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The Emerald Diamond: How the Irish Transformed America's Greatest Pastime

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  • Posted March 13, 2012

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    A great gift for St. Patrick's Day or Easter

    Saturday is St. Patrick's Day, and since spring training is well underway, it's a good time to review Charley Rosen's book The Emerald Diamond: How The Irish Transformed America's Greatest Pastime. I'm proudly Irish and have been a big baseball fan since childhood, so this book held great appeal for me. I had never really considered the Irish contribution to baseball, and Rosen's book is comprehensive in his thesis. As the Irish wave of immigration exploded during the potato famine in the 1840s, the author states that "only four paths of advancement were readily available to young Irish males: politics, police work, the priesthood and sports." Many sports were out of reach for immigrants- golf, tennis, football, track and field were the purview of the wealthy and college educated. Boxing and baseball appealed to the Irish immigrants. Baseball was their game "because the basics of the sport involved manipulating a bat (which strongly resembled the ancient Irish war club known as the shillelagh), running fast, and throwing a ball hard and accurately- all skills familiar to traditional sporting pastimes in Ireland. " Rosen's intertwined history of baseball in America and the Irish immigrants who played the game utterly fascinated me. In the late 1880s, Irish players became valued for their contributions to the game. The Sporting News wrote that the Irish were "distinguished by their ability to quickly devise plans and schemes." The American Press Association said it was due to their "love of a scrap and proficiency in the use of a club." The schemes that some of the Irish players devised are recounted with great humor and admiration here. Mike "King" Kelly frequently took advantage of the fact that when there was only one umpire who had to watch the play at first, he would take a "shortcut" while rounding third to get home, eliminating 20 feet or so. Kelly also would hide an extra ball in his uniform shirt and if it was dark out and a fly ball went over the fence, he would pull the ball from shirt and claim to have caught it for an out. There are many clever and funny tales like this that had me giggling, because I know a few coaches who would love to pull some stunts like that. Some of the greatest managers in the game were Irish; Joe McCarthy, John McGraw, Casey Stengel and Connie Mack brought many innovations to the game that still exist today. When Mack was a catcher, he one was one of the first who would attempt to throw out the trailing runner in a double steal. He was also the first catcher who would physically block the plate when the runner attempted to score. I'm from Auburn, NY and one of the interesting tidbits in the book concerns McGraw who, at the end of every season, donated the Giants used uniforms to the Auburn Prison baseball team. I had never heard that bit of lore. Each chapter begins with a quote, and my favorite is from George Bernard Shaw- "People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it." I think I'll put that one on my family's coat of arms. The book profiles Irish players, coaches, and even umpires, from every era and gives their stats. I grew up loving baseball and being proud of being Irish, yet I never thought about the important contributions the Irish made to the great game of baseball. This is a wonderful book to give to the Irish sports fan in your life; it makes the perfect S

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