NEW YORK -- "Baseball is a family," Shaun Clancy says, and there is a lot of Irish blood in its genes. Every day, you encounter unexpected synergies that somehow bond the past with the present. What happened on Tuesday at Clancy's legendary Manhattan establishment, Foley's NY Pub & Restaurant, was
NEW YORK -- "Baseball is a family," Shaun Clancy says, and there is a lot of Irish blood in its genes. Every day, you encounter unexpected synergies that somehow bond the past with the present. What happened on Tuesday at Clancy's legendary Manhattan establishment, Foley's NY Pub & Restaurant, was one of such moments, a future tale to tell over Guinness.
"That's the beauty of baseball," he said. "It's kind of like when you drop a pebble and it spreads. Everybody kind of knows everybody. That's what I like about Foley's, it's a kind of home for baseball."
The occasion of this peculiar six degrees of separation was the 10th Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame induction, and one by one the connections materialized to everyone's surprise. The cast included former All-Star pitcher and MLB Network analyst Al Leiter, great grandson of an Ireland couple; Pat Hughes, the beloved Cubs radio broadcaster in town for the Mets series; Casey Stengel, represented posthumously by biographer Marty Appel; the four O'Neill brothers who all played in the Majors in the early 1900s; John Mooney, the IABHOF curator; and Mike Siano, a multimedia exec at MLB Advanced Media who gave Foley's its name.
"I'm not sure how much Irish I am," Hughes said. "I don't believe it's 100 percent, but my father went into an Irish pub many years ago, and he said as soon as he walked in, every person in there looked exactly like him. So I figure that must mean I have quite a bit of Irish blood."
What he said next began the flood of connections and floored Leiter:
"It's a tremendous honor, and to go in with Al Leiter, if I'm not mistaken, I think I saw your Major League debut when I was broadcasting for the Milwaukee Brewers."
Sure enough, it was Sept. 15, 1987, at old Yankee Stadium. Leiter, a 21-year-old lefty from nearby Bayville, N.J., struck out eight and held the Brewers to one run over six innings to win his debut, 4-3. Hughes was then partnering with Bob Uecker in the Milwaukee broadcast booth, a 12-year run before he teamed up with Ron Santo and eventually became the first radio announcer ever to call a Cubs World Series clincher.
"It's like, hmmm, where's the Irish in that thing? There's no 'Mc' or 'O' in front of it," Leiter said of his induction. "Mom being Irish, and years later, finally getting a chance to be inducted into this. But the coincidence of Pat Hughes being in, and broadcasting my first Major League game -- I knew Pat was with the Cubs but I didn't know (that). "To this day, my mother is still alive at 91, and if you were to ask her, she would tell you that the thing she is still most proud of is that day I got to the big leagues -- my brother Mark, too."
Now it was Leiter's turn to makes some connections.
"My father, who was born in a hospital under the 59th Street Bridge, was a huge Mets fan because of Casey Stengel," Leiter told Appel. "And it was because of the lovable losers, how my father really believed in the underdog . . . he loved everything Casey represented. He actually didn't like the winning ways of the Yankees. I get drafted by the Yankees, I grow up a Mets fan, I have five older brothers and we're indoctrinated as Mets fans."
Appel said he is taking the plaque to Glendale, Calif., where he will be speaking this month. It is where Stengel and his wife spent 50 years. Stengel was Irish on his mother's side, and Appel said, "Casey used to get sensitive about people talking about how he married up, because his wide Edna, her family was really prominent, developers of the city of Glendale." Well, Casey is still earning awards, and now people know how much he meant to Leiter.
While Leiter's mother and her parents hailed from Liverpool, England, Leiter said his grandparents came from Galway, just west of Dublin.
"Where the O'Neill brothers are from," Clancy interjected.
Mike and Mary O'Neill migrated in the late 1800s from Galway to the coal-mining town of Minooka, Pa. They had 13 children, the first five born in Galway and the other eight in Minnoka. Jack O'Neill was one of the Galway kids who played in the Majors, and his three brothers, Steve, Jack and Jim, were each born in Minooka. The Delahantys were the only other family with at least four brothers who played in the Majors.
Mike and Jack became MLB's first brother battery, and Mooney said they "communicated in Gaelic" to confuse batters. Steve hit .333 in the 1920 World Series, won a title as the manager of the 1945 Tigers, and never had a losing season in 20 years of managing
Mooney was not only inducted himself as the curator of the Irish-American Baseball Hall of Fame, but also spoke about the reason for inducting the O'Neill brothers. He credited Appel with the inspiration for what has now become a bigger and bigger deal throughout baseball.
"Part of this Hall belongs to Marty," Mooney said. "We were talking one day, and Marty said, 'You know what would be really interesting for you to write about one day? Did you know in 1945, there were 10 inductees into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Nine of them were Irish, and one was married to an Irish woman.' I was freelancing in those days, and I thought, 'Hmm, that's interesting.' So I wrote this article about it, and it kind of spurred the idea that maybe they should have something like this."
This event led to the addition of the Pete Caldera-Duke Castiglione "I Didn't Know He Was Irish" Award, given to an honoree whose Irish roots are not widely known. Siano, vice president of multimedia at MLBAM and one of the original MLB.com staffers, recalled in his speech that Castiglione, a New York broadcaster, was involved with MLB Radio back when MLB.com was just starting over dialup modems and audio shows were the norm before video.
"The funny part of this is, I would have never met Shaun if it wasn't for Duke Castiglione," Siano said. "Duke said he had a buddy who was a manager of a bar in Midtown, 'Do you want to come have a drink with me tonight?' I said sure, why not. So we went up, and the manager of that bar was Shaun, and 17 years later I consider him one of my closest friends. Clancy noted another connection to Castiglione.
"Duke's father Joe was the voice of the Red Sox, and Joe has been trying to get Pat into the Hall of Fame for years, as he did for Joe Morgan."
The same Joe Castiglione who called the end of the Curse of the Bambino in 2004: "Can you believe it?"
The same Pat Hughes who just called the end of the Curse of the Billy Goat. "The Cubs have done it!"
"I am thrilled beyond words," Hughes said of the chance to make that call. "I will savor that moment the rest of my life."
His plaque will be in the front of Foley's, next to others who share a lot in common, not the least of which is some Irish blood.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Follow him @Marathoner and read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com/blogs hub.