Baseball Racism: The Irish in 1880

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.

Indeed, as a commenter pointed out on the Milton Bradley story, the portrayal of Irish at the end of the 19th century was very similar to that of African Americans in the middle of the 20th century. As Eckard writes: “The basic elements of the stereotype were innate low intelligence, unreliability, laziness, and (for males) a penchant for drunkenness and fighting. Newspaper and magazine cartoonists of the era often portrayed the Irish with simian features.”

Eckard then develops a number of hypotheses to measure possible anti-Irish discrimination in baseball. Most of these hypotheses have been substantiated with regard to African American players in the decades following baseball’s integration in 1947.

  1. 1. Irish players might have a higher mean performance: due to discrimination, given a choice between an Irish player and a non-Irish player of comparable value, a racist owner would choose the non-Irish player, which would mean that only standout Irish players would be employed.
  2. 2. Teams with Irish players might have a higher winning percentage: a team unwilling to employ Irish players would be disadvantaging itself with regard to the talent pool compared to a team that was willing to use Irish players.
  3. 3. Irish players might have less desirable positions on the diamond, as racist teams reserved the more desirable positions for non-Irish players, who would also be paid a higher wage.
  4. 4. For similar reasons, Irish players might be forced to change positions more often so that the positional preferences of non-Irish players could be accommodated.
  5. 5. There would be fewer Irish managers in baseball, to placate racist players who wouldn’t want to play for an Irish manager.
  6. 6. Because racist fans might not want to watch Irish players, Irish players might only be employed by teams in cities with a high Irish population.

Eckard compares the triple slash lines of Irish players compared to non-Irish players, as well as the proportion of Irish players at each position and the number of Irish players on each team, and demonstrates these hypotheses to be largely correct. Irish players did have demonstrably better performance but were less prevalent at premium positions and as managers. Cities with larger Irish populations had more Irish players on their teams. Despite the fact that the number of Irish players in baseball was higher than the Irish proportion of the U.S. population, Irish-American ballplayers appear to have faced demonstrable discrimination.

(The second hypothesis, about team winning percentage, is not statistically significant at the 5% level, but is significant at the 10% level.)

Eckard determined Irish ethnicity by examining player records in ancestry.com to determine whether they or their father were born in Ireland; the author then established a probability of Irishness for all other white players by comparing the number of people with their surname to the number of people with their surname who also had a father born in Ireland. He repeated this process with players of German ancestry and English ancestry to determine whether any similar discrimination could be discerned, and found that there appeared to be a statistically significant anti-German bias in managers, but could not find support for the other discrimination hypotheses listed above.

The author is careful to note that his analysis reveals subtle results, and that discriminatory outcomes are different from overt racism:

It is not clear that contemporary baseball owners and players were even aware of the relatively subtle manifestations of discrimination revealed in the above statistical analysis. The popular modern image of the game in the late 1800s as a (European) ethnicity-blind meritocracy might require only a minor revision.

I enjoy looking at baseball history because our game has the richest history of any American professional sport. It’s frankly awesome that a tenured professor can conduct meaningful research using the OBP and slugging percentage of Hall of Famers like Ned Hanlon and King Kelly. But history can also help us better understand baseball today. (I remain fascinated by the history of performance-enhancing drugs in the 19th century.) The stereotypes that followed Irish players later dogged African Americans, as did the discriminatory practices. Moreover, those practices were not merely as simple as barring them from the profession. Much as integration did not end racism in American society, it did not prevent discrimination in baseball.

Nor, I daresay, has racism ended in society, though it is also almost certainly true that the most important color in baseball is green. In modern American usage, the word “racism” tends to apply to relations between African Americans and whites, but the history of racism is much broader. It also, perhaps just maybe, offers hope for the future. After all, the amount of anti-Irish discrimination in modern society is vanishingly low. Of course, there are a few major differences between Irish-Americans and African Americans. There are few subjects more fraught than skin tone, which seems to be one of the more universal marks of discrimination around the world. But the Irish experience demonstrates that discrimination is neither necessary nor permanent. In a hundred years, it may all simply seem like ancient history.




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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.


117 Responses to “Baseball Racism: The Irish in 1880”

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  1. McNulty says:

    Alex, you forgot the part where you stir up a controversy and put the entire FG commenting community into a frenzy.

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    • Mike says:

      can there be controversy when the thesis is “racism is bad”?

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      • jim says:

        how can white people be racist against other white people?

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      • By not considering them white. In the 19th century, Irish immigrants to the United States frequently were not considered “white.” By the same token, neither were Jews.

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      • tcnjsteve says:

        Whiteness at the time was construed differently that it is today. In fact, so was race in general. In the early 1900s people looked at definitions like Teutonics, Alpines, Mediterraneans, and Slavs as valid races as much as Caucasian, Hispanic, or Asian today

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      • M.Twain says:

        Hispanic is not a race.

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      • JimNYC says:

        Jim: I’m not quite sure where you grew up, but I grew up in New York City. And in New York, b linguistic convention there really isn’t such a thing as a “white” person. I’m Irish — even though my ancestors have been living in and around New York for over 150 years — and there are Italians, and Jews, and Croatians, and Russians, and Poles, but nobody really considers the term “white” as a cohesive racial identifier. My grandmother’s brother, growing up in Brooklyn in the 1920’s, got physically assaulted because he went to the movies with an Italian girl — and like it or not, when I was growing up my family would never approve of any girl I was dating unless she was Irish. I still find it bewildering when people from the South refer to themselves as “white” instead of “German” or “English” or whatever.

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      • James says:

        JimNYC – My bewilderment was the exact opposite: being from the South and living in NYC for a while and being asked what race I was all the time. I think one reason there’s such a difference is that most white people with Southern families are the descendants of people who came over during earlier waves of immigration (please don’t take that the wrong way and think I’m saying that in some kind of condescending way – currently doing ancestry research, and my oldest ancestor on my mom’s side was an indentured servant who came over from Ulster and lived as a servant on a plantation for x years before gaining his freedom).

        I think there are a couple reasons that people who’s ancestors came here from England, Scotland, or Ulster, Germany, or France prior to the American Revolution would have stopped identifying themselves as England/Scottish/Scots-Irish/German/Huguenot by, say the Civil War or 1900: 1) in the case of the people from England, Scotland, or Ulster, why would they want to emphasize their ethnicity when their new country had been founded by rebelling against Britain? 2) In the case of some of those groups, religious discrimination in their former countries had been a reason for leaving, so you can imagine why they might abandon the old nationality for a new one that guaranteed religious freedom* (* – limited to religious freedom for the various forms of Christianity – which is obvious a big asterisk, but was still a big step forward, given the times). 3) As race became the main dividing line in US society (especially in the South, but also to a less extreme extent in the rest of the country), their national origin became less important than their whiteness. One thing I’ve come across again and again in reading about race in US history is the extent to which the country became more racist between 1790 and the 1830’s-1840’s. Which isn’t to say things were ideal in the American Revolution era, but it actually got worse between then and the Civil War (free blacks who had enjoyed some rights increasingly found them being stripped away, especially during the 1830’s.) 4) Unlike, say, Irish or Italian immigrants who moved to an Irish or Italian neighborhood in NYC or Boston, which helped preserve their heritage, the people in these groups were often moving to rural/frontier areas. 5) Combine the other reasons with the fact that, over time, the various white groups intermarried, so it became hard to characterize oneself with just one ancestry.

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  2. M.Twain says:

    So… what race were the Irish?

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  3. rational human says:

    god your shit is tiresome, remington

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    • Sorry, human. Was there anything in particular you disagreed with?

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      • rational human says:

        can’t you just write about STATISTICAL analysis like the damn site’s supposed to be, and like everyone else writes about? write this op-ed stuff on your yahoo page

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      • Actually, unlike most of my posts, this was entirely based on statistical analysis. All of the hypotheses but the second were found to be statistically significant at the 5% level.

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      • billybob says:

        Just want to tip my cap to you, Alex, for responding to this apparent troll. Not all of the FG writers are so accommodating, and it makes me happy to see such a civilized approach to interacting with your commenters. Good show.

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      • rational human says:

        oh, so it’s only ok to post comments praising remington, gotcha. it’s good to my opinions are invalid because i dislike alex remington’s work

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      • You’re obviously entitled to your opinion of my work, human. (If you’ve read my work before, you’ll see that there are a whole lot of people who dislike it. You’re not alone.) I asked you what you disliked about this piece and you answered that it wasn’t statistical analysis, which isn’t exactly true; the entire piece is a summary of a statistical study in the peer-reviewed Social Science History journal, done by an economics professor.

        If you don’t like what I write, obviously, you should feel free not to read my future posts. Or feel free to comment in the threads and let me know why you like or don’t like them.

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      • evo34 says:

        The subject matter. Was anyone clamoring for an article on discrimination 150 years ago? Certainly not on this site. Remington: don’t confuse purposefully controversial with useful.

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  4. tcnjsteve says:

    Really interesting stuff here. Looking at racism beyond just that experienced by African Americans is a really fascinating way to look at American society. Examining perceptions of the Irish as “black” or “white,” depending on the time period, has driven some really good scholarship in recent years. Whenever we’re talking about race, we need to keep in mind how whiteness was constructed by people at the time. Check out anything by Linda Gordon or Mathew Frye Jacobsen for more on the subject.

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  5. jim says:

    isn’t 1800s baseball generally viewed as illegitimate and not really worthy of much analysis?

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    • Illegitimate? Well, you can’t get reliable UZR data, but the box scores are still valid. The “modern era” is typically considered to be the 20th century, following the founding of the American League and the World Series, but the National League had a very colorful history from 1876-1900. I recommend Burt Solomon’s book “Where They Ain’t” about the powerhouse Baltimore Orioles of the 1890’s, Wee Willie Keeler’s team, the team that invented the “Baltimore Chop.”

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      • BDF says:

        Alex:

        Please stop responding to comments like that and the one above about your shit being tiresome. It makes the trolls fat and gives them diabetes.

        Sincerely,

        BDF

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      • I generally have a policy of engaging negative commenters if they’re not violating terms of service; if someone disputes me on a point of fact then I want to correct it, and if they dispute me on a point of opinion then it may well be worth discussing.

        In my experience, trolls run a lot wilder when authors and moderators never respond.

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      • BDF says:

        You probably know more about their feeding habits than me, but I’m skeptical. Neither of those commenters was disputing you on matters of either fact or opinion; they were just being a-holes. Responding to them seems to fall in the category of good things happening to bad people, which is of course offensive.

        Never you mind, your call, obviously. This was a really great piece, by the way. I love 19th century baseball, so keep ‘em coming.

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      • evo34 says:

        Did you and BDF meet on match or eharmony?

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    • JimNYC says:

      What world do you live in? The rules were different during some periods, and some of the data is slightly unreliable, but 19th century baseball is, to me, far more fascinating of a study subject than, say, 1980’s baseball.

      Illegitimate? What does that even mean in context?

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  6. Colm says:

    Nearly all of us are white (and in the late 1800s, something very close to 100%) but 130 years ago there wasn’t universal agreement about that.

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    • Grebe says:

      Yep. In 1995, Mike Piazza is just a white guy who happens to have a couple z’s in his name. In 1895, such is not the case for his ancestors.

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  7. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Demographics of various areas in cities in the 1800’s were also generally along where you were from in Europe. (Irish boroughs, Little Italy, Slovac, German etc.) Didn’t large numbers of poor Irish end up in America due to the potato famine and they suffered becasue their communities were not as robust as the established ethnic areas??

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    • pft says:

      Potato famine sounds like an unfortunate event due to simple crop failure. But the potato famine was just one example of the ethnic cleansing of Ireland that had taken place for several centuries, although this was one of the biggest. 1 million Irish were allowed to starve to death by the English and who took food from Ireland and used it to feed their animals, or exported it to other countries. About 3.5 million citizens of Ireland were driven from their country in one of the biggest instances of ethnic cleansing, religious persecution and land theft in modern history.

      Over the centuries , starting with Cromwells brutal occupation in the 17th century, the Irish immigrants were forced to leave due to ethnic cleansing, religious persecution, property confiscation, disenfranchisement, etc.. They came to America mostly on “coffin ships”, so called because so many passengers (about 30%) died en route during the 10 week journey. The earliest immigrants came over as indentured servants (slaves for 5-7 years), and not always by choice.

      They were called white N..’ers.

      Of course, lots of immigrants fled tough times, Jews, Russians, Armenians, Chinese, etc, and had tough times when they arrived here.

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      • wobatus says:

        There was potato blight, though, in Ireland and elswhere in europe. And about a third of irish were completely dependent on the potato as a food source. Some have called it ethnic cleansing or even genocide. Some have said there ws no murderous “governmental” intent, that and even some of the most racist or bigoted commentators of the day did not seek the extermination of the irish (a lot stupidly called it god’s will, or thought to keep back charitable relief on laissez-faire attitudes; and yes, food exports increased to England, although not of potatos, I believe). Most people in Whitehall hoped for better times for ireland (ruled by them of course). Neglect, stupidity, central, local, public and private obstacles to relief efforts, etc, may be more sustainable charges than ethnic cleansing. The Landlords were certainlt brutal, and except in Ulster the tenants were at-will. Peel likely made some more effort than his successor.

        A horrible tragedy, and yes, potato blight elsewhere didn’t have the same results, and even with such complete irish dependence on the crop, the same results needn’t have obtained. I don’t know that official government policy needs to be “kill the irish” for it to be ethnic cleansing, but it does bear the whiff of it being official british policy, which is harder to definitively say. Unlike, say, for the Turks and Armenians and Germany and jews.

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    • JoeElPaso says:

      The reason the Irish were so dependent on the potato was that it supplied a lot of calories per acre, and large labor reserves of Irish had been confined to small farming areas, while most of the better lands were devoted to raising feed for beef cattle (“Irish beef”) and flax for linen. The ethnic cleansing term here is a bit overwrought and the violence was as much structural as direct (though certainly some of the latter), but unquestionably the most enduring colonial form of domination ever experienced by Great Britain was with Ireland and the Irish, and that’s saying a lot. The English attitudes justifying domination were then transferred to the United States, where it certainly persisted until the mid-twentieth century in large amounts (hence the notable character of the election of President Kennedy). I could talk some about the present versions of all this, but lots of stupidity would ensue.

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      • Michael Pollan goes into a lot of the implications of the potato monoculture in his book “The Botany of Desire,” which contains a long chapter on cultivation of potatoes. Calories per acre is one of the main things he mentions, as well.

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  8. Ben says:

    This especially interesting as everything I’ve read said that by the late 19th century, the torch of “white but not white” had passed to the southern Italians and Slavic peoples. Any idea if this carried over because the median age of managers/owners was older than the average player?

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    • That’s an interesting hypothesis. It’s worth noting that the data in this study was centered around the 1880 census, and he was looking at play from 1876-1883, so I don’t know if that fits with or would be slightly before the period you’re referring to when the “torch of ‘white but not white’ had passed.” The author declines to speculate, saying, “The source could have been owners, other players, fans, or any combination of the three.”

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      • tcnjsteve says:

        In some interpretations, the watershed moment was the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act (No relation to Reed Johnson) because, while it did establish restrictive quotas on immigration, it did allow for any European immigrant to become a citizen, and created a binary between European and non-European immigrants. Thus, after 1924, all Europeans could be white (at least in the eyes of the law) a status that was then no longer available to non-Europeans. Except for Filipinos, a loophole that ironically led to American racists advocating Filipino independence.

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  9. Ben says:

    Alex, I have a book about Italians and their perceived racial identity when they started immigrating en masse. I’ll check out the time period(probably not until Sunday though)

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  10. TomCat says:

    Maybe instead of Racism or Sexism what we ought to work to eradicate is the “other” the idea that colors, creed, gender or identity are nowhere near as important as individual conduct.

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    • In principle, I don’t disagree with you — I just wouldn’t use the word “instead.” In practice, I think that the notion of “otherness” is simply too broad and vague to be able to be taken on as such. That’s why I like to focus on specific examples. I don’t believe in treating the perfect as the enemy of the good.

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  11. Ben says:

    Yeah, that’s the book

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  12. Marver says:

    I generally don’t like Alex’s work, but I think this was an illuminating piece. I do, however, object to one of Eckard’s conclusions: “The evidence also suggests fan discrimination, with the presence of Irish players positively correlated with their cities’ Irish populations.”

    This is an artifact of how baseball teams were assembled back then. Teams weren’t assembled via the modern day process — free-agent, draft, etc. — that makes rosters nearly independent of region-specific racial bias. Teams picked up local players, held open tryouts, etc. that naturally biased the racial roster composition towards the population of that specific region. That teams with more Irish people came from areas with more Irish people is just a testament to the fact that more Irish ‘prospects’ were made available to those local teams.

    Bidding ‘wars’ on players weren’t really commonplace until the turn of the century, while the amateur draft came some decades later. I would imagine you could find racial biases amongst other subsets of races based on other cities populations prior to free agency and amateur drafts.

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    • You may be right. However, the author found that players switched teams far more back then than they do now: “Following the 1876–80 seasons, 26.0 percent of regular NL players, defined as above, moved to a different NL team the next year… for three modern seasons (post–free agency), only 17.0 percent of MLB regulars changed teams.”

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      • Marver says:

        Even if 75% of players changed teams, you’d still expect to see some positive correlation. The amount of noise would be determined by the percentage of Irish players in the league (in other words, is the noise drowned out by the sheer volume of players shifting such that randomness wouldn’t place too many Irish on one team to throw-off an attempt at determining correlation. What really matters is the method by which a player’s origination team is determined which, in this case, is biased.

        Besides, it’d be difficult to tell if it’s the result of a discrimination policy designed to increase attendance — ala the Marlins signing a Cuban player to increase interest by Cuban locals. Places with more Irish people could have experienced a higher draw with more Irish on the team. It’s difficult to say whether that’s overtly evil racism or smart business.

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      • “It’s difficult to say whether that’s overtly evil racism or smart business.”

        Oh, certainly. I think the author is careful to make that clear; I hope I am as well. The point is that regardless of whether it’s evil racism or smart business — and, of course, it could be both — the effect was discriminatory.

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      • Marver says:

        Well, no. The effect is likely the result of how the origination team for a given player was determined, not a result of some discriminatory practice. But, if you could somehow show that the players who switched teams disproportionately switched to the areas with higher Irish populations, you could make that conclusion. That analysis isn’t present, though.

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      • You’re misunderstanding cause and effect. Regardless of the cause — racism and smart business are the two possible causes that you posited — the effect was that Irish players wound up on teams in cities with larger Irish populations, and it passed a test of statistical significance. By “discriminatory effect” I simply mean that Irish players received different treatment than non-Irish players.

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      • Marver says:

        No, you’re misinterpreting what I’m saying. I’m saying that Irish people played in cities with more Irish people because they were made more available to those teams, proportionately. That isn’t discriminatory, it’s an artifact of the process used to place players on teams.

        You need to show that players who changed teams changed disproportionately towards cities with a similar ethnic makeup in order to show that there was actually a discriminatory process involved.

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      • Marver says:

        Otherwise what you’re saying is that youth sports teams are discriminatory in their racial composition because the composition of their roster mimics the racial composition of the city. Of course it would! That doesn’t make it discriminatory in any way, shape, or form, though.

        You have to isolate for the way teams were comprised back in 1880, which isn’t the case here. The author has misinterpreted the correlation to be something it isn’t.

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      • Richie says:

        Bill James commented on this I believe in his first Historical Abstract. Teams got there players first from there local areas. So of course Irish cites would have more Irish players, and less-Irish cities relatively fewer Irish players.

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      • Richie says:

        You really shouldn’t use the phrase “discriminatory effect” unless you’re alleging negative bias, be it conscious or subconscious. Because regardless of dictionary or jargon definitions, that’s what people read into it.

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      • I understand that that’s what people read into it. And, on the whole, considering that Eckard found statistical support for 5 of his 6 hypotheses, I think that it’s fair to conclude that someone was either consciously or unconsciously racist, whether it was owners, fellow players, fans, or a mixture of all three. After all, there is a substantial amount of other literature to attest the degree of anti-Irish racism in American society in the late 19th century.

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      • Marver says:

        No one is disputing racism towards Irish. Disputing the conclusion I am disputing is disputing whether or not owners, consciously or subconsciously, allowed for a higher proportion of Irish members on their team because it would be more allowed in their local area (due to the population of Irish there). The evidence doesn’t actually support it, or at least haven’t been presented in a way that isolates out other mitigating factors.

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      • Richie says:

        I don’t think anyone historically literate to any degree would deny bigotry against Irish in that age. But insisting ‘such-and-such also shows it’ when it logically does not show any such thing, and you already have four such-and-suches that do show it, well …

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      • evo34 says:

        (Marver IQ – Remington IQ) >= 40

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  13. Sailor Sam says:

    I guess the definition of racism is somewhat fluid, in that is changes with time. I’m of Irish descent and part of an inter-racial family. The negatives that I’ve noticed, usually comes from less educated or from people of a lower IQ. Which to me, explains why so many people can be radical followers of the Muslim faith, or in other words, haters. But I like the way you wrap up by stating :
    But the Irish experience demonstrates that discrimination is neither necessary nor permanent. In a hundred years, it may all simply seem like ancient history.

    But are you speaking of baseball, American society, or do you have a worldly view.

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    • RC says:

      Awesome.

      First you go and say that racism is usually a result of poor education, and idiocy, and then you go and make racist comments yourself.

      Pure Awesome.

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  14. delv says:

    Great article, Alex. You seem to know exactly what you’re doing. In prior articles where you cite racism against non-whites, the comments fume with vitriol. Here, you cite equally valid racism against whites, and the comments consist mostly of praise and sincere, intellectual engagement—perhaps more so than in any other article you’ve written of late. The racism of your readership reveals itself. Next time, write about sexism against men in baseball. They’ll love that, too.

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    • Marver says:

      There’s a difference between writing about historical racism and present racism, and that’s reflected in the comments. I’m sure if he wrote an article about historical black racism, very few would deny its existence or quarrel with the moral gist.

      I disagreed with his previous article and agreed with this one, and I am neither black nor Irish.

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      • bstar says:

        You still managed to disagree enough on one point to create another classic, old-fashioned Marver/Remington throwdown. Always entertaining.

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  15. Ben says:

    Marver has a good point. I think someone with a login to the duke library database and post the PDF so we can we all read it.

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  16. mike says:

    I actually wrote about this in my college thesis, might be worth a read for those who were interested in the article: https://digitalarchive.wm.edu/handle/10288/13670

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  17. Paul says:

    Great article, Alex. A fiction book from probably a little before your time might be worth checking out. It’s “If I Never Get Back” by Darryl Brock. If I’m not mistaken he is/was a Berkeley history prof. Anyway, it’s science fiction where he is taken back to the 1860’s Cincinnati and plays on a team loaded with Irish. It contains great descriptions about how the game was played back then (underhand pitching, no gloves, extremely rough), and a cool love story. I read it so long ago that I can’t remember much about the Irish discrimination overtones, but it seems like the teams were all pretty much divided up by race. I could be wrong, but that’s my recollection. It’s also a fun read, endorsed by a bunch of baseball writers when it came out. Never was made into a movie, but different people have worked on it for years.

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  18. Ben says:

    “Behold! What is that Demonry!?!”

    The best.

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  19. Brian W says:

    As an aside, I’m sure there are plenty of racists who dislike Milton Bradley. But there are plenty of people who legitimately dislike him for his attitude. Speaking as someone who’s watched the Cubs for 35+ years, the only player I’ve seen with a comparable attitude was Todd Hundley.

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    • There is no question that Bradley had a lot of problems, and some pretty severe mental imbalance. He clearly brought a lot of his problems on himself.

      But all of that is covered much better in the Bradley column and the long comment thread that follows. I don’t want to rehash it all again here.

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  20. bstar says:

    Fantastic article, Alex. One of your best pieces. Personally, I think you add a lot of credibility to this site.

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  21. MisterE says:

    ‘In modern American usage, the word “racism” tends to apply to relations between African Americans and whites, but the history of racism is much broader.’

    I see that your heart is in the right place, but that’s an extremely inaccurate statement. There has long been, and continues to be, a deep strain of anti-Asian bias in America (and anybody who’s spent any time on the Mariners board can confirm that). In the 1980’s, the American auto industry tried to exploit anti-Asian racism (particularly the scumbags at Chrysler, who ran vociferously racist ads on TV) in a despicable effort to combat the success of Japanese cars in America, with the result that a couple of unemployed white auto workers beat a Chinese-American man to death with a baseball bat, imagining him to be Japanese. During WWII, Japanese-Americans were rounded up and thrown into concentration camps because of their race, while people of Italian and German ancestry suffered no such treatment, although were were equally at war with Italy and Germany.

    Today, there’s a virulent strain of anti-HIspanic prejudice in America, and one of its recent focal points has been the immigration law enacted in Arizona. While great, positive strides have been taken in the area of anti-black racism, the undercurrent of racial prejudice seem, to a great extent, to have shifted into an anti-Hispanic focus.

    So, yes, the high-profile politics of the Civil Rights Movement in the 60’s tended to put all the emphasis on anti-black racism; but the other strains of racism were already here and continue to persist.

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    • MisterE says:

      Goddamn, but I wish we could edit typos after posting here.

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    • Of course, many different types of racism have occurred in American history, and many of them continue to persist, to our shame. I’m just talking about language use. I would argue that in a neutral context, to most American listeners, the word “racism” carries a connotation of black-white relations. I wouldn’t argue that that’s right or wrong, just that that’s the connotation with which the word is often freighted.

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      • MisterE says:

        I don’t agree. First, I don’t know what you mean by a neutral context, as that term would pertain to racism. Could you elaborate?

        I’ve lived in Las Vegas, where Hispanics far outnumber blacks, and the term “racism” has no such reference to black-white relations. I’ve lived in South Central Los Angeles, in a neighborhood where issues of racial bias applied equally to blacks and Hispanics. I’ve lived in the southern border of Harlem in New York City, and the discussion of racism in New York has always included Hispanics and Asians. You never saw West Side Story? David Dinkins lost the mayoral race in no small part because of his mishandling of black bias against a Korean shop owner.

        It seems that your notion of what the term connotes to you is a function of your personal experience. Do you live in the suburbs? (That’s a sincere question, not a snide dig — I think it’s germane to the discussion.)

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      • What I mean by a “neutral context” is, essentially, a conversation without region. This could be cable television, it could be the internet, it could be a conversation with a stranger from a city that isn’t your city.

        I grew up in Atlanta and lived in Washington, DC the past five years. Right now, I live in Somerville, Massachusetts, adjacent to Cambridge, Massachusetts, while I attend Harvard University for graduate school. Somerville isn’t really the ‘burbs, but my day-to-day is spent in the ivory tower, so you could say I have my head in the clouds, I guess.

        I’m happy to agree to disagree with you.

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      • RC says:

        I’m gonna agree with MisterE here Alex.

        I don’t think Black-White when I hear the word Racism. I think hispanics and muslims.

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  22. james wilson says:

    Fortunately, the Irish themselves never discriminated against anybody. Heh.

    I can tune in NPR for this crap.

    I read as lot of vintage books from the bad old days, and have lived in Irish gettoes. People who write things like this would be immediately sized up as prey, then or now.

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  23. David McK says:

    Racism in Europe was mostly between “white” races which spilled over to the US as those races immigrated here. The established British immigrants (WASP – White Anglo Saxon Protestants) owned more businesses, more land, had more influence in politics and therefore called the shots at that time.

    Alex – do you agree with the theory that baseball originated from the Irish sport of “rounders”? Could that explain why so many Irish were attracted to the sport also?

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    • There are many others far more qualified to answer that than me — I’d direct you to Peter Morris and John Thorn in particular. Many have argued that rounders and town ball are far more direct ancestors to baseball than cricket. But I don’t think that would have given Irish-Americans an advantage in baseball. Relatively few of Irish-American baseball players of the era were actually born in Ireland — according to Eckard’s research, it was only around two to three percent circa 1880. So the rest were American-born, and that’s where they would have learned baseball.

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  24. James says:

    An interesting footnote is that some portion of the non-Irish players of that era would have been of Scots-Irish ancestry, a group which was not subjected to the same discrimination as Irish Catholics. At first I wondered how the author would have distinguished between these groups of people who came here from Ireland, then I realized that only including players of that era who were born in Ireland or whose father was born in Ireland would exclude most of the Scots-Irish/Irish Protestants, who mostly came over from 1730-1780 or so.

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    • Yes, I didn’t get into it, but the author does mention that:

      While the famine Irish had been preceded by a steady stream of Scots-Irish, starting in the early 1700s these non-Gaelic Protestants from the north of Ireland were a distinct group. They generally settled in inland rural areas (e.g., Appalachia and the southern Piedmont), and where the two groups coexisted, the Scots-Irish were often antagonist toward the new immigrants.

      The Irish ballplayers circa 1880, during our study period, were mainly the sons of the famine immigrants.

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  25. MisterE says:

    “I grew up in Atlanta and lived in Washington, DC the past five years. Right now, I live in Somerville, Massachusetts, adjacent to Cambridge, Massachusetts, while I attend Harvard University for graduate school. Somerville isn’t really the ‘burbs, but my day-to-day is spent in the ivory tower, so you could say I have my head in the clouds, I guess.”

    I wouldn’t say that. I would say, however, the fact of your having grown up in the Deep South amply explains your tendency to equate the term “racism” with black-white relations. Living in Washington, D.C., would only tend to confirm that association, since that city’s racial composition in 2010 was 50.7% Black, 38.5% White, 9.1% Hispanic, and 3.5% Asian (US Census Bureau figures).

    Your attendance at Harvard doesn’t seem to me to have much of a likely bearing on your impression of what the term “racism” connotes, since you probably brought that connotation with you. It is intriguing, however, that you live just west of Boston now. I have Irish ancestors (among others), so it’s with no hint of pride that I confess my awareness of a disgusting streak of racism among the Irish, and particularly those of that region. Fenway Park continues to be the whitest park in baseball. No less than two weeks ago, I had a conversation with a black woman from Boston who adverted to the racism there; and a Jamaican friend (black) who’s extraordinarily well-traveled and erudite confided to me that he hates Boston more than any city he’s ever visited, and it’s because of the town’s powerful undercurrent of racism.

    It seems that people who are subjected to prejudice and rise above their underclass status to positions of dominance tend to learn nothing salutary from their past experience but, rather, turn into the new oppressors when they can find another underclass to oppress. This, of course, is a generalization; but so is this entire discussion.

    In the end, what the history of racism tells us, sadly, is that people of all races are much the same, for good and for ill.

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    • Paul says:

      Not really disagreeing with you on any specific points other than to apply the racial situation in Boston to all Irish everywhere, and generalizing as you note. Did you mean that the discussion on racism is a generalization, or that this specific discussion generated by a very specific article, on a topic that was covered scientifically, is a generalization? Seems like an odd leap. I have heard about the racism in Boston. Would think that some folks here are going to disagree with you that first, Boston is the “Capitol” of Irishness in America. And second, that because Boston is racist, it’s only because of the Irish, and that therefore all Irish in America are racist. Probably a few will disagree with your blanket assertion of Boston as racist. I sadly have never been there, so only have heresay, which I’ve learned can be pretty worthless.

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    • RC says:

      I grew up in Boston, and didn’t see a whole lot of racism.

      Chicago, on the other hand, seemed really bad. As did DC. Baltimore, not too bad.

      Boston’s population during the year is about 60% college students, and between BU, Northeastern, Harvard, MIT, etc, there are tons of international students.

      As to Fenway being white, you’ve clearly never been to Wrigley.

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  26. Charles Lee says:

    Do you need to take into account the strictly limited number of work visas apportioned to each team to qualify remarks about meritocracy? I assume that there would be a greater number of players in MLB from LATAM if there were more work visas granted. Thanks for an interesting article.

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  27. Steve says:

    Very first sentence . . . baseball a “meritocracy” . . . really?

    As long as MLB deliberately limits the number of work permits for internationals, the notion that baseball is a meritcoracy is absurd. If teams actually wanted to have the best talent on the field, the number of Dominican players would rise significantly . . . but the fear is that the product would become too “brown,” and less appealling for the overwhelmingly white consumer. Couple this strategy with the wrecking of Puerto Rican baseball in favor of cheaper labor (Domincan) seems to indicate that for MLB, at least, race means $$$$.

    Also, the research on “stacking” is compelling evidence that even when gaining employment in MLB, race is at work.

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  28. Jason says:

    Just to clarify, the “Irish” are not a ‘race’ rather a people who have a cultural and linguistic history that happen to be caucasian, no different than Germans, Greeks, etc.

    There was a cultural and religious bias against the Irish, mainly stemming from cultural and religious differences with the English colonial ruling class and passed down from generations as Irish immigrants came West.

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    • As a biological classification, the scientific definition of “race” has changed substantially over the past century. But as a linguistic proxy for “otherness,” bigoted notions of race have not changed a great deal. The past couple of centuries of anti-ethnic prejudice in this country (and in other countries) have had a lot of characteristics in common.

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      • Jason says:

        I wouldn’t debate that, merely suggesting that “Baseball Discrimiation” rather than “Baseball Racism” would be more apropos.

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  29. CircleChange11 says:

    The Irish faced racism in American society, and only really gained acceptance once a lesser group showed up … The Italians. “Well at least we’re not as bad as them”. Then the Itialians were the worst thing around, until they could push that off on the Chinese. Then …

    There was times in society where the worst thing you could be was Irish. “No Irish” signs are pretty common in US history during that time period.

    What the Italians experienced during their early immigration was pretty bad as well. I forget the exact # but something like 81% of all prisoners were of Italian descent at one point.

    I think pretty much every group outside of white, wealthy, eurpean males faced racism or discrimination in society, including sports, at one tiome or another.

    What really bothers me is the discrimination that gay Irish women faced in baseball in 1880. That really pisses me off.

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  30. wobatus says:

    In Ken Burns Baseball documentary, every time John McGraw appears “Danny Boy” kinda boozily plays in the background.

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  31. lol says:

    American society isn’t the only thing with a history of discrimination, actually every human interaction since the beginning of time has a history of discrimination, and everything in the future will as well, unless you believe in fairytale perfect societies.

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  32. Madoff Withurmoni says:

    I demand a piece exposing the blatant discrimination against bad players over the past 150 years.

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  33. Get along says:

    Don’t get me wrong. My mom was jewish so i am (shouldn’t have to say that, but with what i’m going to say i feel i should point out i’m not “white” per se. Also, i grew up in a very progressive time, place and family. Again, i only say this because some, some may assume some wrong things from the….

    Here’s my point, taking nothing away from our unique american brand of racism: As Americans, living in the first true melting pot society, do we fail at times to realize how for thousands of years “races” lived mostly apart, and then only mixed some recently, and as ugly as it is, all peoples have trouble with the other until they learn to see it’s no biggie? Do we see grass being greener elsewhere and rip our own sordid past without the proper perspective?

    I’m not excusing AmeriKa’s disgraceful HIStory, ok? However, almost wherever there are majorities to push minorities around, they do so. The US just sticks out (and should rightfully go through what we’re all working on regarding race due to this) due to it being recent history and a glaring example.

    My point is Africans, Asians, Caucasians, Islanders, etc, however you want to split it up…all peoples are just as capable of racism, what creates the racism that sticks out is power, and in that is has been certain circumstances (not intelligence or anything like that, more “luck”) that led Caucasians to hold this power, thusly be thought of as more capable of racism.

    Sorry, but this is simply true. (I’ll spare listing all the atrocities racially motivated around the world, by all.) There’s nothing wrong with holding white men accountable in the US, since they due to history are most likely to be racist (and are still.) But if history had seen Africans take world power, and there were Caucasian minorities living in Africa under African rule, those Africans would have done horrid things to those Caucasians. It’s how humans work, sadly. Maybe, just maybe we’ll slowly evolve, eh?

    Some of you may have read it already, but Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel” is a great read and really gets into how all of it was just chance, the timing of it all. In Europe, Eurasia and Asia there were more animals easy to domesticate, more naturally growing grains which led to easier farming, a east west land layout (in contrast to how south america was north south, isolating peoples, new technologies and food sources by extreme weather and land obstacles, while Africa had similar issues) which made the transfer of domesticable plants and animals workable in their home lands…great read. Not the best written paragraph, but i hope you’re getting it, or have read the book.

    I fear the less thoughtful in our culture, of all races, are missing this important point. Again, this is not to “excuse” white people, but today, for us in this country, the history of racism as so onesided whites go thru their usual layers of guilt association and anybody who isn’t white can often see themselves, in some way, as less inherently capable of racism, which simply isn’t the case.

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    • pft says:

      Good point. Slavery and racism/discrimination is as old as civilization.

      A fascinating book is The Slave Trade by Hugh Thomas. Helps keep it in perspective. Racism of course does not always manifest itself as slavery.

      Wage slavery is the modern version of slavery, and it includes all races.

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  34. gnomez says:

    This is something that’s piqued my interest for a long time, but I’ve never really bothered to research. Thanks, Alex, for an article that both has the statistical punch of other fangraphs articles and your more sociological interests. I also wonder how much anti-Irish sentiment is tied less to “racism” as anti-Catholicism…

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  35. evo34 says:

    Remington: What exactly does this article contain, other than a link to someone else’s work?

    BookReportsOnArticlesAboutLate19thCenturyEthnicTrendsinBaseball.com

    I’m pretty sure the URL is still available.

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  36. I’m starting to believe the theory that Remington is just an elaborate trolling artist. Hats off to you sir!

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  37. george wells says:

    So little racism, so much anti-racism. Anti-racists have to create right wing racists in order to have something to attack. They need to justify their hate of white people.
    It is well said that ANTI-RACISM IS A CODE WORD FOR ANTI-WHITES.
    Anti-whites of course go much further and support the ongoing genocide of the white race. Where would those who genocide whites be without anti-white supporters?

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  38. RC made my point.

    The racism remained, it was just transferred to another group. In the case of the Irish, they were eventually accepted because well they weren’t as bad as the Italians, who eventually weren’t as bad as the Chinese … and well we needed the Chinese to handle the TNT when we were building railroads because no one else was disposable.

    Anyway, my main point is that baseball is simply a reflection of society. In many ways baseball, and sports in general, has been ahead of the curve than society. Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, and Jackie Robinson have done as much if not more for civil rights than anyone. Baseball said blacks were equal before society did. Baseball is far more accepting of non-English speakers than society is. I haven’t even gotten to Texas Southern (now UTEP) yet.

    Racism is a societal issue. Baseball is a part of society. But in some regards baseball is ahead of society. Sports has been one of the main areas where minorities have gained acceptance that has led to societal equality and acceptance.

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