Those attending the Irish Cultural Society meeting in the Garden City Library on September 10, 2014 now know how baseball got its term “pinch hitter.” When John McGraw was asked why he signed the over-the-hill player Mike (Turkey Mike) Donlon to the team, McGraw explained that Turkey Mike was good in a “pinch.” Mike is forgotten but not “pinch hitter.” This bit of baseball lore and much more were the subjects of Professor Richard Pioreck’s talk entitled “The Irish in Baseball.”
Professor Pioreck teaches creative writing and American literature at Hofstra University. He created the class on baseball and American literature at Hofstra, a class that goes beyond the well known "The Natural" to the forgotten classic "The Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh, Prop." He has been on the program at the academic symposium at the Cooperstown Hall of Fame, one feature being his article on “Casey at the Bat” on the poem’s 125th anniversary.
In his talk at the Irish Cultural Society meeting, Professor Pioreck provided the background of “Casey” and its theme of “try, try again.” He used the poem to draw the connection of baseball to vaudeville, baseball being the daylight source of entertainment and vaudeville the venue of the evening. Players and entertainers intermingled and players like John McGraw, Mike “King” Kelly and Marty McHale became, like Babe Ruth, vaudeville attractions in the off season. Incidentally, the painting of Mike Kelly, baseball’s first superstar, sliding into third was more popular than paintings of Rubensque nudes, or of The Battle of Little Big Horn.
“Casey at the Bat,” Professor Pioreck pointed out, became the signature recitation of the actor DeWolfe Hopper, Hedda Hopper’s husband. Every opportunity he had, Hopper recited “Casey” over a forty-four year period. Someone has estimated that Hopper recited the poem in public 10,000 times. This factoid about “Casey” proves that “Casey at the Bat” will live forever.
Professor Pioreck’s audience of over seventy people were treated to mentions of Lou Costello, “Tinker to Evers to Chance,” Ed Delahunty, and “Hit ‘em where they ain’t” Wee Willie Keeler and Brooklyn’s bête noire, Walter O’Malley.
The outcome of Professor Pioreck’s talk was the vow of many audience members to take a pilgrimage to Foley’s Bar near the Empire State Building to visit the Irish Baseball Hall of Fame. What better outcome could there be after a presentation characterized by language well used, humor, and information about the Irish in Baseball!
Photos: (top) Mike Kelly (bottom) Jim O'Rourke