Danny O'Connell

This article was written by Mel Marmer.

Instead of being the good-hitting second baseman and field leader that the Milwaukee Braves expected him to be – the player who would make enough of a difference to help lead them to the National League pennant in 1954, Danny O’Connell turned out to be a disappointment, compiling just a .248 batting average in four seasons with the club. The team had dealt six players and $100,000 for him on December 26, 1953, expecting “the brassy, fresh-talking infielder” to hit .300 and become a leader.[1] Instead, O’Connell struggled in three of the four seasons he played for the Braves, hitting .279, .225, .239, and .235 respectively, and showing only occasional glimpses of the .293 hitter and the field leader that he was in his first two big-league seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was no secret that the Braves coveted All-Star second baseman Red Schoendienst and they made inquiries as to his availability routinely, but couldn’t work out a deal for him. In the meantime, everyone hoped O’Connell’s hitting stroke would return so a trade would not be necessary. But that didn’t happen. O’Connell was benched at times and other players were tried at second base, but O’Connell’s play would improve enough that no one dislodged him. Finally, on June 15, 1957, the Braves pulled off the trade that had been rumored for years: O’Connell, outfielder Bobby Thomson, and pitcher Ray Crone were sent to the New York Giants for Schoendienst, who would play a key role in the Milwaukee Braves’ winning the pennant and their only world championship that fall.

Regarding the way the situation at the keystone sack played out, Braves pitcher Bob Buhl said, “We had other good second basemen but they couldn’t turn a double play or hit .300 like Red.”[2] After O’Connell was traded, he continued his struggles at the plate while a member of the Giants in New York and San Francisco. He batted.256 in 1957, .232 in 1958, and just .190 in 34 games in 1959. He was sent down to the Giants’ top farm team, Tacoma, in 1960 and began a comeback there at age 31, by hitting .312. O’Connell obtained his release from the Giants and persuaded the expansion Washington Senators to take a chance on him by pointing out that he was a better infielder than almost every draftee available, and his salary was reasonable. He put together two good seasons with the Senators in 1961 and 1962 before retiring as a player. O’Connell “never quite reached the stardom that had been expected of him, but he was a steady and capable player” for ten seasons in the major leagues.[3]

Daniel Francis O’Connell, III, son of Daniel Francis O’Connell, Jr. and the former Myrtle Parliman, was born on January 21, 1929, in Paterson, New Jersey. Five years later brother Robert was born and sister Alice arrived two years after that. TheO’Connells were a working-class Irish family – three generations lived under one roof in a row house on Carlisle Avenue, about a half-hour from New York City.[4]

Danny’s father worked as a school janitor and was a semipro pitcher. He took his kids often to see New York Giants’ and Brooklyn Dodgers’ games. Danny attended St. Bonaventure High School on a basketball scholarship. He was a third baseman on the baseball team and pitched occasionally. His favorite player was Chicago Cubs third baseman Stan Hack. Danny left school before graduation and went to work in a dye plant. O’Connell began his professional baseball career in the spring of 1946 with the Bloomingdale (New Jersey) Troopers of the Class D North Atlantic League, signed by Brooklyn Dodgers scout Clyde Sukeforth for a $1,500 bonus and a salary of $80 per month. He was 17 years old, a slightly built 5-feet-8-inches tall, and weighed just 140 pounds. He batted .327, with a slugging percentage of .469. In 1947 O’Connell was assigned to the Three Rivers (Quebec) Royals of the Class C Canadian-American League, where he hit .311, and led the team in hits with 151, and in total bases with 195.

In 1948 O’Connell hit .292 for the Greenville (South Carolina) Spinners, of the Class A South Atlantic (Sally) League. The following season he hit .314 with 17 home runs and 102 RBIs for the Triple-A St. Paul Saints of the American Association. In the balloting for the league’s most valuable rookie, O’Connell finished second to Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Roy Hartsfield. On October 1, 1949, the Dodgers traded O’Connell to the Pittsburgh Pirates for $50,000 and second baseman Jack Cassini. The outspoken O’Connell commented, “Last year I was playing for (Branch) Rickey, but now I am playing for money.”[5]

The once skinny lad filled out to 5-feet-11 and 168 pounds. He played well in spring training in 1950 but was sent to the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians to learn to play shortstop. By July O’Connell was tearing up the American Association, hitting .351 and being named to the all-star team. He got the call to join the parent team on July 11, and made his major-league debut at Forbes Field on July 14, 1950, starting at third base against the New York Giants. O’Connell distinguished himself with an RBI single in his first major-league at-bat, off starter Sheldon Jones, and a single off Sal Maglie in the fourth inning, and scored a run. O’Connell belted his first major-league home run – a ninth-inning solo shot off the Boston Braves’ Vern Bickford two days later.

O’Connell was moved to the shortstop position just nine days after his debut when the Pirates purchased veteran third baseman Bob Dillinger from the Philadelphia A’s. In 79 games, O’Connellplayed like a veteran,” The Sporting News wrote after the season. He batted.292 and “his work in the field was miraculous.”[6] He won The Sporting News’ honors for best rookie third baseman in the majors and showed “exceptional promise during his half-season tenure.”[7]

With the Korean War on, O’Connell enlisted in the US Army in February 1951 for two years of active duty. He served in the 3rd Infantry Regiment, primarily a ceremonial unit stationed at Fort Myer, Virginia, next to Arlington National Cemetery. O’Connell played on the regimental baseball team and was a teammate of pitcher Johnny Antonelli of the Braves, catcher Sam Calderone of the Giants, and pitcher Bob Purkey of the Pirates. The Fort Myer nine became the armed forces champion and won the National Baseball Congress Tournament Championship in 1952, sweeping all seven playoff games and defeating Fort Leonard Wood for the title. O’Connell was voted the MVP of the 32 teams in the tournament.[8] The team then traveled to Japan to meet the N.B.C. Japanese champions for the inter-hemispheric nonprofessional championship. The Fort Myer team won the best-of-seven series in five games, and also split a pair of games against two Japanese pro teams.[9]

O’Connell was out of the service and back with the Pirates in 1953. Shortstop Dick Groat was now in the Army, and manager Fred Haney, reflecting on the dearth of infield talent, said he had five capable infielders but that O’Connell was the best he had at each position.[10] Haney decided to employ O’Connell at second base, a new position for him.[11] “I can put him anywhere and he can do better than anybody else,” Haney said. “He’s our best ballplayer.”[12]

Haney picked a special role for O’Connell: “Danny was to all intents the Pirates field captain,” Haney’s courier who carried messages onto the field and also what Haney called his “stimulator.” … “More than that he is the manager’s agitator. He’s a holler guy with a loud voice and a needling tongue.”[13]

On August 17 at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, O’Connell singled off Dodgers lefty Johnny Podres, launching a hitting streak that lasted 26 games. The streak ended on September 19 in a game against the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds. For besting a 25-game hitting streak posted by the Pirates’ Charlie Grimm in 1923, O'Connell reportedly was given an automobile by his friends from Paterson.

“It was amazing how he handled the bat, because he had no speed at all,” teammate Bob Friend said in reflecting on the streak. “He was one of the slower guys on our team. Danny was a guy who knew the strike zone. He couldn't hit for a lot of power, but he could hit to all fields. He was a guy who knew how to play the game.”

“He was one of those Punch-and-Judy sort of guys who just put the ball in play,” said Nellie King, a Pirates pitcher who faced O’Connell after he was traded to Milwaukee. “He was one of those pesky hitters. … He would just annoy the heck out of you, like a gnat.”[14]

During the streak O’Connell batted .356 (42-for-118). Only five of his hits were for extra bases: one home run, one triple and three doubles. He finished the season with a .294 batting average, 26 doubles and 7 home runs. After that season great things were expected of O'Connell. No one could have anticipated that his first full season in the major leagues would be his best.[15]

Expectations to the contrary, on December 26, 1953, Danny was traded by the Pirates to the Milwaukee Braves for Double-A left-handed pitcher Larry Lasalle, 36-year-old left fielder Sid Gordon, 36-year-old center fielder Sam Jethroe, 20-year-old right-handed pitcher Curt Raydon, 31-year-old right-hander Max Surkont, 26-year-old left-hander Fred Waters, and $100,000.

Coverage of the trade mentioned O’Connell’s confidence. “If there is anything that characterizes O’Connell it is confidence. He brims over with it, just as he does with Irish wit and song. He thinks he’s good and he has no reluctance to tell anybody what he thinks.”[16]

O’Connell’s flaws were also examined; one of the most prophetic statements came from Philadelphia Phillies president Bob Carpenter, who said, “There is no assurance that O’Connell can play second base. He’s no cat at that spot and if he is shifted to third, there is no proof that Ed Mathews will be a success in the outfield. They are going to have their headaches.[17] Braves pitcher Warren Spahn, welcomed the trade, declaring O’Connell the toughest batter he faced last season and saying he was glad he would not have to pitch to Danny.[18] 

Playing in Pittsburgh, there was little pressure to perform for the lowly 1953 Pirates. This wasn’t the case in Milwaukee, however, where O’Connell would find that “(e)very game at the County Stadium is a pressure game, every series a World Series.”[19]

O’Connell got off to a good start with the Braves in 1954 by reeling off a ten-game hitting streak in which he batted .400 (18-for-45). He was voted Braves player of the week but the distinction it was lost in Milwaukee’s mediocre 5-5 start. In early June O’Connell was hitting just .259 and was briefly benched, but he improved and finished the season at .279. The Braves finished in third place with an 89-65 record.

Speaking at a banquet in Waterbury, Connecticut, in January 1955, O’Connell criticized manager Charlie Grimm and his teammates in a way that could have had repercussions. Recalling the beaning of Joe Adcock in August 1954, he said the Braves pitchers needed to stick up for their hitters. And he said the Braves would have won the pennant “if Grimm hadn’t been too easy on the players.” O’Connell described Grimm as “a nice fellow” and “a great manager to play for.”[20] Grimm took the criticism with aplomb, saying that “despite O’Connell, I’ll continue to manage the Braves.”[21] O’Connell wrote a letter of apology to Grimm.

On January 22, 1955, Danny and Veronica “Vera” Sharkey of Montclair, New Jersey, were married. They would have four children: sons Daniel IV and John, and daughters Maureen and Nancy.

In 1955 spring training O’Connell suffered back spasms warming up before a game. Haney increased second baseman Jack Dittmer’s playing time and Hank Aaron played second base in early June and for 17 days in mid-July. O’Connell’s batting average was to .319 on May 20, but drifted down to .225 by season’s end. The Braves won 11 of 15 games to move into second place on June 30, never got closer to Brooklyn than ten games behind on August 27, and they finished in second place, 13½ games back. O’Connell’s batting average was the lowest among regular players in the major leagues.

O’Connell batted leadoff for most of the 1956 season.[22] In May calcium deposits were found in Red Schoendienst’s shoulder, nixing any interest the Braves might have had in him.[23] With the Braves in first place by a game during the first week of June, O’Connell was benched for about a week for lack of hitting. His resurgence was highlighted by a June 13 performance in which he socked three triples off Robin Roberts of the Phillies, lifting his average to .290.[24] In a series against the Pirates in Pittsburgh, June 18-20, O’Connell collected six RBIs, and the Braves, surged back into first place.

O’Donnell batted only .239 for the season, but had a few noteworthy moments. On June 21 he was 3-for-4 with 4 RBIs in the Braves’ sixth straight victory. On June 23 O’Connell hit a ninth-inning solo home run off Johnny Antonelli to defeat the Giants, 2-1. On June 24 he hit a a three-run home run off Jim Hearn at the Polo Grounds, a game-winning blooper that just ticked the right field foul pole, 257 feet away. O’Connell helped lead four-game sweeps of Pittsburgh and New York. Meanwhile, manager Charlie Grimm was fired after the Braves fell to 24-22 in July, and was succeeded by Fred Haney. 

O’Connell’s defense was equally good: “O’Connell turned in his best second-basing of the season in the four-game Cubs series, July 5-8. In one game July 7, he started three double plays,” The Sporting News wrote.[25] There were still problems. On July 16 he failed to run out a ground ball that appeared to be a routine out. Pirates first baseman Dale Long fumbled the ball and O’Connell would have most likely been safe. O’Connell was fined by manager Haney.[26] 

What to do about the second base was becoming a long-running question. After the season Braves beat writer Bob Wolf theorized, “If the Braves can’t get the players they want, the most popular way to achieve its purpose would be to shift Mathews to left field and shift O’Connell from second to his natural spot at third base. If they can’t get Schoendienst, they could shift (Johnny) Logan to second and have (Felix) Mantilla play shortstop.”[27] 

The second base situation was finally resolved on June 15, 1957, with the Braves in first place by 1½ games over the Cincinnati Redlegs. O’Connell was traded to the Giants in a deal that brought Red Schoendienst to Milwaukee. O’Connell, outfielder Bobby Thomson, and pitcher Ray Crone went to New York. The trade cost the three traded Braves a share of the team’s World Series money. 

O’Connell later said that playing for manager Bill Rigney after his trade to the Giants was one of the most frustrating experiences in his career. “I started to lose my confidence. Rigney never used me,” he said. “I think the last straw was when we were short of infielders and Rigney played an outfielder, Jackie Brandt, at third over me. My confidence went down to zero.”[28] O’Connell played sporadically for the Giants until the team, by then in San Francisco, released him at the end of spring training in 1960.

O’Connell played for the Tacoma Giants of the Pacific Coast League in 1961 and hit .312. After the season he traveled to baseball’s winter meetings in search of a job. He signed with the Washington Senators for a $5,000 bonus and salary of about $16,000. He batted .260 in 1961 and .263 in 1962.. He had a career-best .361 on-base percentage in 1961 and led the AL in sacrifice hits with 15, and though he was never a fast runner, pilfered a career-high 15 bases at the age of 32.

Released by the Senators after the 1962 season, O’Connell ended his playing days as a .260 career hitter with 1,049 hits in 1,143 games, 320 RBIs, and 527 runs scored. He was a player-manager for the Senators’ York (Pennsylvania) White Roses of the Double-A Eastern League in 1963 before being called up to be a coach with the Senators. In 1964 he was the Senators’ third-base coach. After the season he left his coaching job and went to work as a salesman for the Lee Plumbing Supply Company in Denville, New Jersey.

He refereed high-school basketball games and was active in his church, St. Thomas the Apostle, in Bloomfield. He was also active in the Catholic Youth Organization in Paterson.

In 1968 O’Connell played in an old timer’s game between the Giants and the Dodgers at Candlestick Park that marked the tenth anniversary game of first major-league game played in California. O’Connell victimized Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale, performing the hidden-ball trick, and doubled off Ed Roebuck to help the Giants to a 2-1 victory in the three-inning contest.[29] 

While driving home on the evening of October 2, 1969, the 40-year old O’Connell suffered a coronary occlusion, a blockage of one or more of the arteries in his heart. He lost control of his car in the heavy rain and it skidded into a utility pole near his home. He died from his injuries, leaving behind his wife and four children. 

This biography is included in the book Thar's Joy in Braveland! The 1957 Milwaukee Braves (SABR, 2014), edited by Gregory H. Wolf.

To download the free e-book or purchase the paperback edition, click here.


[1] The cash amount of $100,000 is used by, which the author accessed on June 16, 2013. Other sources, including The Sporting News, have given different amounts. Some amounts given are as high as $250,000. The author chose the more conservative amount.   

[2] Danny Peary, We Played The Game (New York: Black Dog and Leventhal, 1998), 353.  

[3] Obituaries – Danny O’Connell, The Sporting News, October 18, 1969, 42.  

[4] The information about the O’Connell family was obtained from the US Census of 1940, which reported that there were three individuals named Daniel O’Connell living at 136 Carlisle Avenue in Paterson. Daniel Jr. was working as a foreman on road construction. Danny was 11. Grandfather Daniel F. O’Connell, 79 years old in 1940, listed as a saloonkeeper, was born in Norfolk, Connecticut, on January 6, 1864, and died in Paterson on November 6, 1940. Danny’s great-grandfather, John O’Connell, was born in Ireland.   

[5] David Finoli and Bill Ranier, The Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia (Champaign, Illinois: Sports Publishing LLC, 2003), 464.  

[6] The Sporting News, October 11, 1950, 11.  

[7] Bob Broeg, “Strong Rookie All-Stars Show .283 Bat Mark,” The Sporting News, November 1, 1950, 5  

[8] Bob Buege, “Global World Series: 1955-57,” SABR, Baseball Research Journal, Spring 2012. Accessed online October 1, 2013.   

[9] The Sporting News, March 18, 1953, 31.  

[10] Milton Gross, “Pirate With a Future.” Sport, February 1954, 26.  

[11] The Sporting News, March 18, 1953, 10.  

[12] Gross, 26.  

[13] Gross, 66.  

[14] Ray Fittipaldo and Robert Dvorchak, “Obscure Players of Long Ago Atop Streak List.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sports, May 30, 2003, accessed on August 15, 2013. O’Connell’s 26-game hitting streak as of 2014 was still a Pirates record for batters since 1900. It was tied by Kenny Lofton in 2006. The Pirates’ all-time consecutive-game hitting record is 27 games, set in 1899 by Jimmy Williams. Also see Pittsburgh history/Individual records, accessed August 31, 2013.  

[15] Lester J. Biederman, “Streak Reaches 23 Games: O’Connell’s Consistent Bat Bright Spot of Dismal Bucs,” Pittsburgh Press, September 15, 1953.  

[16] Gross, 26.  

[17] The Sporting News, January 20, 1954, 6.  

[18] “Spahn Declares O’Connell Toughest Batter To Face,” The Sporting News, January 27, 1954, 16.  

[19] Al Hirshberg, “Can Milwaukee Keep It Up?” Sport, February 1954, 79.  

[20] Frank Monardo, “Failure to Return Dusters Costly to Braves – O’Connell,” Waterbury (Connecticut) Republican and American, reprinted in The Sporting News, January 17, 1955, 24.  

[21] The Sporting News, February 22, 1955, 27.  

[22] “Braves’ Ifs Vanish – Danny Delivers, Thomson In Stride,” The Sporting News, May 23, 1956, 11.  

[23] Joe King, “Schoendienst’s Sore Arm Proves Big Pain For Giants,” The Sporting News, July 4, 1956, 10.  

[24] Bob Wolf, “Cholly Jolly No Longer – Jaw Sags With Bat Marks in Braves Home Stumble,” The Sporting News, June 20, 1956, 10.   

[25] The Sporting News, July 18, 1956, 5.  

[26] Bob Wolf, “Failure to Run Out Grounder Cost Danny One Dollar a Foot,” The Sporting News, July 25, 1956, 8.  

[27] “Quinn Denies Deal Pending for Redhead”; Bob Wolf, “Braves Sidewalk Experts Offering Ideas To Fill Holes,” The Sporting News, November 7, 1956, 17. 

[28] Obituaries – Danny O’Connell, The Sporting News, October 18, 1969, 42.  

[29] The Sporting News, August 4, 1968


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