Skip to main content

Anti-Irish Job Discrimination circa 1880: Evidence from Major League Baseball

  • E. Woodrow Eckard

Historians have generally presumed that Irish immigrants in the late nineteenth century suffered from ethnic job discrimination. However, empirical scholarship reports conflicting evidence. The present article presents new evidence on the issue based on data from Major League Baseball circa 1880. These data are unique in that “firms” (teams) and individual “employees” (players) can be identified along with “job assignments” (positions played) and “performance” (e.g., batting averages). Linking the players' names with U.S. census enumeration records allows relatively accurate identification of ethnicity. I test various hypotheses derived from Gary S. Becker's economic theory of discrimination. The main results are that Irish players outperformed non-Irish players both on average and at the margin, were (generally) relegated to less central positions in the field, were more often required to fill in at nonregular positions, and were less likely to be hired as managers. In addition, the proportion of Irish on ball clubs and in their host cities was positively correlated, and team win percentage had a (weak) positive correlation with the team's proportion of Irish. Overall, the results generally support anti-Irish discrimination against skilled workers in this highly visible, albeit small, “industry.”

Hide All
Alexander Charles C. (1991) Our Game: An American Baseball History. New York: Holt.
Appel Marty (1999) Slide, Kelly, Slide: The Wild Life and Times of Mike “King” Kelly, Baseball's First Superstar. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow.
Becker Gary S. (1971) The Economics of Discrimination. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Bellemore Fred A. (2001) “Racial and ethnic employment discrimination: Promotion in Major League Baseball.” Journal of Sports Economics 2: 356–68.
Eagle Brooklyn (1876) “A chapter on pitching.” May 13.
Eagle Brooklyn (1882) “Battery work in teams.” February 23.
Bubnys Edward (1982) “Nativity and the distribution of wealth: Chicago, 1870.” Explorations in Economic History 19: 101–9.
Burk Robert F. (1994) Never Just a Game: Players, Owners, and American Baseball to 1920. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Chepesiuk Ron (2000) The Scotch-Irish: From the North of Ireland to the Making of America. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.
Cohn Raymond L. (1995) “A comparative analysis of European immigrant streams to the United States during the early mass migration.” Social Science History 19: 6389.
Conley Timothy G., and Galenson David W. (1998) “Nativity and wealth in midnineteenth-century cities.” Journal of Economic History 58: 468–93.
Di Matteo Livio (2007) “The effect of religious denomination on wealth: Who were the truly blessed?Social Science History 31: 299340.
Eckard E. Woodrow (2001) “The origin of the reserve clause: Owner collusion versus ‘public interest.’” Journal of Sports Economics 2: 11330.
Eckard E. Woodrow (2005) “Team promotion in early Major League Baseball and the origin of the closed sports league.” Explorations in Economic History 42: 122–52.
Ferrie Joseph P. (1994) “The wealth accumulation of antebellum European immigrants to the U.S., 1840–1860.” Journal of Economic History 54: 133.
Flaspohler Brian (2000) “Player movement throughout baseball history: How has it changed?Baseball Research Journal 29: 98101.
Fleitz David L. (2009) The Irish in Baseball: An Early History. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.
Gerlach Larry R. (2002) “German Americans in Major League Baseball: Sport and acculturation,” in Baldassaro Lawrence and Johnson Richard A. (eds.) The American Game: Baseball and Ethnicity. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press: 2754.
Goldstein Warren, (1989) Playing for Keeps: A History of Early Baseball. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Gwartney James, and Haworth Charles (1974) “Employer costs and discrimination: The case of baseball.” Journal of Political Economy 82: 873–81.
Hanes Christopher, (1996) “Immigrants' relative rate of wage growth in the late nineteenth century.” Explorations in Economic History 33: 3564.
Hannon Joan Underhill (1982a) “Ethnic discrimination in a nineteenth-century mining district: Michigan copper mines, 1888.” Explorations in Economic History 19: 2850.
Hannon Joan Underhill (1982b) “City size and ethnic discrimination: Michigan agricultural implements and iron working industries, 1890.” Journal of Economic History 42: 825–45.
Hanssen Andrew (1998) “The cost of discrimination: A study of major league baseball.” Southern Economic Journal 64: 60327.
Hatton Timothy J. (1997) “The immigrant assimilation puzzle in late nineteenth-century America.” Journal of Economic History 57: 3462.
Hatton Timothy J. and Williamson Jeffery G. (1993) “After the famine: Emigration from Ireland, 1850–1913.” Journal of Economic History 53: 575600.
Hill Peter J. (1975) “Relative skill and income levels of native and foreign born workers in the United States.” Explorations in Economic History 12: 4760.
Jensen Richard, (2002) “‘No Irish need apply’: A myth of victimization.” Journal of Social History 36: 405–29.
Kahn Lawrence M. (1991) “Discrimination in professional sports: A survey of the literature.” Industrial and Labor Relations Review 44: 395418.
Kahn Lawrence M. (1992) “Discrimination in baseball,” in Sommers Paul M. (ed.) Diamonds Are Forever: The Business of Baseball. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution: 16387.
Kahn Lawrence M. (2000) “The sports business as a labor market laboratory.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 14: 7594.
Kenny Kevin (2000) The American Irish: A History. New York: Pearson Education.
Kenny Kevin (2006) “Race, violence, and anti-Irish sentiment in the nineteenth century,” in Lee J. J. and Casey Marion R. (eds.) Making the Irish American: History and Heritage of the Irish in the United States. New York: New York University Press: 36478.
Laurie Bruce, Hershberg Theodore and Alter George (1975) “Immigrants and industry: The Philadelphia experience, 1850–1880.” Journal of Social History 9: 219–48.
Lavoie Marc, (1989) “Stacking, performance differentials, and salary discrimination in professional ice hockey: A survey of the evidence.” Sociology of Sport Journal 6: 1735.
Lee J. J. (2006) “Introduction: Interpreting Irish America,” in Lee J. J. and Casey Marion R. (eds.) Making the Irish American: History and Heritage of the Irish in the United States. New York: New York University Press: 160.
Longley Neil (2000) “The underrepresentation of French Canadians on English Canadian NHL teams.” Journal of Sports Economics 1: 236–56.
McGouldrick Paul F., and Tannen Michael B. (1977) “Did American manufacturers discriminate against immigrants before 1914?Journal of Economic History 37: 723–46.
Melville Tom (2001) Early Baseball and the Rise of the National League. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.
Miller David A., and Hochberg Leonard J. (2007) “Modernization and inequality in pre-famine Ireland: An exploratory spatial analysis.” Social Science History 31: 3560.
Miller Kerby A. (1985) Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Pascal Anthony H., and Rapping Leonard A. (1972) “The economics of racial discrimination in organized baseball,” in Pascal Anthony H. (ed.) Racial Discrimination in Economic Life. Lexington, MA: Heath: 119–56.
Peterson Richard F. (2002) “‘Slide, Kelly, slide’: The Irish in American baseball,” in Baldassaro Lawrence and Johnson Richard A. (eds.) The American Game: Baseball and Ethnicity. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press: 5567.
Posner Matthew, Belmont Philip J. Jr., Wolf Jennifer Moriatis, Mountcastle Sally, and Owens Brett D. (2010) “Epidemiology of Major League Baseball injuries.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, Providence, RI, July 15–18.
Riess Steven A. (1980a) “Professional baseball and social mobility.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 11: 235–50.
Riess Steven A. (1980b) Touching Base: Professional Baseball and American Culture in the Progressive Era. Westport, CT: Greenwood.
Rosenblatt Aaron, (1967) “Negroes in baseball: The failure of success.” Trans-Action 4: 5153.
Ryczek William J. (1992) Blackguards and Red Stockings: A History of Baseball's National Association, 1871–75. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.
Harold Seymour, (1960) Baseball. Vol. 1, The Early Years. New York: Oxford University Press.
Spalding Albert G. (1991 [1911]) Historic Facts concerning the Beginning, Evolution, Development, and Popularity of Base Ball. San Francisco: Halo.
Sullivan Dean A., ed. (1995) Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1825–1908. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Szymanski Stefan (2000) “A market test for discrimination in the English professional soccer leagues.” Journal of Political Economy 108: 590603.
Voigt David Q. (1983) American Baseball. Vol. 1, From Gentleman's Game to the Commissioner System. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Williams William H. A. (1996)‘Twas Only an Irishman's Dream: The Image of Ireland and the Irish in American Popular Song Lyrics, 18001920. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Social Science History
  • ISSN: 0145-5532
  • EISSN: 1527-8034
  • URL: /core/journals/social-science-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 3 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 172 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 18th February 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.