A Forgotten First Pitch: Baseball at Croke Park in 1924

On a soggy Dublin morning in the fall of 1924, the game of baseball made a brief, but historically significant, appearance at the most famous sports venue in Ireland. The game involved some of the biggest names in major league history, including several future Hall of Famers with Irish roots.

The funny thing is, very few people were aware the game was going to happen, almost no one witnessed the game while it was happening, and nobody seems to remember that the game even happened at all!

Baseball’s 1924 European Tour

Following the 1924 season, the Chicago White Sox and New York Giants embarked on a tour of Europe, with the goal of promoting America’s national pastime to an international audience. The two clubs were both led by future Hall of Famers with Irish roots — Giants skipper John McGraw’s father was born in Tipperary and White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey’s father was from Cavan.

McGraw and Comiskey had played a central role in a world tour a decade earlier, just before the start of World War I. This time around, the baseball heavyweights were determined to bring their game to the land of their ancestors. Games were scheduled in Dublin, Belfast, and Cork.

Croke Park, the GAA’s Rule 42, and Baseball

Opened in 1884, Croke Park was origially known as the City and Suburban Racecourse or the Jones’ Road sports ground. By 1913, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) had purchased the playing grounds with an eye towards making it the top venue for Gaelic games. The park was renamed Croke Park in honour of Archbishop Thomas Croke.

Irish sports historian David Wynne writes, “Croke Park is particularly notable as a venue because the Gaelic Athletic Association’s “Rule 42” prohibited non-Gaelic games being played at GAA venues without permission. This rule was infamous, being seen as a de-facto ban on “foreign sports”, although boxing, American football and again baseball would be held there before the GAA eventually allowed soccer and rugby to take place on the hallowed turf.”

In fact, McGraw, Comiskey, et al, were beaten to Croke Park by the Tex Austin Rodeo. According to historian Turtle Bunbury, thousands of spectators, “flocked to see stars like Nowata Slim’ Richardson, Ruth Roche and Tom Kirnan perform in a feast of steer wrestling, bronk riding, trick riding and pony express races.”

The Not-So-Best Laid Plans…

With the top names in major league baseball playing at the most famous sporting venue in Ireland, it would seem the game was destined for success. Throw in an official welcome from Irish President, W.T. Cosgrave, and you have the makings of an event that would be equally historic to Irish and baseball history.

But, no, it didn’t happen like that. Not even close. For starters, Wynne notes that, “There was considerable confusion about when the game might take place with the original reports of the tour stating that it was expected the baseballers would arrive in November instead.”

Somewhat ironically, newspaper accounts publicized the game’s lack of publicity, referring to the affair as the “Americans’ Secret Match in Croke Park,” adding that, “For citizens of a nation which has made a science of publicity, the American baseballers during their visit to Dublin have shown a really remarkable reluctance to be thrust into the limelight.”

The “Secret Match”

The game was actually played weeks earlier than planned, on Sunday, October 26th, 1924. The specific day and time of the game — 11am on a Sunday morning — turned out to be a crucial blunder, as it conflicted with church services. The game’s fate was sealed before the first pitch was thrown.

And, of course, it rained. 

Only a dozen fans showed up to catch the 11am first pitch.

As for the game itself, the White Sox defeated the Giants by a score of 8-4.

Although the game failed to excite the imagination of the Irish sporting public, the newspapers raved about the athleticism of the players: “A feature of the game was the fine catching at mid-field and the long hitting, some hits being fully 140 years long.”

Games scheduled for the following days in Cork and Belfast were canceled, officially due to impending inclement weather, but just as likely because of the small crowd in Dublin. In any case, the two teams returned early to London.

Despite the missed opportunity, the game was has significance in Irish sports history and the history of Croke Park. As Wynne points out, “It could be that baseball was the first ‘foreign’ sport at Croke Park,” paving the way for future non-Gaelic games like boxing and American football. This eventually led to the acceptance of even soccer and rugby in this traditional space.”

Share the Post:

Related Posts