Hank of All Trades

Umpire O’Day up for Hall of Fame election

November 26, 2012
2013 Pre-Integration Committee candidate Hank O'Day. (NBHOF Library)

A player, manager, umpire and scout for over 40 years in the National League, Hank O’Day remains the only person to serve the league in so many capacities.

But a call he made on one play in 1908 may be his greatest legacy.

O’Day is one of 10 finalists on this year’s Pre-Integration Committee ballot at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The Pre-Integration Committee will vote on Dec. 2 at baseball’s Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., and the results of the vote will be announced Dec. 3.

The 10 candidates on the Pre-Integration Committee ballot are: Sam Breadon, Bill Dahlen, Wes Farrell, Marty Marion, Tony Mullane, Alfred Reach, Jacob Ruppert, Bucky Walters, Deacon White and O’Day. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all ballots cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2013.

Born on July 8, 1862 in Chicago, O’Day made his major league baseball debut in 1884 as a pitcher for the Toledo Blue Stockings. In his seven-year career, O’Day went 73-110 with clubs like the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, Washington Nationals and New York Giants.

In 1889, O’Day won two games with a 1.17 ERA in the World Series to help the Giants to a 6-3 win over Brooklyn of the American Association. Coming off that successful postseason, O’Day had his best season in 1890, going 22-13. But en route to throwing more than 300 innings, he began to have arm trouble. That was the last season he would play in the big leagues, and O’Day ended his playing career in 1893 in the minors.

He wasn’t gone for long. O’Day returned to the National League as an umpire in 1895 and spent 30 years calling games.

“Never allow your eyes to see whether a uniform is white or blue, but call them as you seem them,” he said.

O’Day was chosen to umpire the first modern World Series in 1903 as the only NL ump. He worked in nine other World Series, second-most in baseball history.

In 1908, O’Day was involved in one of the most controversial plays in history. As the plate umpire during a Cubs-versus-Giants game, O’Day watched as Al Bridwell of New York appeared to hit a walk-off single to win the game. Fred Merkle, the Giants’ 19-year-old first baseman, was on first base at the time and never advanced from first to second when Moose McCormick – the runner on third base – scored, a common practice of the era. Cubs players produced a ball, and Chicago second baseman Johnny Evers tagged second base, claiming Merkle was out and that the run didn’t count because of the force out. O’Day ruled in favor of the Cubs – and Chicago later won a makeup game to win the National League pennant.

O’Day explained that interference was the reason for his call.

“We did not make the decision because Evers touched second when Merkle started for the clubhouse, as is commonly supposed,” said O’Day. “We did it because Joe McGinnity, when the ball was thrown back to the infield by Artie Hofman, interfered with (Jack) Pfiester, a Cub player, who had picked up Hofman’s throw. McGinnity wrested the ball from Pfiester, and threw it into the crowd, which by this time was swarming onto the grounds back of third base… If McGinnity’s interference had not given us that clear point to rule on, the credit for the play on Merkle would have gone to Hofman, who deserves it any way, for he threw the ball in when most fielders, following custom, would have kept it and fled to the clubhouse, in the belief that the game was over.”

O’Day was the home plate umpire for no-hitters in four decades and also umpired the game in 1920 that featured the only unassisted triple play in World Series history – one of 10 World Series appearances. He umpired for 35 years in the NL, only two fewer than record-holder and Hall of Famer Bill Klem.

In 1912, O’Day took a break from umpiring to manage the Cincinnati Reds. They finished 75-78 and in fourth place. He returned to umpiring in 1913, only to manage again in 1914, taking over the Cubs from Evers. After another fourth place finish at 78-76, O’Day returned to umpiring for good.

“He is a wonderful character and a wonderful umpire, doubtless the best the game has known on balls and strikes,” said National League President John Heydler. “He always was a stickler for the rules. He was an umpire and nothing else.”

O’Day retired following the 1927 season and remained active in the National League as a scout for new umpires.

“O’Day was the greatest in his line, bar none,” said Evers. “O’Day was the best umpire the game has ever known.”

He passed away on July 2, 1935.

Samantha Carr is a freelance writer from Rochester, N.Y.