There once was an Irish pub in New York called Foley’s – named for the late Daily News baseball writer Red Foley. It boasted that it was “an Irish pub with a baseball attitude.”
Tucked into West 33rd Street a few steps from Fifth Avenue, it looked like a compact version of Cooperstown – with food and drink as an extra added attraction. Every inch – even above the oversized urinals in the men’s room – was covered with baseball memorabilia, much of it signed.
The Irish-born proprietor, Shaun Clancy, was a gregarious type – brogue and all – who drew bigwigs from baseball like a jar of honey draws bees. With business booming, he decided to launch and house an Irish Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.
“It was kind of a way to get publicity for Foley’s,” he admitted in a phone interview from Florida, where he now works as a cook in a Clearwater homeless shelter.
The Irish Baseball Hall of Fame, like the Italian-American Baseball Hall of Fame in Chicago, is homeless too. Clancy has talked to teams in both the majors and minors in his search for a new physical home. So far, he’s had as many hits as the Phillies did against Cristian Javier in the fourth game of the 2022 World Series.
“We’re entertaining all options,” said the 52-year-old baseball afficianado. “It’s a multi-staged process.
“Our long-term goal is to have an Irish team in the World Baseball Classic and further the growth of the game in Ireland. But there are some people there who don’t see the big picture. They’re very narrow-minded. If there were an Irish team in the WBC, you know how many T-shirts they’d sell?”
Clancy and his business partner, John Mooney, have been batting around the idea for years – even before Covid-19 caused Foley’s to close.
“When I was at Foley’s, I had a restaurant to run,” he said. “I should have done more to promote the Hall but it was hard. Now that I have John, we can grow and strengthen the community. Our ducks aren’t in a row for the next WBC (in 2023) but we’d like to be ready for 2026.”
Earlier this year, Clancy presented his idea to Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, who lost a previous tenant when the Ted Williams Hitters Hall of Fame left Tropicana Field. Another prospect, Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, just opened a Tampa Bay Baseball Museum at its historic park.
“Our focus is driving as many people as possible to our society, building membership through the Hall, and spotlighting our classes through 2023,” said Clancy. “We’re also introducing awards to honor people within the game.”
Those will include a Jack McKeon lifetime achievement award, a Joe McEwing hustle award, a Sean Casey award for people who contribute to the general community, and an award to honor Shannon Forde, the former Mets PR executive who died at 44 after losing a length battle with breast cancer.
Clancy has been busy since Foley’s closed. Unable to make mortgage payments in pricey Manhattan, he sold his house and moved to Florida.
“I am over 30 years in the restaurant business but I didn’t want to do that down here,” he said. “I was offered a couple of management jobs but I had 30 years of being the chief and decided it would be nice to be an Indian.”
While volunteering at two different homeless organizations, he broke his hand breaking up a dog fight. He’s been back in action for two months, helping returning veterans and other men down on their luck.
“Brian Snitker was one of the first guys to reach out to me,” Clancy said of the Atlanta manager. “You wouldn’t think a guy named Snitker was Irish. But Foley’s gave me a chance to meet all these people from baseball and find out they are.
“We have guys like Nolan Ryan and Vin Scully but we’re also about honoring a guy like Joe McEwing, who was told he was too small. We have Mike Sweeney, David Cone, and so many other good guys who played the game the right way and treated people the right way.
“I wanted a way to honor guys who are never going to get to Cooperstown.”
The concept came to Clancy when visiting the 84-year-old baseball shrine in Central New York.
“You walk in and see all the plaques,” he explained. “The McGraws, Duffys, Galvins, and Kellys. I started to read about them and found out the Irish played a huge part in the formation of the game in its early years.”
Clancy even learned he was related to Scully, the revered Dodgers broadcaster who died earlier this year.
“He was my father’s second cousin,” Clancy said. “My father hates baseball and doesn’t understand it. But one day I came home from work and he said, ‘Do you know Vin Scully? I think he’s got something to do with baseball.’”
It turned out that Scully’s mother came to Ireland for a visit in 1947. “I said to him, ‘You don’t remember my name or my birthday but you remember Vin Scully’s mother from 1947?’”
Clancy later met Scully but had wait for 20 minutes while the broadcaster and his father discussed the family tree. “I had 500 baseball questions I wanted to ask but never got to talk any baseball with him,” said a disappointed Clancy.
One way to get attention for the Irish Baseball Hall of Fame is to collaborate with teams holding Irish Nights in their ballparks.
“We’d like to have a presence there,” Clancy said. “Our goal is to educate people who may not know about the Hall or the Society. We’re not limiting membership to the Kellys or Donovans.
“The Irish Baseball Society is a society of Irish people who love baseball and baseball people who love Ireland.”
Nolan Ryan definitely qualifies. “He wouldn’t come to New York but sent John Blake, the Rangers PR director,” Clancy revealed. “Nolan wanted me to be his guest in Texas.
“He was sitting on the bench, walked up, put out his hand and said, ‘I’m Nolan. You’re Shaun, right? I’ve been dying to meet you. “I said, ‘That’s my line – you’re the Hall of Famer.’”
To his former Foley’s employees, Clancy is a Hall of Famer too. “I made a conscious decision that we weren’t going to be closed for just two weeks,” he said. “I wanted to take care of my staff but exhausted all my savings. I also lost the desire to start from scratch.
“I was hoping somebody might franchise Foley’s, rent the memorabilia, and have me show up as a figurehead. I spent two years knocking on doors and made it clear that was my goal.
“It’s a lot of hard work to run a restaurant.”
Open since 2004, Foley’s featured a collection of 3,500 autographed balls, game-worn hats and jerseys, All-Star and World Series press pins, baseball publications, and even stadium seats on the walls and ceilings.
For its final 16 years, it was also the physical home of the Irish Baseball Hall of Fame.