9 Best Irish-American Athletes
Today we’re going to narrow down that group further by looking at Irish-American athletes—or more specifically, the nine best Irish-American athletes of recent memory.
So throw another shrimp on the blarney stone, tighten up your kilt, and do whatever else it is that the Irish traditionally do, so you can better enjoy this list of the nine best Irish-American athletes (plus one honorable mention).
I don't think I'll be rustling too many feathers when I say that probably the greatest Irish-American athlete of all time would be Shaq...were he actually Irish and not from the planet Shaqury. He's conquered the worlds of sports, film, TV, and music, and is beloved by pretty much everyone—even the Irish.
Honorable Mention: Shaquille O'Neal
Clint Dempsey earned his spot on lists like this one through his Irish immigrant grandparents. But actually, it's his distinguished performance in Major League Soccer and as captain of the US national soccer team that deserves most of the credit.
Jimmy Connors is one of the true legends of tennis, having accumulated an impressive 109 professional titles and eight grand slam championship titles. And almost as prestigious as his spot on this list was his 1998 induction into the Tennis Hall of Fame.
NBA legend Kevin McHale has double Irish-American athlete credentials because of his family history but also because he made his bones with the Boston Celtics, truly the most Irish of all NBA basketball teams.
Even people who haven't sat through an inning of baseball their entire lives are familiar with the name of Nolan Ryan. His baseball credibility is well-established and unassailable, but less well-known to the general public is his Irish heritage. Did you know he is in the Irish-American Baseball Hall of Fame? (Side question: did you know there WAS an Irish-American Baseball Hall of Fame?)
"A guy named Whitey Ford is Irish?" I know, it's hard to believe. What isn't hard to believe is Whitey Ford's luminous baseball career, which included six World Series wins, a Cy Young Award, and a 1974 induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
It would be hackneyed and predictable to say something about John McEnroe having an Irish temper on the tennis court, but it would be equally disingenuous not to say anything about it. But the thing is, even if his temper is what most people know him for, McEnroe was a pretty great tennis player too, with seven Grand Slam victories over the course of his career.
Is Bobby Orr the greatest hockey player of all time? Maybe. Is he the greatest Irish hockey player of all time? Almost certainly. Two Stanley Cup victories and a host of records in his name can attest to that. And the fact that he played for the Boston Bruins just solidifies his rock-solid Irish cred.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has already ascended into the realm of legends and his career isn't even over yet. Three Super Bowl rings and nine Pro Bowl appearances (and counting), and he did all that while simultaneously honoring his Irish ancestry with every victory (even if he didn't know it).
No, really, Derek Jeter is part Irish! His mother's name is Dorothy Connors. Of course, unlike fellow Irish-American Tom Brady, Derek Jeter is retired, which means we can look on the whole of his career in retrospect. And it's quite a career—five World Series titles, induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and a total of 3,316 hits.