Bud Connolly

This article was written by Bill Nowlin

Partway into his 19-year minor-league career, infielder Bud Connolly got the call to come to Boston. For most of three months in mid-1925, he played in 43 games for the Red Sox and acquitted himself well by the standards of the day for a shortstop (a .950 fielding percentage, a .262 batting average with 21 RBIs, and a .392 on-base percentage), but 15 years later he’d still not gotten a call to come back up to the big leagues.

In September 1924 the Red Sox purchased Connolly’s contract from the Bay City Wolves of the Michigan-Ontario League. The right-handed outfielder had just wrapped up his second season for Bay City with a .330 average and 6 home runs. Connolly stood 5-feet-8 and is listed as weighing 154 pounds. The “Mint” League was Class B.

Manager Lee Fohl looked him over during Red Sox spring training in New Orleans, and Burt Whitman of the Boston Herald quoted the manager: “Nobody knows anything about baseball prospects if this Connolly boy does not make good. … He will be a sensation if he keeps it up.”1 He was “brilliantly steady at second,” Whitman wrote a couple of weeks later, but the Red Sox were also working him out at third base, the position he’d played at Bay City. No one in camp attracted more attention, wrote the Boston Globe’s Mel Webb.2

Billy Rogell and Turkey Gross were both trying out for infield slots. Rogell and Connolly made the team, though Gross was sent down after batting .100 in 10 at-bats and Connolly recovered from a finger injury that had postponed his start.

Mervin Thomas Connolly was born in San Francisco. There were a couple of other Connollys around at the time. Some might have confused Bud with Joe Connolly, from San Francisco, who’d played some outfield for the Red Sox just the year before. That Connolly managed only one hit in 10 at-bats.

Bud was born on May 25, 1901, to William and Martha (Shannon) Connolly. William was a butcher who had himself been born in America of two “Irish English” parents; Martha was a Canadian native born to two “Canadian English” parents. As of the 1910 census, after the Earthquake of 1906, the family was living in Berkeley and numbered eight children; Mervin was the sixth of the eight. His eldest sister, Isabelle, was already working as a clerk, and the second-born, May, as a telephone operator.

Bud attended Berkeley public schools, at least through elementary school. His sister Isabelle completed his player questionnaire for the National Baseball Hall of Fame after his passing; she was uncertain how many years of high school he may have completed.

By 1920 William was gone, but seven of the children still lived in Berkeley with Martha. One of them was Mervin, who was working as a bookkeeper for a shipbuilding concern. It was two years later that he first turns up in currently available minor-league records, playing during the course of the 1922 season for three different teams. He started with the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League, training with them at Pasadena. He appeared in eight games and was 3-for-14 (.214) but when cutdown time came, he was sent to Tacoma. In 37 games for Tacoma, a team in the Class-B team Western International League, he hit .250 and slugged .396 and was said to have played well defensively.3 Apparently he also got in 40 games with Des Moines in the Class-A Western League, hitting .240. Both teams finished last in their respective leagues.

Connolly played pretty much the whole 1923 and 1924 seasons with Bay City, more than 130 games each year, batting .299 in 1923 and then (after playing winter ball in the San Francisco Mid Winter League) batting .330 in 1924. Bay City won the pennant both years. In September, his contract was sold to the Boston Red Sox.

Bud’s major-league debut came on May 3, 1925. He had been an eager participant during Red Sox spring training at New Orleans. The Boston Herald wrote, “Connolly had to be chased off the field by [manager Lee] Fohl. That kid from Bay City would play until dark every day if he had his wish.”4 He’d been hampered a little by an injured hand later in the exhibition season. It was as a pinch-hitter that Connolly made his major-league debut, on May 3 in Washington. He singled in his only at-bat. Two days later, he started a game, at shortstop, and was 1-for-4 with his first run batted in. He racked up seven RBIs in his first seven games, a pace almost no one has ever kept up, but he played steadily into mid-June and even reaped a little praise in the press for his fielding.

For whatever reason, Dud Lee played more games at shortstop and got most of the work from June on, though Connolly had a distinctly better fielding percentage (.950 to Lee’s .924) and batting average (.262 to .224), with more power, and drove in 21 runs in 43 games while Lee drove in only 19 runs in 84 games. Manager Fohl seemed to prefer Lee. Connolly appeared only three times in July, and in mid-August, it was announced that he’d been released to Mobile. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote: “‘Bud’ showed well in the field with the Red Sox, but his hitting didn’t appeal to Manager Lee Fohl.”5 Connolly got to Mobile in time to get into 43 games, and hit for a .311 average. He was recalled to Boston in mid-September, but saw no action. On December 10 he was traded to Toledo along with catcher Johnny Heving for catcher Alex Gaston.6

Connolly had 15 more years of minor-league ball, from 1926 through 1940, for Toledo and then Indianapolis (both American Association teams) through 1930, and then for Milwaukee (also in the American Association) from 1931 through 1933, averaging over 140 games a season. His best year for average was 1930 for Indianapolis (.338), and his best year for home runs was 1933 with Milwaukee (18 HRs). The 1928 Indianapolis team was a pennant-winner.

In 1931 Brewers second baseman Dutch Meltzer was driving Connolly when another man’s car struck theirs, causing minor injuries. The other man was driving the car without the owner’s consent and left the scene, though he was caught and charged. No one was badly hurt.7

Connolly earned himself a distinction in 1933, with two of those 18 homers. Leading off for the Brewers on Opening Day, April 27, he hit a homer over the left-field fence to kick off the season. And on September 4, the last home game of the year, he hit another homer over the same fence in the bottom of the 11th inning.8

Connolly played for the San Antonio Missions (Texas League) in 1934, the team finishing with a .578 winning percentage, one point behind Galveston’s .579. The Missions beat Beaumont in the first round of the playoffs, but went down to Galveston, four games to two, in the finals.

From 1935 through 1937 Connolly played for the New Orleans Pelicans, after being traded by San Antonio to the Pels for Ernie Holman. An infected shinbone cost him a number of early-season games in 1935, but he still got into 125 games. Though not coming in first in either 1935 or 1936, New Orleans made it to the final round of the league playoffs each year, falling short both times. In 1937, the Pels were eliminated in the playoff round.

Connolly didn’t complete 1937 with New Orleans, but was transferred to Montgomery in the Southeastern League (both teams were in the Cleveland Indians system) on July 28. He was asked to become player-manager for the Montgomery Bombers, the third manager that year. The Bombers finished last.

Connolly managed (and played for) Montgomery for all of 1938. Once again Montgomery finished in last place, even after the league had expanded from six teams to eight. In 1939 it was to the Three-I League, playing and managing for the Bloomington Bloomers; the Bloomers finished in sixth place in the eight-team league. And in 1940, Connolly played in 36 games – his last games in the minors – for the Madison Blues (Three-I). They were games he assigned himself to play. He was again a player-manager, but this time more of a manager than a player. His team once more finished sixth; with their 61-62 record, the Blues came close to giving Connolly his first winning season, but fell two wins short.

Connolly was a career .294 batter in his 2,440 minor-league games. He hit 105 homers.

Connolly had offseason work to fall back on. At the time of the 1940 census, he worked in Berkeley as a clerk for the California Pacific Trust Company. His sister Evelyn’s son Richard Janson is listed, at age 16, as a professional baseball player. Janson does not show up in SABR’s Minor League database.

Connolly never married. He died of cardiac failure in Berkeley on June 12, 1964. His last position prior to death was working in maintenance at St. Jerome’s School in El Cerrito, California.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Connolly’s player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.

 

Notes

1 Boston Herald, March 10, 1925.

2 Boston Globe, March 15, 1925.

3 The Oregonian (Portland), June 22, 1922.

4 Boston Herald, March 12, 1925.

5 San Francisco Chronicle, August 11, 1925.

6 Boston Herald, December 11, 1925.

7 Morning Star (Rockford, Illinois), August 27, 1931.

8 Register-Republic (Rockford, Illinois), May 7, 1934.