Talk of Irish-American baseball hero Daniel Murphy has dissipated as quickly as the World Series itself, but he is far from the only Irish person to make their mark on the All-American pastime.
Hopefully, however, he will be better remembered than the O’Neill brothers from Maam in Connemara, Co. Galway—a set of four brothers rightly positioned to take the title of Ireland’s greatest baseball family.
Mike, Jack, Steve and Jimmy O’Neill were all Major League players in their own right, but it was Steve who had the most success, winning a World Series not just as a player (with the Cleveland Indians in 1920) but as a manager as well (Detroit Tigers in 1945).
His career began with the Indians at age 19, when he was picked up by another man with Irish roots, Connie Mack, who could be considered as the godfather of baseball. Steve went on to play for the Indians for 15 years, winning the World Series during his time there.
He also played with the Red Sox and with the Yankees, including Babe Ruth – a man and a legend whom he considered a good friend.
Such was his success that there has been talk recently of his induction into baseball’s Hall of Fame. Quite an achievement for a man from Galway.
The O’Neill family left Co. Galway in 1882 at a time when the small Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) community was shaken by the Maamtrasna murders—the brutal slaughter of five members of the Joyce family in their cottage.
Settling in Northern Pennsylvania, all the young men in the family took to the mines to work but it was their pastime that would earn them fame and fortune.
The eldest brother Pat was said to show the greatest promise, but an unfortunate mining accident ended any hope of a professional career. An injured hand did not put a stop to his love for the sport and he went on to set up America's very first baseball school. In a move inspired by the major success of his own family in leaving the coal mines behind them, Pat is said to have started the baseball development school, The Minooka Blues, to help young coal miners on their way to becoming Major Leaguers.
Mick and Jack, two of the eldest brothers both born in Ireland, set the scene for the baseball family dynasty becoming the first baseball brother battery with the St. Louis Cardinals at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Although Jack’s career only lasted five years, Mike played for six years in the Majors becoming the first National League pitcher to hit a Grand Slam in the 20th century.
And the best thing about playing baseball as Irish men and in particular, as Connemara men? Well, they had their own secret code ready made. Mike and Jack played with each other for the St Louis Cardinals, Mike as a pitcher and Jack as a catcher, and rumor has it that the pair used to trade signals to each other using their native Irish language.
The O’Neill brothers were the subject of a recent documentary on Irish language TV station TG4, “Ón Mám go dtí na Major Leagues “ (From Maam to the Major Leagues), produced and directed by Aenghus Mac Eochagáin at Snag Breac Films.
Featured in the documentary are interviews with relatives of the sports-star brothers, USA baseball historians William C Kashatus and Morris Eckhouse, and President of Baseball Ireland, Peter Kavanagh as they explore the forgotten success of the Irish family and look into their Irish roots.
If you wish to hear more about the incredible O’Neill brothers, you can watch the documentary “Ón Mám go dtí na Major Leagues” at http://www.tg4.ie where it will be available for the next month.H/T: the42.ie