Jim McCloskey (Baseball-Reference.com)

Jim McCloskey

This article was written by Kurt Blumenau

Jim McCloskey (Baseball-Reference.com)July 15, 1933, should have been the greatest day in Jim McCloskey’s sporting life – or, perhaps, the first in a string of great days.

The 23-year-old lefty was in Buffalo, New York, where he’d grown up, pitching for the visiting Jersey City Skeeters of the International League. July 15 was Jim McCloskey Day at Bison Stadium1, following a testimonial dinner two nights earlier.2 A substantial group from his hometown came to cheer him on.3 Rising to the occasion, McCloskey pitched a complete game and collected four hits4 – but he pulled up lame running one of them out. He’d aggravated an old knee injury, which worsened as he continued to play on it.5 He pitched only rarely the rest of the season6 and required knee surgery at a time when such treatment was not as routine or effective as it is today.7

McCloskey, a genial and upbeat sort by all accounts, would probably have said that July 15, 1933, was a great day for him anyway. He also might have pointed out that he returned to the mound after surgery and reached the major leagues with the 1936 Boston Bees, then raised a family and owned a business – all accomplishments to be proud of. Still, the course of his career before and after the injury makes one wonder what McCloskey might have achieved on the field, if only he’d struck out in that fateful at-bat on Jim McCloskey Day.

* * *

James Ellwood McCloskey was born on May 26, 1910, in Danville, Pennsylvania, a small town on the Susquehanna River about 30 miles southeast of Williamsport. He didn’t stay there long: Years later he said he “grew up in a moving van” and had lived in five places by the time he was five years old.8 He was one of four children9 of Samuel McCloskey, born in Scotland, and the former Mary Kelly, a native of Ireland.10 In deference to his heritage, Jim McCloskey was known throughout his life by the nickname “Irish.”

The family was living in Lancaster, New York, east of Buffalo, when Samuel McCloskey died in an accident in December 1918.11 The other McCloskeys stayed in Lancaster, and “Irish” became a high school star in football, basketball, baseball, and track.12 According to later recollections, McCloskey first sustained his knee injury while playing high school football in Lancaster.13 It didn’t slow him down much, though. During his Lancaster years, McCloskey pitched a one-hitter against high school competition; struck out 16 of 18 batters in an amateur game while walking nine; and started exhibition games against the Homestead Grays and a barnstorming team led by major-leaguer Curly Ogden.14

Young Irish came under scrutiny at Lancaster High for being … well, not so young. A coach at a rival high school accused Lancaster of fielding athletes who were as old as 21, singling out McCloskey by name.15 A local newspaper reported that McCloskey banished the speculation by providing a certificate stating his birthdate as May 26, 1912.16 This was, we now know, a fiddle of two years in his favor. He graduated high school in January 1930 – well before his 21st birthday, but well on the way to his 20th.17 We can only guess why McCloskey completed school relatively late. Perhaps his family’s early wanderings, or the work he took up after his father’s death, had delayed his education.18 The 1912 birthdate resurfaced on his Sporting News contract card, and news stories from his baseball career often reflected it.19

After brief and unsuccessful tryouts with professional teams in Buffalo and Erie, Pennsylvania, McCloskey spent time working as a coal shoveler, which built up his muscles.20 This doubtless helped him at his next stop, St. Bonaventure University in Olean, New York, where he played on the football and baseball teams in 1931-32.21 One contemporary account says McCloskey struggled with control at times, but was tough to hit when he found the plate.22 At the time, St. Bonaventure was known in the baseball world for producing future Hall of Famer John McGraw, who was just wrapping up his 33-year major-league managing career.23

McCloskey played semipro ball in Jamestown, New York, in the summer after his only year at St. Bonaventure. Opportunity knocked there on August 28, 1932. The Jersey City Skeeters, filling an open day after playing in Buffalo, played an exhibition against McCloskey’s team. Pitching against a lineup full of past and future major-leaguers, McCloskey yielded nine hits and took a 5-0 loss, but also struck out eight men and “at times was invincible,” by one account.24 Jersey City manager Charles Moore signed McCloskey, and he pitched a few games for the Skeeters at the end of that season. “He has plenty of heart and does not know the meaning of the word ‘failure,’” Moore said.25 The pitcher took a liking to Jersey City, which became his offseason home at least as early as 1937.26

The following season provided McCloskey with fuel for a story he told for the rest of his life – a tale of striking out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in an exhibition game. The resources of the Internet show McCloskey’s story to be only partially exaggerated. On April 20, 1933, Jersey City and the New York Yankees played an exhibition, with McCloskey pitching seven innings in relief. McCloskey didn’t strike out Ruth or Gehrig. In fact, he struck out only one batter while walking seven – including the two free passes he handed Ruth in three trips to the plate. But McCloskey retired Ruth on a fly in his third at-bat and held Gehrig hitless in four at-bats as Jersey City won 4-2.27

It was a good start to what was shaping up to be a good year. Reportedly, the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, and Brooklyn Dodgers were all interested in him – before he was injured on Jim McCloskey Day, pitched poorly in subsequent games, and underwent surgery.28

The Red Sox acquired McCloskey anyway after the 1933 season. But he spent much of the offseason idle because of his surgery and reported out of shape, so the Red Sox sent him to Syracuse of the International League.29 He was ineffective there, walking 102 batters in 165 innings in 1934 and finishing with a 7-14 record and a 6.44 ERA.

Continuing to struggle with control, as well as back problems, he posted mixed results in 1935 between Syracuse and the Wilkes-Barre and Williamsport teams of the Class A New York-Penn League.30 The season provided one career highlight when McCloskey, playing for Wilkes-Barre, pitched complete games to win both ends of a doubleheader against Reading on June 11.31 This earned him yet another nickname: “Iron Jim.”32

McCloskey’s flagging career got a boost from former Red Sox owner Bob Quinn, who had moved across town to become president and part-owner of the Boston Braves – renamed the Bees for the 1936 season.33 The Bees purchased McCloskey in January 1936. The Boston Globe reported, “Bob Quinn has gone on record for McCloskey as a sure-fire help for his pitching staff.”34 Manager Bill McKechnie, a skilled judge and developer of pitching, declared himself “very impressed” by McCloskey’s pitching during spring training,35 and the lefty called Irish nailed down a big-league roster spot in perhaps America’s most Irish city. “With that ‘Mc’ in his name, ‘Jim’ should be a very, very popular young man in old Colonial Boston,” a writer once quipped.36

His first big-league appearance, on April 21 against Brooklyn, might have been his best. Entering with a 4-3 deficit, McCloskey pitched a shutout seventh inning, then was placed in position for a win as the Bees took a 5-4 lead in the top of the eighth. Unfortunately, McCloskey surrendered a leadoff triple to Brooklyn’s Jim Bucher in the bottom half and was yanked from the game. His replacement, Al Blanche, surrendered the tying run, which was charged to McCloskey. The game ended in a 6-6 tie after 12 innings.

McCloskey was less impressive in mop-up relief stints against the New York Giants on April 25 and the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 2, giving up a combined six hits, five earned runs, two walks and a hit batter in three innings. He received his only starting assignment against Pittsburgh on May 12. He worked three shutout innings – retiring future Hall of Famer Paul Waner twice – before giving up five hits and four runs in the fourth. Again, he was pulled for Blanche, and again the game ended in a 6-6 tie.

The Bees released him on May 16, and McCloskey ended his major-league career with no decisions and an 11.25 ERA.37 Years later, he made light of both his major-league struggles and his leg injury, quipping, “I didn’t tax my leg too much as my longest walks were to the showers.”38 McCloskey caught on with Baltimore of the International League, then was released at the start of June after two ineffective appearances.39 In his first game with Baltimore, he surrendered 11 hits in 4⅔ innings. In his second, he gave up a solo homer, a single, and a walk while retiring just one batter.40

McCloskey continued to pitch for about a decade longer, almost entirely at the semipro level, in places including Scranton, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. He caused a stir in 1940 pitching for a Belmar, New Jersey, team against the New York Black Yankees, who accused him of balking on many of his deliveries.41

During World War II he made brief pro comebacks in 1942, with the Lockport team of the Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League, and in 1945 with the Trenton, New Jersey, team of the Class B Interstate League. The former stop represented a return to the Buffalo area, while the latter was convenient to his wartime employment in a Philadelphia defense plant.42 By the end of his career he was being described as “heavyweight” and “portly.” It’s unknown what he weighed then, though his height and weight in his major-league days were recorded as 5 feet 9 inches and 168 to 180 pounds.43

McCloskey spoke often of playing on a traveling team with future Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx. Newspaper stories show McCloskey playing games in Connecticut and New Jersey with Foxx in August and September 1947, two years after Foxx’s final big-league appearances. McCloskey pitched or played first base, depending on which position Foxx had chosen to play that day.44

McCloskey had married the former Mary Daly in the mid-1930s.45 The 1950 US Census recorded the couple living in Jersey City with three children – 12-year-old Robert, 10-year-old Thomas, and six-year-old Mary. McCloskey was working as a bartender.46

Six years later, the ex-pitcher and two associates purchased an oasis called the Bergen Bar at 737 Montgomery Street, in the McGinley Square neighborhood of Jersey City.47 McCloskey spent the rest of his working life there, becoming the central figure in numerous colorful stories.

At one point, he recruited a grand marshal for Jersey City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade by cold-calling a constable on duty at police headquarters in Dublin, Ireland, and inviting him for a visit. McCloskey also placed calls to Ireland to resolve a variety of disputes among his patrons, ranging from the size of Nelson’s Pillar – a Dublin landmark – to the proper recipe for stew.48 These Hibernian hijinks earned McCloskey and his pub mentions in Jersey City’s newspaper, the Jersey Journal; one suspects that some of the “disputes” among patrons might have been ginned up with this goal in mind.

McCloskey had a charitable side, which emerged in another of his capers. At one point, the nightside patrons of the Bergen Bar reportedly became tired of McCloskey’s grumpy demeanor and petitioned him to switch to the day shift. The tavern turned this into a well-publicized “election,” with bar visitors paying 25 cents apiece to cast votes on whether McCloskey should change shifts. The “switch” votes carried the day, but more importantly, the money raised was donated to St. Joseph’s Home for the Blind.49 Struggling with health problems, McCloskey sold his share of the Bergen Bar in 1968.50

McCloskey stayed busy in his final years by arranging weekend bus trips to New York state’s Catskill Mountains, which he described in newspaper advertisements as “the nearest thing to Ireland.”51 The last of these ads appeared in the Jersey Journal on August 12, 1971, promoting a trip scheduled for the following month.52

If the trip took place, the old pitcher and publican was not there for it. “Irish” McCloskey died six days after the ad appeared, on August 18, 1971, in Jersey City Medical Center. He was 61. The cause of death was listed as a pulmonary embolism, with atherosclerotic heart disease a contributing factor.53 He was survived by his wife and three children, a sister, and a grandson.54 Following services at St. Aedan’s Church, he was buried in Jersey City’s Holy Name Cemetery and Mausoleum.55

More than four decades after his death, McCloskey was inducted into Lancaster High School’s athletics Hall of Fame.56 A more immediate tribute came from his daughter, who worked as a journalist under the byline Mari McCloskey. Mari remembered her father in print as a gentle and kindly man, given to hearty laughter. “He was no saint. But he came close,” she wrote.57

Mari McCloskey left a sporting legacy of her own. While working as an editor for Woman’s World magazine in 1971, she successfully sued to obtain access for women to the pits and garage area of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indianapolis 500.58 It was, perhaps, a manifestation of the same don’t-write-me-off determination that had carried her father from a serious injury to a major-league pitching mound.



This story was reviewed by Gregory H. Wolf and Rory Costello and checked for accuracy by members of SABR’s fact-checking team.

Photo credit: Baseball-Reference.com.



In addition to the sources credited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org for background information on players, teams, and seasons. The author thanks the Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for assistance.



1 Renamed Offermann Stadium in 1935.

2 “M’Closkey is Feted by Lancaster Fans,” Buffalo News, July 14, 1933: 26.

3 Frank Wakefield, “Lancaster Youth to be Honored Here,” Buffalo News, July 14, 1933: 26.

4 W.S. Coughlin, “Lancaster Friends Shower Gifts on Young Southpaw; Loses Verdict in Ninth, 8-7,” Buffalo Courier Express, July 16, 1933: Sports: 1.

5 “‘Irish’ Is Injured,” Lancaster (New York) Enterprise-Times, August 3, 1933: 6.

6 “‘Irish’ Is Injured;” “M’Closkey, Injured Here, Out for Year,” Buffalo News, August 19, 1933: 9. “Lancaster Youth to be Honored Here,” cited above, said McCloskey had seven wins coming into Jim McCloskey Day. He finished the 1933 season with eight.

7 “Goes to Hospital for Knee Injury,” Lancaster Enterprise-Times, December 21, 1933: 6; “Leaves Hospital,” Lancaster Enterprise-Times, January 11, 1934: 8.

8 Robert Stromberg, “From Major-League Ball to Philanthropy,” Jersey Journal (Jersey City, New Jersey), July 22, 1968: 10.

9 McCloskey’s August 1971 newspaper death notice, cited later in this story, says he was survived by a sister, Margaret, and predeceased by two brothers, Edward and Hamilton.

10 The 1920 and 1930 U.S. Censuses, accessed in July 2023 via Familysearch.org, both described Samuel as a native of Scotland and Mary as a native of Ireland.

11 “Both Old and Young Are Claimed by Death,” Lancaster (New York) Enterprise, December 12, 1918: 1.

12 “Lancaster Youth to be Honored Here.”

13 “Goes to Hospital for Knee Injury.” His daughter Mari McCloskey’s “Outside the Locker Room” story, written after her father’s death and cited later in these endnotes, places her father’s first knee injury in college rather than high school.

14 “East Nine Beaten,” Buffao Courier Express, May 6, 1928: 12; “McCloskey Turns Back All-Depews,” Lancaster Enterprise, August 18, 1927: 11; “Goes Big Against Homestead Grays,” Lancaster Enterprise, September 12, 1929: 8; “All Stars with McCloskey in Box Bow to Curly Ogden’s Barnstormers,” Lancaster Enterprise, October 10, 1929: 12.

15 “Sportology,” Lancaster Enterprise, September 13, 1928: 8.

16 “Sportology,” Lancaster Enterprise, July 4, 1929: 8.

17 “Class of Thirty-Six Presented Diplomas by Supt. F.L. Smith,” Lancaster Enterprise, June 26, 1930: 1.

18 In 1968, McCloskey said he was working in steel mills by the age of 15. Stromberg, “From Major-League Ball to Philanthropy.”

19 Sporting News contract card for James Ellwood McCloskey, accessed July 2023.

20 William B. Loftus, “Evening Chatter,” Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) Evening News, June 7, 1935: 17; “KAP,” “Skeeter Pilot Sings Praise of Young Hurler,” Bayonne (New Jersey) Times, September 20, 1932: 7.

21 McCloskey appears in the 1932 edition of St. Bonaventure’s Laurel yearbook, but not in adjoining years.

22 J.C. Connors, “Slants on Sports,” St. Bona Venture (Olean, New York), May 20, 1932: 4. The Venture was the school newspaper of St. Bonaventure University.

23 McGraw remains St. Bonaventure’s biggest contribution to major-league baseball. Only 10 former St. Bonaventure students have appeared in the majors as of July 2023; McCloskey’s four career games are enough to rank him second all-time among former Bonnies pitchers. The school’s top export among pitchers is Danny McDevitt (21-27 in 155 games between 1957 and 1962.) “St. Bonaventure University Baseball Players,” Baseball-Reference.com, accessed July 2023. https://www.baseball-reference.com/schools/index.cgi?key_school=5b663063

24 “Skeeters Win Over Spiders by 5-0 Score” and “Sportatorials,” both Jamestown (New York) Evening Journal, August 29, 1932: 11. According to the box score, past or future big-leaguers in the lineup for Jersey City included Clyde Barnhart, Ike Boone, Alta Cohen, Bubber Jonnard, Jimmy Jordan, George “High Pockets” Kelly, Len Koenecke, Bobby Reis, Fresco Thompson, and Jack Warner.

25 “KAP,” “Skeeter Pilot Sings Praise of Young Hurler.”

26 The earliest reference the author of this biography found to McCloskey living in Jersey City appeared in November 1937, after the birth of his first son. “Births,” Lancaster Enterprise, November 18, 1937: 5.

27 “KAP,” “Kellymen Beat Yanks; Drop Final to Wings,” Bayonne Times, April 21, 1933: 12.

28 James C. O’Leary, “Bees Due for Work on Field This Afternoon,” Boston Globe, February 27, 1936: 21.

29 O’Leary, “Bees Due for Work on Field This Afternoon.”

30 O’Leary, “Bees Due for Work on Field This Afternoon.”

31 Associated Press, “Yotermen Trip Reading Twice,” Scranton (Pennsylvania) Republican, June 12, 1935: 13. The first game was a nine-inning 7-2 victory; the second ran seven innings and finished 3-1. The lineup of the Reading, Pennsylvania, team that McCloskey beat twice in one day included several past or future major leaguers, including Charlie Eckert, Johnny McCarthy, Manuel Onis, Jack Radtke, Zack Taylor, and Nick Tremark.

32 One example of the nickname in use: “Scranton Triumphs,” Scranton (Pennsylvania) Tribune, June 7, 1937: 15. The pitcher is described as “chunky” in this item, a precursor to descriptions of “portly” later in his career.

33 Rory Costello, “Bob Quinn,” SABR Biography Project, accessed July 2023. Quinn changed the team’s name to distance it from a disastrous 1935 season, in which the Braves went 38-115 and their intended gate attraction, Babe Ruth, proved to be washed up. The National League took control of the team in November 1935. Anthony Castrovince, “When the Braves Became the Bees,” MLB.com, posted January 16, 2023; accessed September 11, 2023. https://www.mlb.com/news/featured/boston-braves-brief-life-as-bees

34 Melville E. Webb Jr., “Gossip of the Stove League,” Boston Globe, January 13, 1936: 10.

35 “Training Camp Notes,” North Adams (Massachusetts) Transcript, March 19, 1936: 17. McKechnie proved his pitching acumen the following season, 1937, when he turned 33-year-old rookie Jim Turner and 30-year-old rookie Lou Fette into big-league winners.

36‘Jim’ McCloskey Gains High Position in Baseball World,” St. Bona Venture, March 16, 1934: 3. This article dates to McCloskey’s signing with the Red Sox, not the Braves, but the sentiment remains.

37 McCloskey struck out two batters in eight major-league innings. Both were Pittsburgh Pirates – Bud Hafey on May 2, and Cy Blanton on May 12.

38 John Kelly, “Yawkey’s ‘Mistake’ Got 3 Hits in 9 Years,” New York Daily News, October 7, 1956: H6. This story gives McCloskey’s age as 44, which aligns with the fudged May 26, 1912, birthdate previously mentioned. It’s not known whether McCloskey provided that age, or whether the writer of the story derived it from baseball records that contained the incorrect date.

39 Randall Cassell, “Birds Release McCloskey, Sign Corbett, Outfielder, and Recall Bruner,” Baltimore Evening Sun, June 1, 1936: 22.

40 C.M. Gibbs, “Victors Clout Four Pitchers,” Baltimore Sun, May 23, 1936: 12; “Bears Pile Up Five Runs in Eighth Inning,” Baltimore Evening Sun, May 30, 1936: Sports: 1.

41 Herb Kamm, “Sports Angles,” Asbury Park (New Jersey) Evening Press, June 20, 1940: 21. Balking is not a common thread in other game stories involving McCloskey; it’s possible that he adopted a deceptive delivery as he got older.

42 “Red Roses Tab Win over York,” Wilmington (Delaware) Journal, June 1, 1945: 19.

43 “York Triumphs in Trenton, 12-6,” York (Pennsylvania) Gazette and Daily, June 13, 1945: 12; Associated Press, “York Trounces Trenton, 12-6,” Wilmington (Delaware) Morning News, June 13, 1945: B15. Baseball-Reference and Retrosheet list McCloskey’s playing weight at 180 pounds, while his Sporting News contract card says 168. Retrosheet also gives the pitcher an extra half-inch of height.

44 “Jimmy Foxx Wins 5-4 On Mound as Insilcos Lose to Staten Island Squad,” Meriden (Connecticut) Daily Journal, August 22, 1947: 4; “Jimmy Foxx’s Staten Island Nine Here Tomorrow,” Meriden Record, September 6, 1947: 4; “Staten Island Nets Four in Ninth to Defeat Point Pleasant, 7-5,” Asbury Park Evening Press, August 29, 1947: 21.

45 Kelly, “Yawkey’s ‘Mistake’ Got 3 Hits in 9 Years.” This story, published in October 1956, says the McCloskeys had been married for 21 years.

46 1950 US Census record for the McCloskey family, accessed in July 2023 via 1950uscensus.archives.gov. Jim McCloskey’s age is correctly listed as 40.

47 A legal notice of the sale appeared in the Jersey Journal, July 7, 1956: 26.

48 “Dublin Constable Has Date in Hudson: March 17, 1963,” Jersey Journal, March 17, 1962: 1; Len Ford, “Dublin Call Eases Jersey City Irishmen,” Jersey Journal, March 17, 1958: 1. The attentive reader will note a pattern in the dates of these stories.

49 Len Ford, “Tavern Patrons Vote Shift of Bartenders – and Home for Blind Gets $130,” Jersey Journal, January 6, 1958: 3N. Other stories recapping this episode suggest that McCloskey and dayside barkeep Fred LaRoche didn’t actually switch shifts. (This story might be the only mention on record of McCloskey being testy or ill-natured, which further reinforces the perception that the whole thing was a charitable stunt.)

50 Stromberg, “From Major-League Ball to Philanthropy.”

51 Representative samples of McCloskey’s bus tour advertisements, bedecked with Irish illustrations, can be seen in the Jersey Journal editions of April 21, 1969: 14 and August 5, 1970: 9.

52 Advertisement, Jersey Journal, August 12, 1971: 15. Interestingly, McCloskey’s clip art of choice had changed from dancing leprechauns to a young couple, and this final ad – unlike earlier ads – makes no mention of Ireland or Irish entertainment.

53 Jim McCloskey’s death certificate is included in his clip file at the Giamatti Research Center of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. It cites his correct birth date of May 26, 1910. While McCloskey’s death certificate makes no mention of cancer, his death notice in the August 19, 1971, Jersey Journal steered donations to the American Cancer Society.

54 “McCloskey” (death notice), Jersey Journal, August 19, 1971: 13.

55 Findagrave.com listing for James E. McCloskey, accessed July 2023. His wife, Mary, died the following year.

56 “Sidelines,” Buffalo News, June 4, 2013: B4.

57 Mari McCloskey, “Outside the Locker Room,” Gramercy Herald (New York City), September 3, 1971. A page number is not visible on the clipping, which is included in McCloskey’s clip file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

58 United Press International, “Woman Ban Lifted at Speedway,” Clovis (New Mexico) News-Journal, May 30, 1971: 13; Mary Anne Butters, “Women Now Admitted to Pits but There Are Still Limitations,” Indianapolis (Indiana) Star, May 21, 1972: 5:1.

Full Name

James Ellwood McCloskey


May 26, 1910 at Danville, PA (USA)


August 18, 1971 at Jersey City, NJ (USA)

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