player for the Pittsburgh Pirates amassing eight seasons of .300+ batting. Leonard, as I previously mentioned, was a champion with the Cincinnati Red Stockings and then with the Boston Red Stockings for a combined six times.  Tommy Bond would become baseball’s first pitching Triple Crown winner in 1877 winning 40 games, striking out 170 while keeping his earned runs average at a league best 2.11 that season.

According to the United States Census Bureau, almost 12 percent, or 36.2 million, of Americans identified themselves as having Irish ancestry. From 1820-1920, about 5 million Irish immigrated to the United States. The contribution of these immigrant Irish like Andy Leonard, Fergy Malone and even Jack Doyle, are overwhelming and undeniable to the history and makeup of the baseball in the United States.

In true Philly fashion, the majority of Irish players that played here just weren’t very good or played well past their physical baseball primes. As you know, this theme of under preforming players would continue to permeate through Philadelphia’s baseball history for the next 140 years.

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