Every baseball fan knows about Cooperstown, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but it should be noted that there are multiple Halls of Fame in existence that honor specific groups of people. One of these such places is the Irish-American Baseball Hall of Fame, founded in 2008 and located at Foley's New York Pub and Restaurant on 18 W. 33rd St. The president of this Hall of Fame is Shaun Clancy, and he was nice enough to take some time out of his schedule to talk to me about his museum, which is very dear to his heart. He takes great pride in the many contributions Irish-Americans have made toward baseball's history, and he certainly has a great passion for the game.
On June 18th, the Irish Hall inducted former Yankees Gene "Stick" Michael, Jeff Nelson, and Willie Keeler. Previously, the Hall has also honored Paul O'Neill, Brian Cashman, Gene Monahan, and Steve Donohue among others. Even statistician Bill James has a spot in this Hall of Fame, which has many categories for induction. There are now 33 members in total, and the website for the Irish Hall can be found here. If you're ever in the City and want both a bite to eat and to see a cool baseball museum, check it out!
Can you tell me a little bit about the founding of the Irish-American Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008? What made you decide to honor the Irish-Americans in particular?
Well, the reason why I’m honoring the Irish-Americans is I’m Irish. (laughs) I’m a huge baseball fan. You go to Cooperstown and you see on the old plaques how big of a role the Irish played in the formation of baseball. As a baseball fan, a number of times you come across somebody and you say, "You know what, that guy’s a class act and he’s a good guy. He’s not a Hall of Famer, but if there were a Hall of Fame for good guys, he’d be in that Hall of Fame." That’s kind of where it came about. It’s a way of honoring the good guys and combining my two big loves—my love of baseball and my homeland.
What kind of artifacts do you have at the museum? How are the inductees recognized?
We have an induction ceremony, and at the ceremony, each of the inductees receives a plaque. We have two plaques made for each inductee—one the inductee gets, and the second is on display here at Foley’s. There are artifacts pertaining specifically to the Hall of Famers. We put Steve Donohue and Gene Monahan, the Yankee trainers, in last year, and they brought along one of the little kits that they would have on their vests that they would use during the game. Sean Casey brought a Sean Casey bat. Tug McGraw—the Tug McGraw Foundation sent us a Tug McGraw shirt, a Tug McGraw bobblehead, and a Tug McGraw bottle of wine. Connie Mack’s daughter brought along a Connie Mack figurine and a very nice painting. Terry Cashman brought some CDs. Obviously, the inductees who have been here have all signed baseballs.
How does the voting process for your Hall of Fame work?
At the beginning, it was myself, John Mooney (the forefather of all this, the curator), and some people whose opinions I valued in the sporting world--writers and executives who don’t know who each other because I don’t want them to be bothered throughout the course of their day by people saying, "Oh, you have to put this guy in, you have to put that guy in." So that was the initial committee, and since then, everybody who has been inducted has a vote.
How have the inductees reacted to being honored? What do they think of the museum?
That was the coolest part so far. It was how they responded, to see how proud some of these guys were. Tim McCarver talked about how proud his parents would have been to see this. Terry Cashman came very close to tears talking about his parents and his grandparents. That’s the very cool part because sometimes I take for granted what being Irish means to me because I grew up there, but when you see these people and how proud they are of the whole situation, it’s very cool.
Shifting the focus to this year’s inductees, what do you think made Gene Michael so deserving of the honor?
What we try to do is broaden the scope of the people who we’ve inducted so that it’s not just players, not just executives, but to encompass the different facets of baseball. I’ve always been a very, very, very big fan of the scouts. I’ve wanted to induct a scout, and Stick’s been a good friend of mine for a long time. I’m not going to call him a "super scout," but he’s very close to being a "super scout." He’s certainly one of the greatest minds in baseball, so it was a very easy choice to put him on the ballot. The voters were in agreement in me there, and we’re very proud to have Stick as the first scout. Of course, he could have gotten in through five different categories, but he’s going in as our first scout.
What about reliever Jeff Nelson? He was really big on the ‘90s Yankees teams.
Huge on the ‘90s Yankees teams, and a very eloquent guy. Obviously, that’s a part of this too—the Irish heritage and the baseball connection, but being a good guy and helping others. Truly, that’s what has really impressed me. One of the things John and I kind of joke about is that there’s no lobbying the Hall. You’d be amazed about the people that have come up and said, "So-and-so would like to go in." These are some pretty big names in baseball, and I was kind of amazed that they’d be interested in our little Hall of Fame. I happened to be doing an interview in our second year, ’09, with Jeff on MLB Radio and he was like, "How do I get into the Irish Hall of Fame? I’ve got four World Series rings." I said, "Yeah, but do you have any Irish background?" Jeff had one of his kids do his due diligence and did a whole project on his history. They went into some brilliant details—Jeff has dates of marriages, deaths, and births going all the way back to Ireland, so that was pretty cool. Again, it was a matter of putting him on the ballot and the voters decided. We’re very proud to have Jeff inducted this year.
What about Willie Keeler? He’s an old-time baseball player from way back.
On the old-time players, we’ve inducted quite a few of them and some of them were very colorful characters like King Kelly and Tug McGraw. With Wee Willie, to the average baseball fan, they probably have no idea (who he is), but to a big baseball fan, they know the name, they know the records, they know he said, "Hit them where they ain’t." It’s just kind of a nice way to, for one day, make people aware of some of the colorful characters that played beforehand. He was a great player, died very young, and was from New York too.
Yeah, he played for the Yankees back when they first got started in the early 1900s.
Yeah, he’s not necessarily synonymous with the Yankees—he played for a couple teams—but yes, he did play for the Yankees.
Is there any news on the horizon of possibly expanding the the Hall of Fame as it grows? You’ve gone from nine members to 33 members now in just a few years.
We’re not trying to do so, in any shape or form. I cannot see people going in any more than the numbers that have gone in right now. There are no plans to suddenly go from small classes and ceremony to a much bigger event. We had talked about it, but it takes on a whole different persona if you try to do that. We’re trying to honor the guys we’re putting in, honor the contribution of the Irish in baseball, and also, to a lesser extent, to make people aware of the fact that there is baseball played in Ireland. We’ve had a connection for the last couple years with baseball in Ireland, and we’re actually very proud that on July 1st, we will host the Irish baseball team here for a small dinner. They’re playing some games in the area, and we’re going to have the team here for anyone that wants to stop by and actually see real live, Irish baseball players.
What’s the state of baseball in Ireland? How is it growing there?
It’s growing! It’s one of the fastest-growing sports in Ireland. Obviously, it’s on a grassroots level, and in some of the bigger areas, where there aren’t enough places on the Irish sports for all of the kids, baseball’s picked up the slack. With the growth of TV and stuff like that—when I was growing up, you might see a baseball game once in a blue moon on our TV, whereas now, my kids live in Ireland and my son’s a big Mets fan. He can watch the games and bust my chops when the Yankees lose, and he won’t take my e-mails when the Yankees beat the Mets this weekend.
Who do you consider the best Irish-American baseball players in the major leagues right now?
That’s actually a very good question. You would be amazed by the amount of people who might be half-Irish and half-Italian, but with an Italian last name. I suppose if I have to pick one guy—and again, I’m going on the fact that he told me that he’s got Irish heritage but he wasn’t 100% sure—it’s Josh Hamilton.
How is he related to the Irishmen?
We happened to be in Texas last year—we had inducted Nolan Ryan, and Nolan invited us down to present him with his plaque on the field prior to a game. So when we’re there, we happened to run into Josh in the dugout right before the game. He had heard about the Hall, and he turned to me and he said, "Hey, there’s some red in here (my goatee). I think I’ve got Irish blood."
I don’t think we’ve got any bigger than that. Obviously, the guys who come to mind would be Daniel Murphy, David Murphy, Chris Coghlan in Florida… there’s quite a list. Like I said, you’d be amazed when you come across a guy whose last name isn’t Irish. One of the broadcasters here in New York who covers the Yankees, Duke Castiglione. Duke’s half-Irish, but with a name list Castiglione, you wouldn’t think of it.
The last question I have to ask—as a New Yorker, which team will you be rooting for in this weekend’s Subway Series?
Well, that’s a very silly question—the boys in the Bronx. To be very honest with you, I am a Yankee fan, I will say that first and foremost, but I am also a baseball fan. I have a lot of friends throughout baseball. David Wright’s a good friend of mine, and I root for him to do well. That being said, Nick Swisher comes here and David Robertson was here for lunch last week. So, I have to be a little bit like Switzerland sometimes, but the tattoo on my ankle has the Yankee logo.
Many thanks again to Shaun Clancy and the Irish-American Baseball Hall of Fame for this interview.