Joe Connolly

This article was written by Bill Nowlin

He was known by some as "Coaster Joe," and most of his professional baseball career was in the Western states, but Joe Connolly did play in parts of four seasons (1921-24) for the New York Giants, Cleveland Indians, and Boston Red Sox. He was an outfielder – right-handed – who appeared in 80 big-league games. The one year he got a significant chance to play in the majors, he did quite well.

All four grandparents were natives of Ireland, though both of his own parents were born in California. His father was a doctor, a physician in general practice named Thomas Elliot Connolly. Dr. Connolly's wife was Kathy Connolly. There appear to have been four children in the family: Emily, Thomas, Joseph H., and Olive. Joseph was born on June 27, 1894, in San Francisco.

We don't have a record of his youth and schooling. The first time he turns up playing professional baseball is in 1916, with the Tacoma Tigers in the Northwestern League after joining the team in late July.1 He had just turned 22 years old. Statistics for 1916 are not available, but we do find that Connolly collected 287 at-bats with Tacoma in 1917, hitting for a .244 average, with a .300 slugging percentage.

Connolly was drafted into the US Army in the latter part of 1917.2 He was one of 30,000 training at Camp Lewis, just a few miles outside Tacoma. He spent some 15 months in the service, on guard duty at Camp Lewis and Eastern embarkation points. Connolly was discharged in early 1919 and on March 1 signed with his hometown San Francisco Seals. Manager Charles Graham started him in left field, and he soon won plaudits aplenty for his defense. The San Francisco Chronicle commented on May 1, "Tris Speaker never played a better game in the field than Joe Connolly did yesterday. Joe's play was perfect, and even Tris cannot improve upon perfection. If Joe could only hit, but that's another story."3 He was already attracting the attention of New York Yankees scout Bob Connery. Around July 2 Connolly was farmed out to Des Moines in the Western League, but he rejoined the Seals near the end of the season. Connolly appeared in 72 games, batting .253 and made only three errors, for a .981 fielding percentage. He'd hit .350 for Des Moines.4

The 1920 season saw Connolly play a full 182 games for San Francisco, and knock out his first three home runs. By the end of June he was hitting .367, but obviously tapered off, as he finished with a .283 average. Local headlines began to reflect Connolly’s batting as well as his defense.

On April 8, 1921, the Seals sold Connolly’s contract to the San Antonio Missions (Texas League) and he played a year for the Missions. There he hit .314, with 13 homers (which would remain his personal best in the four-base-hit department.) In late August Connolly was acquired by the New York Giants, and appeared in two games after the Texas League season was over – on October 1 and 2. In five plate appearances for manager John McGraw, he did not get a hit but he walked once in the debut game, against the Phillies. He may have still have needed some maturation as a professional. On announcing that he had joined the Giants, the Chronicle wrote, "If Joe Connolly would take baseball seriously he could make good in the majors. He has plenty of ability."5 The Giants beat the Yankees and won the World Series; Connolly had joined the team too late to qualify for a roster spot, but he was able to watch the Series from the bench.

When McGraw sent Connolly his 1922 contract, he sent it back – and McGraw "immediately countering by letting Connolly go."6 Perhaps his .000 batting average for a pennant-winning team hadn't been sufficient proof of his abilities. The New York Times, however, reported a somewhat routine procedure – that he'd been released to Little Rock for "more seasoning."7

Connolly was released to Little Rock for 1922, and played most of the season in the Southern Association. In 137 games, he batted .323 and hit 12 homers. On August 22 he was sold to the Cleveland Indians and joined them within the week, back in the majors, this time in the American League. And this year he got a base hit in his first game, on August 29 against the St. Louis Browns. He added 10 more hits over his next 11 games, driving in six runs and compiling a .244 average.

Connolly's best year was 1923, when he got the opportunity to stretch out a bit. Though in the role of a fourth outfielder, mostly in right field, he still got into 52 games. (No other outfielder save the starting three got into more than two games.) Connolly hit for a .303 average – for an extraordinary Indians team which had a team batting average of .301. The starting three outfielders were Tris Speaker (who hit .380), Homer Summa (.328), and Charlie Jamieson (.345). Despite all that firepower, and 26-game winner George Uhle, the Indians finished in third place.

Connolly homered three times and drove in 25 runs. He scored 25 runs, too. Four of the RBIs and one of the runs scored were a result of his pinch-hit grand slam against the Red Sox on June 6 in Boston.

On January 7, 1924, Connolly was packaged in a seven-player trade. Dan Boone, Steve O'Neill, and Bill Wambsganss were sent to the Boston Red Sox with Connolly for George Burns, Chick Fewster, and Roxy Walters. The Red Sox were high on Connolly, the Boston Globe somewhat hyperbolically reporting that he "may be expected to become a great outfielder."8 Connolly was with the Red Sox through mid-July, but appeared in only 14 games. And he hit only .100. Most of the time, Connolly was used as a pinch-hitter by manager Lee Fohl. He started two games in right field. He walked twice and sacrificed once. In his last game, on July 11, Connolly pinch-hit and singled in a run, the only run of the game in an 8-1 loss to the St. Louis Browns. It was not only Connolly's last game for the Red Sox, but his last game in the majors.

There may again have been some sense of Connolly not having the proper demeanor for a major-league ballplayer. The Cleveland Plain Dealer said that Fohl was "sending him to San Antonio to improve his habits."9

Back with the Missions in San Antonio, Connolly hit .280 in 53 games.

At the minor-league meetings in early December 1924, the Red Sox purchased the rights to pitcher Rudy Kallio from the Salt Lake City team. Part of the consideration was Connolly; some cash was sent to "the Mormons," too, with the Boston Herald noting, "The Sox lose nothing by this trade, as Connolly was in the game so little last year as to be negligible as a Hose asset."10

The Salt Lake City Bees saw "Coaster Joe" play in 80 games under manager Ossie Vitt and hit for a .317 average with nine home runs. He surely would have been in many more games, but in the first inning of the first game of an August 21 doubleheader against visiting Portland, he broke his leg sliding into home plate. He was out for season with a break just above his right ankle.

The Salt Lake franchise shifted to Hollywood for the 1926 season and became the Hollywood Stars. But they apparently didn't want Connolly. A news dispatch out of San Francisco on February 6 presented an interesting situation. It read: "How would you like to have a ball player – and a good one – that you can't trade, sell, or give away? Ossie Vitt, manager of the Hollywood team, has such a player in outfielder Joe Connolly. No one wants to buy Connolly, no one wants to trade for him, and no one appears to want him for a gift. Connolly has ability – lots of it – but, in spite of this, club owners are charry (sic) about adding him to their payroll."11

And yet Connolly played for three Coast League teams that year. He started with the Stars, but there may have been something missing. "JOE CONNOLLY DONATES GAME" read the headline in the Los Angeles Times on April 3, reporting on an exhibition game against the Chicago Cubs that ran to 11 innings. Then, Connolly simply let a ball fall in, and then held the ball rather than throw to the plate. "Connolly was thinking either about the past or future – certainly not the present."12 It was not until May 25 that he signed on to play ball; when he did, he signed on with the Seals, the club he'd played for back in 1919 and 1920. He played his first inning that same day. On July 1 the Chronicle announced that Connolly was being placed on waivers. No one claimed him and he was released on July 9.

One day later, the Oakland Oaks signed Connolly. They needed another right-handed outfielder after Ralph Shinners was hurt and Connolly suited the bill. A little over a month later, an intriguing story surfaced via the Associated Press. Datelined August 19, it reported that Oaks manager Ivan Howard had suspended Earl "Pinches" Kunz and handed Connolly his release. Howard said he did not care to state for publication the reason for Kunz's punishment. Connolly's may simply have been that he wasn't hitting – his season's-end stats showed a .240 average over the course of 60 games for the three PCL teams – none of which won the pennant that year.

Connolly was finished with professional baseball.

The 1930 census shows a Joseph H. Connolly of the right age living in Los Angeles and working as a real-estate salesman, but it is not an uncommon name and may or may not be our man. Our Joe Connolly also was not the same Joe Connolly who had played for the 1914 Miracle Braves.

Joe Connolly never married, though when he died a notation made by the funeral home indicated that expenses (which totaled a little over $1,000) were to be paid by "Mary Smith – friend." She did have a different address, a few streets away in San Francisco; she lived on Vallejo and he lived on Van Ness. Connolly died of a heart attack due to coronary arteriosclerosis, with an intramural hemorrhage of the right coronary artery, at 3:58 P.M. on March 30, 1960, at Harbor Emergency Hospital, San Francisco.

For more than five years prior to his passing, Connolly had worked as a shipping clerk in the shipping department of the Union Hiring Hall in the city. He was a veteran of World War I, and thus was buried in Golden Gate National Cemetery at San Bruno.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Connolly's player file 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 Seattle Daily Times, August 1, 1916.

2 San Francisco Chronicle, October 25, 1917; Seattle Daily Times, December 18, 1917.

3 San Francisco Chronicle, May 1, 1919. In September, after Connolly had rejoined the Seals, a Chronicle subhead read, "Joe Connolly Shuts Off Two Runs with Remarkable Catch of Long Fly." See the September 24 paper.

4 San Francisco Chronicle, February 29, 1920.

5 San Francisco Chronicle, September 26, 1921.

6 Boston Herald, January 13, 1924.

7 New York Times, February 11, 1922.

8 Boston Globe, January 17, 1924.

9 Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 23, 1924.

10 Boston Herald, December 3, 1924.

11 The Oregonian (Portland), February 7, 1926.

12 Los Angeles Times, April 3, 1926.