December 1, 2020
Written by 
Luke F. McCusker III

Baseball, the Irish and African Americans

Baltimore's Irish and Black communities had their heroes, like any ethnic group does. Waves of immigrants have gained a sense of belonging by seeing their own folks on the sports fields of America, and young boys have copied their heroes with their own teams, in different sorts of organizations and settings.

The young boys of Baltimore had no shortage of Irish and Black heroes.

The National League Baltimore Orioles were champions in 1894-1896, featuring many Irish players who were known to bend a few rules to ensure a victory. Men such as Ned Hanlon, Wee Willie Keeler, John McGraw, Hughie Jennings and Joe Kelley utilized flying spikes, hidden baseballs and salty language in the “small-ball” era they dominated. They played at Baltimore’s Union Park.

Four of the Hall of Fame team members were buried at New Cathedral Cemetery, in West Baltimore:

"There are two kinds of people: those who are Irish, and those who wish they were."—John McGraw, player & manager, member of the 1894 Baltimore Orioles. John was a great star at third base. His father emigrated from Ireland in 1856. He played and managed in Baltimore, but became most famous for managing the New York Giants for 30 years.

John McGraw's funeral was held at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, with his old teammate Ned Hanlon in attendance. One hundred and ten honorary pall bearers attended John's body. He was brought to Baltimore by train for burial.

Wilbert Robinson played for the Orioles from 1890-1899, and managed the team in 1902. He was their star catcher, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1945.

Joe Kelley was born of Irish parents who left Ireland to escape the Great Hunger. He was a star outfielder for the Orioles, fleet of foot and a hard hitter. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971.

Ned Hanlon managed the Orioles, and was an innovator, inventing the “Baltimore Chop” and the “hit-and-run play”. His parents emigrated from Ireland to escape the Great Hunger. His father was a railroad laborer, and later worked with his children in cotton mills. Ned’s talent for baseball helped him escape mill work. He was a star player and very effective manager.

Another Hall of Fame player, buried elsewhere:

Hughie Jennings was born of Irish parents, and worked as a breaker boy in Pennsylvania coal mines. He became one of the greatest shortstops of all time, playing for the Baltimore Orioles from 1893-1899. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Elements and Elaboration

Local Teams

Baseball along Lemmon Street, 1903

The boys of Baltimore organized hundreds of teams in the early 20th century, relying on parents for management and uniforms, and sometimes transportation. Local businesses were known to sponsor teams, each with creative names based on the neighborhoods they hailed from.

Boys along the block where our Museum is located formed the Sons of Rest, a 14-16 year old team captained by pitcher William Fitzpatrick, who lived with his widowed mother Maggie. Players lived at 913, 927, 931 and 937 Lemmon Street, a few doors down from McGillen’s Pub at 917.

Teams named the Lemmon Stars, Rock Street Boys, Hollins Athletic Club, Fort McHenry Boys and Stricker Athletic Club were challenged via the newspaper, and games were held on Sunday afternoons at Hurley’s Woods, near Wilkens Ave. and Hurley Street in Southwest Baltimore.

Additional games were played at Tolchester, a resort town on the Chesapeake Bay....a steamboat ride away. Parenta and families used the baseball game as an excuse for an outing, getting out of town and enjoying bay breezes, both ways. Mom might have packed a lunch, but there may just have been a chicken dinner available on the boat, or at the resort.

These bay resorts offered Irish families a diversion from the brick and mortar of the neighborhoods of Baltimore, and bathing suits were available for rental...really. Splashing around, watching the game and enjoying other fun diversions in Tolchester was good for the body and the soul.

Baltimore Black Sox, 1917

They were known as the "colored champions of the South", and played their home games at nearby Westport Baseball Park, which sat thousands. One of their opponents was known as "Corporal Tom Taylor's Camp Meade All-Stars", who came north for a game. The "Bacharach Giants" came down from Long Island to play the local nine as well.

They were also a traveling team, playing the Crisfield Giants at Cedar Grove Park, and the Aberfoyles, a white team in Wilmington, Delaware.

The team's reputation grew immensely, and they hosted the "American League Stars' in October, 1922. The collection of major leaguers included four World Series participants, and Baltimore-born knuckleballer Eddie Rommell, a 25-game winner for the Philadelphia Athletics.

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