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Hank O'Day

Hank O'Day

Position(s):
1B, 3B, OF, P, SS
Born:
July 8, 1862
Bats:
Left
Throws:
Right
Height:
6'
Weight:
180 lbs
Major League Debut:
5-02-1884 with TL1

One of the most famous umpires, O'Day spent most of his playing career as a pitcher, suffering three 20-loss seasons. His best year was his last, when he had a 23-15 season for New York of the of the Player's league in 1890. He umpired for 35 years in the NL, only two fewer than Bill Klem. Only Klem worked in more WS games than O'Day's ten. Tom Connolly and O'Day were chosen to umpire the first WS in 1903. In a career that spanned five decades, perhaps O'Day's two most memorable incidents occurred in 1908, when he was the senior umpire who called Fred Merkle's blunder, and in 1920, when he was the second-base umpire as Bill Wambsganss executed the only unassisted triple play in WS history.

Biography:
Henry Francis O'Day (July 8, 1862 – July 2, 1935) was an American right-handed pitcher, umpire and manager in Major League Baseball who worked as a National League (NL) umpire for 30 years between 1895 and 1927, and was the only person in major league history to appear as a player, manager and umpire.  His 3,986 total games as an official ranked third in major league history when he retired, and his 2,710 games as a plate umpire still rank second in major league history to Bill Klem's total of 3,543. O'Day also umpired in 10 World Series – second only to Klem's total of 18 – including five of the first seven played. He is largely known for his controversial decision in a pivotal 1908 game, a ruling which still causes debate today.

Early life
O'Day was born in Chicago, Illinois, one of six children of two deaf parents. He made his debut as a major league player with the Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884, and in his seven-year career he posted a record of 73–110. 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 by going 22–13 in his final year with the New York Giants in the Players' League. However, he developed arm trouble as a result of pitching over 300 innings that year, and ended his playing career in the minor leagues in 1893.

Umpiring
O'Day in 1907, during his umpiring career.

Soon afterward, O'Day returned to the NL as an umpire, and he eventually developed a reputation as the finest official in the league. He umpired in 10 World Series – a total exceeded only by the 18 worked by Bill Klem, whose hiring O'Day had recommended – including four of the first five played; for the first three, he was the only NL umpire for the Series: 1903, 1905, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1916, 1918, 1920, 1923 and 1926.

In The National League Story (1961), Lee Allen described O'Day as "a crusty old pitcher who had umpired in the league as early as 1888 and had the scars to prove it."

On September 23, 1908, O'Day was involved in the most controversial field decision in major league history. He was working as the plate umpire in the game between the Cubs and the Giants, which ended when Al Bridwell's single drove in the apparent winning run. However, baserunner Fred Merkle never advanced from first base to second, in keeping with the common practice of the era. When the Cubs produced a ball – not necessarily the game ball, which had been thrown into the stands – and claimed a force play at second base, which would negate the run, the debate erupted. Base umpire Bob Emslie had been watching the play at first base to verify that the batter had reached base, but had not seen the play at second. O'Day ruled that the force play had been valid and that the run did not count, causing the game to end in a tie. Some reports say that O'Day didn't rule on the play until late that evening; however O'Day's letter to National League President Harry Pulliam indicates he made the ruling right there on the field — O'Day states decisively "I would not allow McCormick's Run to score". League president Pulliam upheld his decision, and the Cubs overtook New York (winning a makeup of that tie game) to win the pennant by a single game.

O'Day's letter to Pulliam follows (spelling and punctuation as in the original):

    New York, Sept 23/08
    Harry C. Pulliam, Esq.
    Pres. Nat. League

    Dear sir,
    In the game to-day at New York between New York and the Chicago Club. In the last half of the 9th inning, the score was a tie 1–1. New York was at the Bat, with two Men out, McCormick of N. York on 3rd Base and Merkle of N. York on 1st Base; Bridwell was at the Bat and hit a clean single Base-Hit to Center Field. Merkle did not run the Ball out; he started toward 2nd Base, but on getting half way there he turned and ran down the field toward the Club House. The Ball was fielded in to 2nd Base for a Chgo. Man to make the play, when McGinnity ran from the Coacher's Box out in the Field to 2nd Base and interfered with the Play being made. Emslie, who said he did not watch Merkle, asked me if Merkle touched 2nd Base. I said he did not. Then Emslie called Merkle out, and I would not allow McCormick's Run to score. The Game at the end of the 9th inning was 1–1. The People ran out on the Field. I did not ask to have the Field cleared, as it was too dark to continue play.
    Yours respt.
    (signed)
    Henry O'Day

O'Day called balls and strikes for no-hitters in four decades, a distinction which has been matched only by Harry Wendelstedt. During the 1920 World Series, O'Day was the second base umpire when Bill Wambsganss executed the only unassisted triple play in Series history.

In 1912, O'Day agreed to become the manager of the Cincinnati Reds, whom he guided to a 75–78 record. After returning to umpiring in 1913, he managed the Cubs to a 78–76 finish in 1914, and then went back to umpiring for good. Both teams which he managed finished in fourth place. He retired following the 1927 season and became the NL's scout for new umpires.

O'Day began his career in an era during which only one umpire worked in most games, and he spent the remainder in a time when only two were used. In addition, this period witnessed constant violence against umpires, from both players and spectators. 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 maintaining a taciturn aloofness from those who demonstrated an eagerness to get to know him. He did, however, develop a lasting friendship with fellow umpire Emslie, one of his pitching opponents in the 1880s, after both had been in the league for a number of years; he also enjoyed long friendships with John Heydler, who had been a fellow umpire in the 1890s and later became O'Day's supervisor as NL president, and Connie Mack, who had been O'Day's catcher for 3 years in Washington.

Later life
Projecting a grim and forbidding demeanor to most observers throughout his career, he was nonetheless quite moved by the expressions of affection he received following an appendectomy in 1926; individuals throughout the game who regarded him as unapproachable, and perhaps somewhat grouchy, had come to revere his great reputation for integrity and ethics, and his unwavering insistence that the rules must be honored in both letter and spirit.

O'Day died of bronchial pneumonia at age 72 in Chicago, and was buried in Calvary Cemetery.

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