St. Patrick's Day Parties - A Legend At Dodgertown
One of Walter O’Malley’s favorite times of the year was the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day at Dodgertown. The March 17 parties that he and his wife Kay hosted were legendary and are a piece of Dodger history. The holiday magically transformed Dodger blue into Luck of the Irish green for a glorious day.
O’Malley’s bloodlines can be traced to famed County Mayo, Ireland on his father’s side. Walter’s great grandfather John O’Malley and his wife Margaret Collins were married in County Mayo before immigrating to the United States.
With great respect for Irish traditions, Walter started to host St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in 1951, his first spring training as Dodger President. That year, he invited Dodger executives and staff, as well as representatives from the New York Giants, to a party at a Miami Beach hotel. The Dodgers played the majority of their spring training home games in Miami at that time.
Beginning in 1952, O’Malley moved the parties to Vero Beach, Florida, home base of the Dodgers’ spring training activities, where they were first held at the famed tourist spot McKee Jungle Gardens in the Hall of Tara before moving to Dodgertown. Decorations, hats, skits, music, dancing, food and drink were the ingredients blended to create a successful evening.
Of that 1952 event and its 130 guests, Roscoe McGowen wrote in The Sporting News, “Sure, an’ it was no place for an Orangeman when The O’Malley of County Mayo and the Dodgers tossed a party in honor of St. Patrick in the Hall of Tara. Everything was green — there wasn’t a chance of getting an orange juice — including the draft beer and the ice cubes. The O’Malley had special labels on the bottles of Irish cheer, which was called ‘Old O’Malley,’ a whiskey which will be 12 years old in 1964.
“Among those present was Edmund Boots, executive vice president of U.S. Steel, who was listed as Eddie Boots in a quartet called ‘The Mayo Minstrels.’ The other three were Gerald Cleary, who operates the Sea Breeze and Orange Terrace here; Ralph Galvin, proprietor of a swanky hostelry called Shadow Lawn and Harry Kurzon, real estate and insurance man here. These fellows can sing.
“Mrs. John Smith, stockholder in the Dodgers, was present, and two National League umpires, Larry Goetz and Jocko Conlan, joined in the fun. Conlan, one of the highest Irish tenors around set one of the high spots of the evening when he sang a love song to Kay O’Malley, while Greg Mulleavy, a normally quiet and soft-spoken fellow who is a scout, wielded a shillelagh and directed proceedings with a constant stream of brogue-tinged orders.”
Writing in the March 19, 1953 Vero Beach Press-Journal, Bob Curzon noted, “President O’Malley played host to the annual St. Patrick’s Day party at the McKee Jungle Gardens last Tuesday night and a good time was had by all.”
Though only a few players ever participated in the parties, the real purpose was for team executives and staff to celebrate the completion of the first month of spring training and turn the corner to focus on final preparations for the upcoming regular season. After being away from family members during spring training, it was a time for everyone to be entertained and relax for an evening. The media and VIP guest lists were lengthy, but the player list was short.
Players with musical talent might have received an invitation. Such was the case with shortstop Maury Wills, who had fine banjo playing ability, while Tommy Hutton (guitar), Alan Foster (guitar), Jim “Mudcat” Grant (sang), Nate “Pee Wee” Oliver (sang), Tommy Davis (claviata), Willie Davis (dancing) and Chuck Connors (recited “Casey at the Bat”) all entertained. Music by an accordionist, Irish tenors and duets were heard, as bands played “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” “My Wild Irish Rose,” “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen,” “Harrigan,” and “Sweet Rosie O’Grady.”
The invitation to the party of the spring (see separate section of invitations) became a work of art unto itself, as clever menus were concocted based on the names of Dodger players, coaches and executives: Oysters O’Zark, Alston mixed salad without Dressen, Corn O’Sorda, Soft Drink O’Drysdale, Scully onions, Andy High balls, Podres pudding, O’Porter potatoes, Milk O’Davis and DeLury Lima Beans. Of course, the menu included the traditional Irish fare of corned beef & cabbage with potatoes, vegetables and all of the trimmings.
Normally, following a festive happy hour, dinner was served and a few recognitions and short speeches were made, followed by more entertainment. After the meal, a rousing post evening of dancing and celebrating went into the wee hours of morning.
Dodger head trainer Bill Buhler headed the decorating committee and always adroitly handled the task using streamers, balloons, pompons, confetti, drawings, converting a recreation hall or dining room into a sparkling emerald jewel.
In 1967, O’Malley had a slight variation of St. Patrick’s Day, as Dodgertown celebrated St. Joseph’s Day on March 19 in combination with a Sayonara party in honor of the visiting Tokyo Giants on a suggestion by Executive Vice President and General Manager E.J. “Buzzie” Bavasi. That was the spring that O’Malley had Dodgertown menus printed in Japanese as well as English.
During dinner on St. Patrick’s Day, “Happy Birthday” was sung to Hall of Fame baseball writer Bob Hunter, who year after year celebrated his 39th birthday. Also, the March 17 birthdays of Dodger Coach Pete Reiser, Traveling Secretary Lee Scott and, in later years, Director of Dodgertown Terry Reynolds (who began as a club intern in the late 1970s) were all recognized.
In 1972, O’Malley invited Players Association Chief Marvin Miller to the St. Patrick’s Day party, after Miller and union counsel Dick Moss spent the day at Dodgertown polling the Dodger players on whether they would vote for a strike (and they voted “yes”) should major league ownership fail to come to an agreement on player proposals. Following the events of the morning, afternoon meetings delayed the start of the festivities, but Miller and Moss accepted O’Malley’s invitation, each donning a St. Patty’s green hat.
“St. Patrick’s Day parties came at the mid point of spring training and this party was the perfect way for everyone at Dodgertown to come together and have a good time,” said former Dodger President Peter O’Malley, who continued the tradition at Dodgertown through 1998. “In those days, St. Patrick’s celebration was the only event of the spring, long before we put together Western Barbecues and Christmas at Dodgertown.”
— Brent ShyerBack to top