Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day—a celebration of the many men (and one woman) of Irish descent who have densely populated professional baseball, especially in its earliest decades.
FoxSports.com analyst Rosen (Bullpen Diaries: Mariano Rivera, Bronx Dreams, Pinstripe Legends, and the Future of the New York Yankees, 2011, etc.) has nothing too weighty on his mind here. The text is full of bullet points, lots of anecdotes and earnestness mixed with facetiousness. The author begins with a snapshot of the game in 1894, a game that in some ways resembled today’s, in other ways was nearly alien (pitchers had to keep both feet on the ground but could doctor the ball with just about any substance). He writes about the socioeconomic factors that brought so many Irish immigrants to American shores and notes how they found baseball one of the few places that (grudgingly) accepted rather than excluded them. By the 1880s about 40 percent of players were Irish. The author leaps back to the 1870s and the first professional league, then advances decade by decade to the present. Some famous names from diamond (and cultural) history emerge along the way—the evangelist Billy Sunday gave the game a whirl, and was slugger Mike “King” Kelly the source for “Casey at the Bat”? By the 1890s some future deities on baseball’s Olympus had appeared, John McGraw, Connie Mack and Charles Comiskey among them. As the decades proceeded, the Irish influence waxed and waned and waxed again, and the author includes a number of interviews—oddly dull ones for the most part—with current players with Irish ancestry. Readers will no doubt enjoy the stories (most are quite brief) about the likes of Billy O’Hara (an outfielder who improved the techniques of throwing hand grenades), Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel, umpire Jocko Conlan, Denny McClain and myriad others.
As frothy as a ballpark beer.