Irish Americans of Cleveland

History of the Cleveland Irish

Cleveland Irish in Baseball

from The Irish Americans & Their Communities of Cleveland
by Nelson J. Callihan &
William F. Hickey

A strange thing happened in the 1870's in Irishtown that aided several score of its inhabitants to escape ghetto existense and see how the other half lived. It was a game called baseball, which had come into vogue after the Civil War and caught hold in Cleveland in the years shortly thereafter. A professional team was formed hereabouts called the Forest Citys, and… the Irish took to it with a passion. In no time every brick-strewn lot in Irishtown was literally turned into a diamond in the rough.

While every Cleveland Irishman is acquainted with the feats of Paddy Livingston, who caught for 17 years in the major leagues, 11 with the Clevelands, not many realize that scores of Irishmen played professional baseball from the 1870's well into the 20th Century. The pay certainly wasn't good, but the fringe benefits, such as traveling about the country, sometimes as far west as St. Louis, and fairly good food, more than made up for the absence of money. Most important of all, baseball allowed the Irishman a chance to gain hero status, despite his national origin. He was accepted and it sure beat shoveling ore out of a boat.

The team representing Cleveland in the National Professional Baseball League in 1878, for instance, had six Irishmen in its starting lineup. 'Big Jim' McCormick was the premier pitcher and his fast balls were caught by one Barney Gillgan, who was described in one journal of the day as being "quick as a cat." William Philips played first base, Tom Carey was at shortstop, William Reiley played left field and 'Doc' Kennedy was in right.

That was not bad for a group of lads who had taken the game up only a few years before. What was to become the American national pastime was already the local Irish pastime and would continue to be for many years. Many solidly Irish amateur teams existed until the 1930's. Perhaps the last, and perhaps, greatest of them all were the Shamrocks of the 1930's, a team managed by Will Dehaney, himself a professional ballplayer, and featuring the talents of his five diamond-talented sons.