While Irish athletes have made overtures into basketball and American football, baseball is unmatched when it comes to bringing through Irish-born players. While only one has played in Major League Baseball since 1945, there have been more than 40 players born on these shores to play in the league.
The first of those men had a fantastic career, and would even go on to record a remarkable feat for the first time in league history.
Tommy Bond was born in Granard, county Longford in 1856, emigrating to Brooklyn with his parents seven years later. He would soon take up the sport of baseball, playing for a couple of semi-pro teams before signing with the Brooklyn Atlantics as an 18-year old.
In doing so he became the first Irish-born player to play in the major leagues.
A pitcher, Bond's performance was obviously key to the team in every game he played. In his first season, he came agonisingly close to recording the first no-hitter in league history.
A no-hitter would mean no player from the opposition team would record a single hit in a given game, with Bond being only one ninth inning strikeout away from achieving the feat in a game against the New York Mutuals.
In his debut campaign, he pitched in 54 of the 55 games his team played in. For context, modern starting pitchers only play once in every four or five games.
He was also a more capable batter than your average pitcher. While those in that role are often hopeless with the bat, Bond maintained an above average batting average.
Bond moved onto the Hartford Blue a year later who soon joined the newly formed National League, which makes up half of the MLB. However, after he accused a teammate of throwing a game and fell out with management, he eventually ended up at the Boston Red Stockings.
It was here that he would become a star.
Greatest baseball player born in Ireland: pitcher Tommy Bond. Won 40 or more games in three consecutive seasons,1877-1879.☘️ pic.twitter.com/knUIRtiL83
— John Thorn (@thorn_john) March 17, 2020
Here’s one for you...#Mets Jacob deGrom is the first starting pitcher to post a W-L% below .550, an ERA below 1.75, and have a K/BB above 5.00 since Tommy Bond did so in 1875. 133 years apart. Baseball is something.
— Connor Looker (@HotStoveStats) November 15, 2018
Bond set off on a remarkable three-year run, one which would see him make history.
In his first season he would lead Boston to a 42-18 record, playing in all but two of their wins. They would win the league pennant as a result, with the Irishman recording a remarkable first in league history in the process.
Bond was the first player in the sport to win the pitching triple crown.
The triple crown has become a huge honour over the course of league history, and to win it a player must lead the league in wins, strikeouts, and earned run average (the average amount of runs given up per nine innings pitched).
Only 16 players have gone on to record the feat since the National League came into existence in 1876.
Bond would once again lead his team to the pennant the following year with a 41-19 record, with a second-placed finish in the 1879 season.
Unfortunately, it was at this time his arm would start to fail him. Bond showed signs of slowing down the following year, before retiring early in the 1881 season. While he made a couple of comeback attempts, he never came close to matching his peak.
It has been said that the Irishman would have been a certainty to make the hall of fame had his career lasted just a bit longer.
Some of his records still stand to to this day.
#RetroFacts Curt Schilling has the best post-1900 strikeout-to-walk ratio in MLB history for pitchers with at least 3,000 innings pitched, 4.38. The record is 5.04 by Tommy Bond (1874-1884).
— Retro Baseball (@retro_baseball) February 19, 2019
Bond went on to work in the Boston Assessor's office for 35 years, before passing away in 1941 at the age of 84.
Considering he was a star so long ago and that his career was confined to the United States, it is unsurprising that Bond is not a familiar name in Ireland. Still, he has been honoured by the Irish Baseball League, who award the best pitcher each season with 'The 'Tommy Bond' Best Pitcher Award'.
A fitting tribute to a trailblazing Irish sportsman.