March 17 marks the day one of Ireland’s pre-eminent patron saints passed away, St. Patrick. St. Paddy is celebrated across the globe with parades, festivals and lots of the color green and booze. For me, when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around each year it signals the start of baseball season. Teams are wrapping up spring training, putting the final touches on their rosters and gearing up for Opening Day. Coincidently, Major League Baseball does have a large sect of Irish-American baseball players. Staying in the spirit of the holiday, here are some of my favorite Irish-American athletes.
Boxer Jack Dempsey was one of the 20th century’s foremost superstars. The legendary boxer from Manassa, Colorado, grew up Mormon as a farmhand and was introduced to boxing by his older brother. Dempsey had three kinds of work he loved: boxing, mining and cowboying — and said that he would be happy doing either of them. Luckily for the early 20th-century boxing fan, Dempsey chose the ring and the rest is history. Dempsey would go on to win 66 bouts, hold the world heavyweight boxing title from 1919 until 1926 and ride a record 32 match winning streak. Dempsey was second only to Babe Ruth among the great American icons of the 1920s and arguably the greatest Irish-American athlete of all time.
Though John McEnroe may be remembered for his colorful post-volley outbursts, he was also a damn good tennis player. McEnroe won over 81 percent of his matches over his career and his 77 career titles, four of which were Grand Slams, and ranks fourth in the Open era. Many remember the iconic battles McEnroe and fellow Irish-American Jimmy Connors had on the court. Connors and McEnroe both coming from Irish decent added fuel to their already fiery rivalry and the Hall of Famers never disappointed. Johnny Mac has gone on to have successful broadcasting career and will forever be my favorite tennis player.
Aside from being one of the most unique pitchers of all time, Nolan Ryan is also comes from Irish-American background. On the mound “The Ryan Express” rolled through 1970s and 1980s on a record pace and became the first baseball player to make $1 million dollars per year when he signed with his hometown Texas Rangers in 1988. Ryan holds the major league record for most career strikeouts with 5,714. He also has 324 wins to his name and a record seven no-hitters. One of the most feared players ever to step on the diamond, Ryan played at the professional level until age 46. The legend himself lives on today and I rank him up there with the all-time great baseball players.
This St. Patrick’s Day we sports fans are in for a treat as the United States will face off with Puerto Rico on Friday night in the World Baseball Classic. It is a perfect way to bring in the unofficial start to baseball season. So Happy St. Patrick’s Day and an even happier unofficial start to the baseball season to you