An Exhibit Presented by the Ward Irish Music Archives, Milwaukee Irish Fest
The myth of baseball’s creation by West Point cadet Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839 has been thoroughly debunked. A more likely version of baseball’s Big Bang Theory credits Alexander Cartwright of the New York Knickerbocker Club with inventing the game in 1845. Baseball as we know it is believed to have evolved in the 19th century from one or more games that started in England, including rounders, cricket, and one-old-cat.
Among Cartwright’s contributions to the modern rules were the diamond-shaped infield, 90 feet between bases, three-strikes-are-out, and three outs per half inning. Early rules were much different than today. At times in the game, runs were “aces”, batters could ask for a specific pitch location, pitching was underhand, gloves were considered unmanly, and a fielder could put a runner out by hitting the runner with the thrown ball.
The evolution of baseball in America coincides with the mass emigration from Ireland during the potato famines of the 1840’s. Baseball started in urban clubs in the northeast part of the nation. Cities like Albany, NY, had many Irish immigrants, and to this day they still have one of the highest concentrations of Irish Americans in the U.S.
In these early days of baseball it’s estimated that about 30% of all baseball players were of Irish descent. Forty-eight were born in Ireland. Early Irish greats were “King” Kelly, Connie Mack and Ed Walsh. Many Irish in professional baseball went on to other pursuits, Chuck Connors became an actor, Charles Comiskey became owner of the Chicago Cubs, and John Tener, born in County Tyrone, Ireland, became Governor of Pennsylvania in 1911.
In 1947 the game’s greatest agent of change, Jackie Robinson, kicked open the door of the national pastime to allow superior athletes of all colors to take part. The sport is now played with people from many diverse ethnic backgrounds, but the wonderful essence of the game remains the same.
This exhibit uses photos, baseball cards and sheet music from the Library of Congress and the Ward Irish Music Archives collections to document the contribution the Irish and Irish Americans made to our national pastime. Our thanks to the National Baseball Hall of Fame for their assistance, and also to Tom O’Connell and Robert Buege.