Baseball racism: The Irish in 1880

From Alex Remington at FanGraphs on February 9, 2012:

Professional baseball is one of the purest meritocracies in the American job market: if someone possesses baseball talent, odds are that they will be tendered a job offer. But baseball reflects American society, and like all other sectors of American society, baseball has a history of discrimination which it still has to deal with. In previous columns for Fangraphs, I’ve discussed homophobia in the context of the anti-discrimination language in the new CBA; sexism in the context of Kim Ng’s move to the commissioner’s office, as well as the increasing presence of women in all levels of the game; and racism in the context of Milton Bradley’s retirement. I recently came across a scholarly article that used data from the 1880 census to examine anti-Irish discrimination in baseball in the late 19th century. It offers interesting parallels with the recent history we’re more familiar with. As the author, E. Woodrow “Woody” Eckard, an economics professor at the UC Denver Business School, concludes:

First, Irish players had to display superior performance to earn regular positions. Second, they generally were relegated to less important field positions. Regular Irish players were also more likely to be assigned to fill in at field positions other than their regular ones. Last, the Irish were underrepresented as managers. The evidence also suggests fan discrimination, with the presence of Irish players positively correlated with their cities’ Irish populations. These patterns, again with the exception of pitcher, mirror those observed for African Americans in the first decade or two after Jackie Robinson broke the MLB “color line” in 1947.

Eckard notes that this discrimination did not prevent Irish players from getting jobs in baseball: “Roughly one-third of players were Irish, similar to the proportion of Irish in the general populations of cities with major-league ball teams.” There was no anti-Irish color line. Rather, the discrimination against Irish players was more subtle. But that very subtlety helps to make the history of the 1880s all the more applicable to the tensions of the present day.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: February 9, 2012. Last Updated: February 9, 2012.