Friday, February 29, 2008

Hank (Back in the) O'Day

Henry Francis O'Day. (Born: 7/8/1862. Died: 7/2/1935)

He was a right-handed pitcher, a manager and a pitcher. In fact, he was the only person in National League history to be a pitcher, manager and umpire.

As an umpire he worked from 1895 thru 1927, inclusive. His 3,986 games as an official ranked third in major league history when he retired. Of those games, 2,710 were done behind the plate and that still ranks as 2nd in major league history behind Bill Klem's 3,543.

O'Day umpired 10 World Series contests, second only to the Klemmer's 18 (Bill Klem).

O'Day is largely known for his controversial decision in a pivotal 1908 contest between the Chicago Cubs and New York Giants, a ruling which still causes debate today.

O'Day was one of 6 children by deaf parents. He made his debut in the majors with the Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884. In his 7-year career he compiled a 73-W 110-L record. After stops with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys (1885), Washington Nationals (1886-89)and New York Giants (1889) he blossomed with two strong wins in the 1889 World Series, then enjoyed his best season at 22-13 with the New York Giants in 1890, the only year of the Player's League. However, he developed arm trouble. Probably as a result of pitching over 300 innings in the Players League. His career officially ended in the minors in 1893.

On September 23, 1908, O'Day was involved in the most controversial field decision in major league history. He was the home plate umpire. In a game between the Cubs and Giants, shortstop Al Bridwell hit a single which drove in the apparent winning run. However, Fred Merkle (of Merkle's Boner fame) never advanced from first to second base. (In order for the Bridwell single to count, he had to get credit for touching first base and therefore advancing Bonehead Merkle to second base, thus allowing the runner on third base to score.) Manager John McGraw was furious at the league for robbing him of a victory and a pennant but never blamed Merkle, per Wikipedia's account passed on from New York Times.

When the Cubs produced a ball -not necessarily the game ball, which had been thrown in the stands supposedly by Joe McGinnity who saw what transpired and decided it best that the ball be tossed-and claimed a force play at second base, which would negate the run, the debate erupted. Base umpire Bob Emslie watched- from his position near first base- to verify that the batter-runner had reached first base but did not see the play at second base.

O'Day ruled the force at second base was valid so the run did not count. The league president upheld his decision so the Cubs overtook the Giants to win the pennant by one game. The Cubs would go on to defeat the Detroit Tigers 4-1 in the 1908 World Series. (the star of that World Series was Orval Overall, who was 2-0. Overall's World Series record was 3-1, with an ERA of 1.58. Orval graduated from the University of Cal-Berkeley.)

Also of note... (Ole Bonehead's nephew, Theodore Charles Merkle, directed Project Pluto - the development of nuclear powered ramjet engines for use in cruise missiles in 1961 and 1964. His grandniece, Judith Merkle Riley is a historical writer and his grandnephew, Ralph C. Merkle is a Distinguished Professor in Computer science at the Georgia Institute of Technology.)

Hank O'Day began his career in an era during which only one (1) umpire worked in most games and he spent the remainder of his time as an umpire when only 2 umps were used. In addition, this period witnessed constant violence against umpires, from both spectators and players. To deal with the resulting solitary life of his profession O'Day chose to live an intensely private life, avoiding the hangers-on who habituated the major league hotels and travel routes, and assiduously maintained a taciturn aloofness from those who demonstrated an eagerness to get to know him. He was good friends with people in positions of authority such as John Heydler (who was O'Day's supervisor as National League president) and Connie Mack, O'Day's backstop with the Nationals for 3 years and the Philadelphia Athletics' manager for 50 seasons.

From all accounts of these times, based on what I have surmised, O'Day was around during a time where it was thought you had a better chance for survival if you had a thick skin. Perhaps that was the norm for folks back then, I don't know. I can only imagine and how close I am to actuality may be no different from those times when I picture what someone looks like knowing them only by their actions on the telephone. Then when I meet this "voice-on-the-phone" I see that my mind's eye may have been better served if the photo was sketched in an easy to erase style of pencil.

(thanks again to Wikipedia)

Kevin Marquez