The White Sox have had plenty of Irish heritage players through the years, from battery mates Jimmy Callahan (a true star) and Billy Sullivan (ditto, for his defense) in 1901 to team leader Jose O’Breu today, but we’ve never had an actual Irish-born one. But that may not be a bad thing — except for the luck part.
According to Baseball Almanac, 44 Irish-born players have made it to the majors, but the only one since World War II is Belfast-born P.J. Conlon, who had an 8.22 ERA in three appearances for the New York Mets last season and was a non-roster invitee this spring. The gap may be because the previous Irishman, Cork-born Joe Cleary, only managed one-third of an inning in 1945 and racked up an ERA of 189.19, which didn’t inspire teams to set up Irish scouting bureaus.
Of the 44, there were more position players than pitchers, which may seem odd, since the Irish national sport is hurling, but their hurling is sort of field hockey on a massive steroid overdose and often involves swatting a ball with a stick. (Neither is to be confused with the hurling that will be going on all over Chicago sidewalks this weekend.) There were a few successes, most notably first baseman Jack Doyle of Killorglin and outfielder Patsy Donovan of County Cork, both of whom played for 17 years, with Donovan later managing.
The vast majority of Irish-born players were in the 19th Century, children in families who came during the great Irish migration through and after the mid-century famine. That helps explain the lack of any playing for the White Sox, who didn’t exist at the time.
There were three who played for the Chicago White Stockings, but, alas for our Irish luck, those White Stockings were predecessors of That Other Team. The three all had short visits — all-rounder Jimmy Hallinan of Dublin in 1877-78, outfielder Bill Sullivan of Maam joining him in ’78, and pitcher Jon Tener of County Tyrone in 1888-89. Interesting point on Hallinan, who played four major league seasons, is that he threw lefty, yet played mostly at short and second.
The White Sox have a little better connection with the Fighting Irish than the real ones, but not all that much. Baseball Almanac lists 81 Notre Damers who made it to the big leagues, starting with one of those White Stockings, the legendary and original Nasty Boy Cap Anson.
Of those, seven spent time in a White Sox uniform, beginning with right fielder Rod Kelly, who sported a .156 average in 1910. Righty reliever Bill Lathrop lasted 25 games in 1913-14, and lefty Paul Costner tossed 10 innings in 1925 to a 6.30 ERA. Righty Ed Walsh (nope, the other one, although this lesser Walsh missed being managed on the White Sox by that other Ed Walsh by just four seasons) was the first to have any success at all, lasting from 1928 to 1931 despite an 11-24 record and 5.57 ERA.
Better yet was all-positioner Billy Sullivan (a different on than 1901, not a ton of diversity in Irish names all those years ago), who spent the first three of his 12 MLB years with the Sox (1931-33), hitting .316 in ‘32. Fast-forwarding, righty Ron Reed spent the last of his 19 MLB seasons with the White Sox in 1984, at the tender age of 42. And, of course, there was Jeff Samardzija, whose 2015 year with the Sox wasn’t exactly the highlight of his career.
Oh, yes — the other Hall-of-Famer with Fighting Irish ties besides Anson played for another color of Sox, but we heard his name on White Sox TV more than any of our actual players over the last third of a century. Pity we never actually had Carl Yastrzemski on the field during that time. Heck, Yaz may turn 80 this year, but, given his opening pitch at the World Series last fall, probably could still out-throw some of our outfielders.
In sum, better not count on the luck of the Irish. Or the skill.
Maybe the grounds crew can find a four-leaf clover in the GuRF turf.