Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

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


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
Gary S. Becker (1971) The Economics of Discrimination. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Fred A. Bellemore (2001) “Racial and ethnic employment discrimination: Promotion in Major League Baseball.” Journal of Sports Economics 2: 356–68.

Edward Bubnys (1982) “Nativity and the distribution of wealth: Chicago, 1870.” Explorations in Economic History 19: 101–9.

Raymond L. Cohn (1995) “A comparative analysis of European immigrant streams to the United States during the early mass migration.” Social Science History 19: 6389.

Livio Di Matteo (2007) “The effect of religious denomination on wealth: Who were the truly blessed?Social Science History 31: 299340.

E. Woodrow Eckard (2001) “The origin of the reserve clause: Owner collusion versus ‘public interest.’” Journal of Sports Economics 2: 11330.

E. Woodrow Eckard (2005) “Team promotion in early Major League Baseball and the origin of the closed sports league.” Explorations in Economic History 42: 122–52.

James Gwartney , and Charles Haworth (1974) “Employer costs and discrimination: The case of baseball.” Journal of Political Economy 82: 873–81.

Christopher Hanes , (1996) “Immigrants' relative rate of wage growth in the late nineteenth century.” Explorations in Economic History 33: 3564.

Joan Underhill Hannon (1982a) “Ethnic discrimination in a nineteenth-century mining district: Michigan copper mines, 1888.” Explorations in Economic History 19: 2850.

Andrew Hanssen (1998) “The cost of discrimination: A study of major league baseball.” Southern Economic Journal 64: 60327.

Peter J. Hill (1975) “Relative skill and income levels of native and foreign born workers in the United States.” Explorations in Economic History 12: 4760.

Richard Jensen , (2002) “‘No Irish need apply’: A myth of victimization.” Journal of Social History 36: 405–29.

Lawrence M. Kahn (1991) “Discrimination in professional sports: A survey of the literature.” Industrial and Labor Relations Review 44: 395418.

Lawrence M. Kahn (2000) “The sports business as a labor market laboratory.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 14: 7594.

Marc Lavoie , (1989) “Stacking, performance differentials, and salary discrimination in professional ice hockey: A survey of the evidence.” Sociology of Sport Journal 6: 1735.

Neil Longley (2000) “The underrepresentation of French Canadians on English Canadian NHL teams.” Journal of Sports Economics 1: 236–56.

David A. Miller , and Leonard J. Hochberg (2007) “Modernization and inequality in pre-famine Ireland: An exploratory spatial analysis.” Social Science History 31: 3560.

Steven A. Riess (1980a) “Professional baseball and social mobility.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 11: 235–50.

Stefan Szymanski (2000) “A market test for discrimination in the English professional soccer leagues.” Journal of Political Economy 108: 590603.

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: 1 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 110 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 19th October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.