Hank O’Day is one of the few men to have played, umpired, and managed at the major-league level. He was a World Series pitching hero. He had one of the greatest starts of any rookie manager in history. He was the home-plate umpire for 23 World Series games, as well as for four no-hitters in four different decades.1 He was called “about as odd a character as the game ever produced.”2 He was the driving force behind rule changes that have dramatically transformed baseball. Yet, for all his influence in a remarkable career that spanned nearly half a century, O’Day is principally remembered for only one play.
Granted, that one play was indeed a biggie, in what has been characterized as “the most celebrated, most widely discussed, most controversial contest in the history of American sports.”3 O’Day was the home-plate umpire in the famous (or infamous) game in 1908 when Fred Merkle neglected to run to second base. Hank’s historic ruling in nullifying the apparent winning run sent a shock wave through the baseball world, turning what was already the most exciting race of all time into the most tumultuous. That one decision became O’Day’s legacy, defining his entire lengthy baseball career. It is even embossed on his Hall of Fame plaque.
Henry Francis O’Day was born in Chicago on July 8, 1859, the middle child of seven born to deaf parents James and Margaret (Loftus) O’Day, Irish immigrants.4 His father operated a small farm, worked as a plumber, and then served as an engineer at a school. Hank grew to a height of 6 feet, weighed a hefty 180 pounds, sported a fashionable mustache, and probably spoke with a brogue.5 Hank and his two older brothers spent their formative years playing baseball on the many open fields of Chicago in the city’s thriving semipro leagues. Charles Comiskey, the same age as Hank, was a teammate. The O’Day brothers played under the name “Day” because their father disapproved of his sons playing the “frivolous pastime” of baseball.6 For a while, Hank was a steamfitter’s apprentice before giving it up and traveling to faraway California to play ball for St. Mary’s College for three years.7
At age 22, in 1883, O’Day became a professional ballplayer when he joined the Bay City, Michigan, team of the Northwestern League as pitcher and center fielder for $125 a month. During that season, management of the financially strapped team realized it had to reduce its roster. They drew his name out of a hat and he was released, despite being the team’s leading batter.8 It was an appropriate beginning for Hank’s career as a well-traveled journeyman pitcher.
The Toledo Blue Stockings, of the same minor league, picked up O’Day. At about the same time the team also signed catcher Moses Fleetwood Walker, who would later become the first African American in major-league history, 63 years before Jackie Robinson. Sporting Life, baseball’s leading publication, was soon proclaiming O’Day and Walker as “one of the most remarkable batteries in the country.”9 With the addition of the talented twosome, Toledo quickly rose from fifth place to win the league championship. The team also fared quite well in exhibition games against major-league competition.
In 1884 O’Day became a major leaguer when the Blue Stockings, brimming with confidence after their great success, joined the American Association. Alas, when Toledo finished in eighth place, the team was dropped from the majors and O’Day was once again looking for another team. In his rookie big-league season, he pitched 326 innings, posting a 9-28 record and 3.75 ERA. He also displayed his versatility by playing 28 games at other positions. (In his major-league career, O’Day had spot starts at every position except catcher and second base.)
Veteran major-league catcher Deacon McGuire described O’Day’s pitching style: “He was crafty and had a world of stuff, but he threw the heaviest and hardest ball I ever caught. It was like lead and it came at me like a shell from a cannon.” To protect his hand whenever he caught O’Day, McGuire would insert a slab of raw meat into his thin catcher’s glove.10
The year 1885 was a distressing one for O’Day personally. He was able to stay in the majors by signing with the AA’s Pittsburg Alleghenys, but after missing several starts while visiting his dying father back in Chicago, he was released in midseason.11 Unable to hook up with a major-league club after his father’s death, O’Day pitched for Washington’s minor-league club in the Eastern League. He rebounded with a sparkling 13-2 record and 0.74 ERA. This success was tempered with news that his 16-year-old brother Joseph had died after fracturing his skull in a fall from an amusement-park roller coaster in Chicago.12
In 1886 O’Day had an excellent year with Savannah (26-11, 1.03 ERA), prompting the Detroit Wolverines, hot contenders for the National League pennant, to pick him up late in the season. O’Day was overjoyed until he learned that Detroit had immediately sold him to the last-place Washington Nationals. He finally found some stability and remained with the Nationals for two full seasons, but it was a struggle pitching for a team with the worst hitting in the league. He started the 1888 season with a 0-9 record and one tie, thanks to his teammates scoring a total of nine runs in his first 10 starts. He was able to lead the league in a statistical category for the first and only time in his major-league career, but it was a dubious one –the most hit batsmen. O’Day was the team’s workhorse with a combined 24-49 record, 657⅔ innings pitched, and a 3.52 ERA for the two seasons.13 During his years with Washington, O’Day’s catcher was the venerable Connie Mack.
O’Day would long remember the 1889 season, the most thrilling and satisfying of his playing career. He began the year still laboring for last-place Washington and at midseason had a 4.33 ERA and a 2-10 record. The New York Giants, fighting for the pennant, saw something special in O’Day and purchased him, with O’Day receiving a $200 cut. Being supported by a solid offense was a new experience. The Giants had four future Hall of Famers in their lineup, as well as two in their rotation.14 However, it was O’Day who proved the difference by winning nine games down the stretch and leading the Giants franchise to their first NL championship. Baseball experts said that if the Giants “had not purchased O’Day from Washington at a critical period,” New York would not have won the pennant.15
The Giants faced the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, winners of the American Association pennant, in a best-of-11 World Series to determine the best team in baseball. The Giants hitters were outstanding but their two aces, Tim Keefe and Mickey Welch, were pounded and New York found itself behind early in the Series. Giants manager Jim Mutrie turned to his two backup hurlers, Cannonball Crane and Hank O’Day, to pitch the rest of the games. They responded with a combined six consecutive wins to capture the crown for New York. “It was difficult to isolate a single hero in the Series,” wrote author Jerry Lansche, “but the logical choice was pitcher Hank O’Day.”16 He was dazzling in the pitcher’s box. O’Day won the only two low-scoring games, one to tie the Series and the other the deciding contest, by limiting Brooklyn to three earned runs in 23 innings and holding their hitters to a microscopic .135 batting average.
There was a revolution in baseball in 1890. More than 150 players, finally fed up with their treatment by management over the years, formed their own major league, the Players League. Twelve members of the 1889 Giants, including Hank O’Day, became the nucleus of a “new” New York Giants team. O’Day finished the year with a 22-13 record, 329 innings pitched, and a 4.21 ERA. The Players League folded after only one season and the circuit’s players scattered, most of them returning to their big-league club of the previous year. O’Day was not so lucky. It was his last major-league season as a player. The many innings he had hurled over the years had taken their toll and his right arm was dead.
Determined to extend his baseball life, O’Day toiled for four different teams in four minor leagues over the next three years (1891-1893).17 In 1892 he suffered another personal tragedy when he learned of the death of his older brother James, 38, with whom he had played ball on the sandlots of Chicago. James was working for the Pinkerton Detective Agency when he suffered severe head injuries protecting Pennsylvania coal miners during a labor strike battle. Shortly thereafter, in a state of delirium, James committed suicide by jumping to his death from a moving train.18
In 1894 O’Day was at a crossroads in his life. A year earlier, baseball had increased its pitching distance to 60 feet 6 inches. He knew his playing career was over – nobody was looking for a has-been 35-year-old hurler with an ailing right arm – but he wanted to remain in the game he loved. He decided to take a crack at being an umpire (of which he had a little prior experience) and went to the Northwestern League to work some games. It would prove to be the wisest decision he ever made because it was a role he was born to perform.
A decade earlier, on September 11, 1884, while a rookie major-league pitcher with Toledo, O’Day had been selected to serve as the umpire when the regular arbiter had failed to show up. Despite having never done it before, O’Day performed his duties behind the plate “very acceptably.”19 He was a natural and would serve as a substitute umpire in another six games during his playing career. In O’Day’s era, it was not unusual for an active player to serve as an umpire.20 However, it is testament to his honesty, integrity, and talent that during his playing career no other active player was called upon to serve as “player-umpire” more than him.21
O’Day became an umpire during the profession’s worst period. “It was hell to be an umpire in the 1890’s; it’s a wonder anyone would do it,” wrote historian Bill James.22 Larry Gerlach, the foremost umpire historian, aptly described the life of an arbiter during this violent decade on the diamond: “Umpires were routinely spiked, kicked, sworn at and spit upon by players, while fans hurled curses, bottles and all manner of organic and inorganic debris at the arbiters. Mobbings and physical assaults by players and patrons alike became commonplace; police escorts were familiar and welcome sights to the men in blue. … In short, a rough-and-tumble, no-holds-barred mentality dominated the game in the last past part of the 19th century.”23
O’Day did not last long initially in the profession. In 1895 he quit umpiring, returned to Chicago, and took a job as a clerk in the City Recorder’s Office. By taking his first job outside baseball, it is probable that he at that time had entirely given up the idea of remaining in the game in any capacity.24 Fortunately for baseball, O’Day remained passionate about the game and would visit the old ballpark as often as he could.
On the overcast Sunday afternoon of July 7, 1895, Hank O’Day was sitting in the grandstand in a crowd of 9,000 awaiting the start of the game between the Chicago Colts and Cleveland Spiders. Chicago team owner James Hart noticed O’Day, approached him, explained that the regular umpire had not arrived, and pressed O’Day to take his place. O’Day agreed and the rest, in the oft-repeated cliché, is history. During the spirited contest, “not even the semblance of a kick was registered by either team.” Sitting in the stands with Hart were Spiders owner Frank Robison and New York Giants owner Andrew Freedman. The three magnates were so impressed with O’Day’s work that they prevailed upon National League President Nick Young to immediately hire him as a full-time major-league umpire.25
O’Day quit his clerk position, signed a National League umpire contract, and two days later was calling balls and strikes for the Colts-Giants game in Chicago. For the remainder of the season, he traveled around the NL circuit, umpiring almost every day for a total 75 games.
One game illustrates what O’Day had to endure during his rookie season as a major-league umpire. “O’Day probably never had as narrow an escape from serious or death” as in the Cleveland-Washington game of August 20, reported the Washington Post. After the Nationals had lost the close contest, a crowd of about 1,000 irate fans surrounded O’Day, who “was so badly frightened … that his face blanched and his teeth chattered with a noise like castanets.” Washington manager Gus Schmelz (for whom O’Day had once played for in the minors) pulled O’Day to safety into a dressing room, where he was guarded by a squad of police officers. When he later left with an armed escort, he was greeted by a shower of bricks. Hustled into a nearby hotel, he remained guarded by armed police until the outraged mob dwindled.26 The next day the fearless O’Day was back at the same ballpark working a doubleheader behind the plate.
O’Day’s first ejection involved Connie Mack, his old friend and former batterymate. Working alone, O’Day had hustled out to second base from behind home plate to make a close call of “safe” on a New York Giants batter-runner. Mack, manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, uncharacteristically let loose a string of profanity that could be heard way up in the press box. O’Day ignored it until Mack “applied a name to him that was unprintable.” O’Day walked up to the dugout and levied a fine of $100 on Connie, later upheld by the league president. Mack continued his tirade by “lashing him with language which could not be repeated in polite society.” O’Day tossed Mack from the game and, when Mack refused to leave, summoned uniformed patrol officers to escort him from the park.27 It was the first and only ejection of Mack’s 66-year major-league career as a player and manager.
Needing more experience, O’Day spent the 1896 season umpiring in the Western League.28 Ban Johnson, the minor league’s imperious president, understood that baseball’s frequent fistfights were eroding attendance and that if left unchecked would not only hinder the game’s growth but might ultimately destroy it. Johnson insisted that strong security measures be employed in all his ballparks; that no profanity be allowed on the field or in the stands; and that players engaging in brawls be promptly suspended. Most importantly, Johnson gave his umpires total authority and supported them completely. Working full-time in the Western League was an epiphany for O’Day – this was the way baseball should and could be conducted.
Returning to the National League as a full-time umpire in 1897, O’Day was determined to do his part to reduce the game’s excessive violence. It would prove to be one of his most immense contributions to baseball.29 Employing full use of all the weapons an umpire has in enforcing discipline – warnings, imposing fines, ejections, threat of forfeit, and recommending suspensions – O’Day remained resolute, sending the clear message that he would not tolerate any disrespect of the game or his authority. In 1897 he ejected players and managers at a steady clip, mainly for fighting and bench-jockeying. The following season he even ejected a Chicago fan for using profane language.30
O’Day has the third highest ejection rate of any veteran umpire in major-league history.31 Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson said, “It is as dangerous to argue with him as it is to try to ascertain how much gasoline is in the tank of an automobile by sticking down the lighted end of a cigar.”32 Although O’Day had a high ejection rate, he was not known to have a quick trigger. Being a former player himself, he understood that in the heat of competition tempers can flare. He would let players blow off a little steam, as long as they didn’t go too far. “That is why I consider Hank O’Day the best in the business,” wrote F.C. Lane. “He makes allowances for a man. … Hank gives some leeway unless a player exceeds his bounds.”33
“It is most important that an umpire not lose his temper,” said O’Day. “As a matter of fact, he should not have a temper at all. He must not notice the little slurs.” Nonetheless, when a player cheated or engaged in acts of unsportsmanlike conduct, “I order a player from the field promptly.”34 Stone-faced Hank O’Day, forever stoic, became known for never losing his cool. He also was recognized for never holding a grudge. O’Day would preach to young umpires the importance of having a short memory, to always strive to “forget all the little unpleasantness that has occurred on the field as soon as the game is over.”35
When ejections weren’t enough to restore order, O’Day would resort to forfeit. On June 22, 1900, in Philadelphia, the losing Phillies began making a mockery of the game by purposely walking batters and refusing to tag out runners in hopes that O’Day would call the game on account of darkness and have the score revert to the earlier inning. After several warnings, he forfeited the game to Brooklyn and was “nearly mobbed afterwards” by the enraged hometown fans.36 A year later, on May 13, 1901, O’Day awarded another forfeit, this time against Brooklyn. In the top of the ninth with two outs, Brooklyn thought it had taken the lead when Bill Dahlen singled to left with the bags loaded, apparently driving in two runners. O’Day, however, would not allow the second run. He had noticed that the runner from second base had not crossed the plate before the runner from first had been thrown out at third base. It was a “time play,” meaning the second run did not count. The Brooklyn players surrounded him, screaming in protest. An ejection, several warnings, and O’Day pulling out his watch and waiting three minutes did not restore the peace, so he awarded a forfeit win to New York.37
“During the formative era of major-league umpiring, no National League umpire was held in greater esteem for integrity and the ability to ‘run the game’ than O’Day,” said Professor Larry Gerlach.38 Far too often more than a few umpires of the era would make close calls in favor of the home team to avoid abuse from the local crowd. O’Day refused to be intimidated and continually made the right call as he saw it, regardless of the color of the player’s uniform. Teams hated to see O’Day at their home games because they knew they would get no added advantage, but were delighted when he was assigned to their road games.39
Sportswriters, accustomed to bashing officials in their game accounts, praised O’Day for having the courage to make the right call, no matter how unpopular. One writer called him “the premier ump of all ages.”40 Another appreciated O’Day’s talent of having “that wonderful knack of gauging that hair-line width that separates a strike from a ball.”41 The words integrity, honor, and honesty became synonymous with the name Hank O’Day long before they were cemented by the call that would define his life.
On September 23, 1908, during the heat of a passionate pennant race, the Cubs and Giants were engaged in an intense game in New York’s Polo Grounds. The umpires were Hank O’Day behind the plate and Bob Emslie on the bases. The score was tied in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and runners on first and third. The Giants’ Al Bridwell hit a solid single to the outfield and Moose McCormick “scored” easily from third base. Hundreds of New York fans, believing their Giants had a walk-off victory, charged onto the field in celebration. However, rookie Fred Merkle, the baserunner on first base, had stopped halfway to second before running to the Giants’ outfield clubhouse. It was a common practice of the day for players to run off the field to avoid fans entering the playing field after a game.
What followed next was pure pandemonium. As the fans swarmed the field, Cubs center fielder Solly Hofman continued to run after the batted ball. Johnny Evers, Cubs second baseman, stood on the bag screaming for Hofman to throw him the ball. Under the rules, if Merkle was forced out at second, the run would not count. Hofman threw the ball off the mark into the infield, where a Cubs player picked it up. Seeing what was happening, New York’s Joe McGinnity wrested the ball from the player and threw it into a crowd of fans behind third base. Evers eventually got a baseball – if it was the actual game ball, nobody will ever know for sure – and stood on second base, declaring a force out.42 Cubs shortstop Joe Tinker pleaded with base umpire Emslie to call the out; but Emslie said that in the chaos he did not see if Merkle had touched second base. O’Day, however, was watching everything. Hank conferred with his partner, told him that Merkle did not touch second base, and Emslie called the force out. O’Day then nullified the “winning” run and proclaimed the game a tie. The game did not continue into extra innings because O’Day determined that by the time the grounds were cleared of fans, it would have been too dark for further play.
The riotous mob of fans surrounding O’Day in the middle of the diamond “began pounding him on all available parts not covered by the protector, while the unfortunate attackers on the outside began sending messages by way of cushions, newspapers, and other missiles.”43 Police officers rushed in to rescue the umpires and escort them to the safety of their dressing room. National League President Harry Pulliam later denied all protests and upheld O’Day’s decision. Despite scathing editorials and extreme pressure for O’Day and Pulliam to change their decision and award the win to New York, the two remained steadfast. O’Day’s call was crucial because the Giants and Cubs finished the season in a dead heat with records of 98-55. The “Merkle Game” had to be replayed and the Cubs won, giving them the pennant by one game.
Merkle was saddled with the nickname “Bonehead” for the rest of his life. Pulliam committed suicide by shooting a bullet into his head. And O’Day umpired another 17 years, abuse being heaped upon him every time he entered the Polo Grounds by fans who believed he had robbed them of a championship.
The manner in which league presidents assigned O’Day to games is illustrative of how highly regarded he was as an umpire. O’Day usually worked alone but when he was a member of a two-man crew, he was generally assigned the more demanding plate position. In his first 1,000 games as a major-league umpire, he was behind the plate 90.4 percent of the time. A rookie umpire was often assigned to work with him so that the neophyte could learn from the master. When there was a particularly important series between contending teams, ones involving great pressure and large riotous crowds, O’Day was the man selected to work the games.
As durable as O’Day was, there are several gaps in his career explained by the many illnesses and injuries he suffered while umpiring. There were the many bruises and beatings he sustained from irate fans charging onto the field after one of his calls. Foul balls were particularly treacherous: One broke his toe, requiring two players to take his place as umpire; another one smashed through his mask, producing a nasty gash on his cheek and severely injuring his jaw; and yet another inflicted a head wound requiring an operation for removal of a piece of bone from behind his ear. He was seriously ill one entire season with recurring stomach problems brought on by stress. In other seasons, a robust case of influenza knocked him out for several weeks and an attack of appendicitis in St. Louis meant an ambulance trip to the hospital.
“World Series assignments clearly reveal the greatest umpires in any given era, as well as in baseball history,” wrote Larry Gerlach.44 And Hank O’Day’s World Series record is truly astounding. When the first modern World Series was established in 1903, the two leagues were asked to send their best umpire to work the best-of-nine Series. The National League selected O’Day; the American League chose Tommy Connolly. What is extraordinary is that the two umpires did not alternate their positions during the Series. O’Day worked the plate for the first four games, with Connolly serving as the base umpire. O’Day’s reputation was so great, he was so highly acclaimed for his ability to call balls and strikes, and he was so noted for his integrity, that the AL had no problem having the NL umpire working extra games behind the plate. For six of the first eight World Series games ever played, O’Day was the plate umpire.
O’Day was assigned to umpire four of the first five World Series (1903, 1905, 1907, and 1908), always working more plate games than his partner. When the World Series expanded to a four-man umpire crew in 1910, Hank was one of the two NL umpires selected. He would be chosen to umpire five more fall classics later in his career (1916, 1918, 1920, 1923, and 1926) for a total of 10 World Series, tied with Cy Rigler for the second-most ever behind Bill Klem. (O’Day would have had more World Series assignments had he not taken a break from umpiring to become a manager a couple of seasons.)
O’Day had other notable World Series “firsts” other than being the first plate umpire. In Game Two of the 1907 Series, he alertly called out Chicago Cub Jimmy Slagle, the only player in World Series history to become victim of the hidden-ball trick.45 In that same game, Tigers manager Hughie Jennings was the first ever to be ejected from a World Series game – courtesy of Mr. O’Day. In Game Five of the 1920 Series, Bill Wambsganss executed the only unassisted triple play in the postseason; Hank was the second-base umpire making the three “out” calls in quick succession. (O’Day also worked the pressure-packed Game Seven of the 1920 World Series.)
One of the more intriguing periods of O’Day’s long baseball career was his two stints as a National League manager. When O’Day was announced as the new skipper for the 1912 Cincinnati Reds, the baseball world was stunned. Even more surprising was when the rookie manager led the team to “one of the most sensational starts in major league history.”46 On May 12 the Reds were in first place with a 22-7 record, an amazing improvement from the team’s sixth-place finish the year before. The Reds then slumped badly before making a surge toward the end to finish in fourth place with a 75-78 record. When O’Day heard that the Reds were going to replace him as manager with Joe Tinker, he quit before he was fired. The New York Times reported that “President Thomas J. Lynch and the National League Club owners would undoubtedly welcome O’Day back as an umpire.”47 The newspaper was correct; O’Day was back holding the indicator for the 1913 season.
O’Day then pulled off another surprise by agreeing to be the Chicago Cubs’ new manager for the 1914 season. Although he did a decent job by leading the injury-riddled team to a winning record and a third-place finish, he was fired after the season. This time a sportswriter questioned whether O’Day would return to the NL as an umpire because he would be “no fit person to give unbiased decisions” to two teams he had once managed.48 Ban Johnson attempted to sign baseball’s best umpire for his American League, but O’Day remained loyal to the NL and was back behind the plate during the 1915 season. “That he was rehired twice after managing two National League teams speaks volumes as to his talent and integrity,” said Larry Gerlach.49
As the game’s dean of umpires, O’Day was instrumental in firmly establishing the use of umpire hand signals to communicate calls to fans and players, and improving mechanics for better officiating. At first he was opposed to umpires using signals because he believed an umpire should not be demonstrative. He soon came around because it was in the best interests of baseball. Surprisingly, the usually progressive O’Day also initially opposed the two-umpire system. He said an umpire “has more trouble working double than single, as in many cases he not only has to make his own decisions, but sometimes his mate’s as well.”50 He said this not long after he had to help his partner make the call in the Merkle incident. O’Day, of course, understood that two umpires can cover and control a game much better than one and quickly became an avid supporter of the double-umpire system. He umpired long enough to see three and even four arbiters being assigned to regular-season games.
As influential as O’Day was in other areas, his most far-reaching impact concerned baseball rules. His contributions in the development of baseball have significantly helped the sport evolve into the great game it is today. Hank O’Day was the most prominent member of baseball’s Joint Rules Committee in his time, with his vote and opinion carrying considerable weight. Whenever a new playing or scoring rule was proposed, or a question arose on how an established rule should be interpreted, baseball authorities would first turn to O’Day for advice and counsel. “His brain is an encyclopedia of all the rules of the game,” said longtime baseball man Ted Sullivan.51
Hank was the originator of the “foul-strike rule,” in which the first two foul balls struck by a batter are strikes; previously, an uncaught foul was essentially a “no pitch.”52 The rule, still in use today, has had a massive impact on the game. O’Day pushed for the rule requiring the catcher to remain directly behind the plate throughout an at-bat because it made for better officiating in the fair/foul and ball/strike calls. Previously, the catcher would stand far behind home plate when there were runners on base. (This rule also helped advance the development of safety equipment for catchers and umpires.) In 1910 baseball officials, concerned about the lack of offense in the game, were about to pass a new rule allowing four strikes for a strikeout until O’Day objected. Instead, he supported the introduction of a “lively ball” with a cork center. As a former pitcher, O’Day initially opposed the proposal to ban the spitball but, to provide needed offense to the game, he endorsed rules prohibiting the spitter and other “freak pitches.” Throughout his career, O’Day pushed for the uniformity of the rules and regulations in both major leagues. He also helped quicken the game by allowing on-deck batters on the field.53
One scoring rule in which O’Day did not get his way is one we take for granted today. In 1920 sportswriter Fred Lieb proposed that whenever a player hits a game-winning home run out of the park (what we call a “walk-off” today), he should get credit for the home run and all the RBIs for any runners on base. Previously, for example, in a tie game in the bottom of the ninth with a runner on third base, a batter hitting a home run got credit for only a single on the theory that the game ended as soon as the baserunner from third scored. O’Day vociferously argued against this proposal, stating that the rule is “sacred and untouchable” that no run can be scored after the winning run has crossed the plate. When the measure was passed 5-1 by the Joint Rules Committee, he pounded on the table, shouting, “I’m telling you, it’s illegal. You can’t score runs after a game is over!”54
O’Day was renowned for his moral character as well as for being an odd character. “He was an umpire and nothing else,” said NL President John Heydler.55 Baseball consumed every fiber of his being, leaving little time for anything else. O’Day was described as “this strange character who lived in a shell, emerging only when he visited the field to render his decisions.”56 With no interest in anything but baseball, he rarely attended parties, the theater, movie houses, or any social event. He had no hobbies, other than relaxing at the race track.57
You could count the number of O’Day’s friends on Mordecai Brown’s right hand. “He preferred his own company,” said Lieb. “He minded his own business and expected others to do the same.”58 One offseason, O’Day traveled from Chicago to Ontario to visit fellow umpire Bob Emslie, but O’Day’s “idea of a good time was to sit for hours on Emslie’s front porch in complete silence.59
A lifelong bachelor, O’Day never owned a home. He preferred to live in solitude in hotels and dine alone in restaurants. He would spend his winters working out so that he would be in proper shape to meet the demands of the long baseball season. In his off-hours he sat by himself in hotel lobbies reading nothing but baseball publications and the rulebook. If a player, fan, or sportswriter approached, he would wave them away unless they were there to talk baseball. A cheerful greeting from others would be met with a grumble.
O’Day’s lack of a sense of humor contrasted equally to his towering sense of honor. “It is a National League tradition that Henry has never yet been known to smile,” commented a Baseball Magazine reporter.60 Christy Mathewson claimed to have seen O’Day laugh once, explaining that his “face acted as if it wasn’t accustomed to the experience and broke out in funny new wrinkles.”61 Even some of his fellow umpires referred to him as “Groucho” behind his back.62 Bill Klem called O’Day a “misanthropic Irishman” who “wouldn’t speak a civil word to anybody.”63 O’Day’s somber unsmiling face earned him the nickname “The Reverend.”64
During an interview, NL President John Heydler talked about what it takes to be a great umpire: “The successful umpire must live the life of a hermit, apart from the friendships of the player and fans. He must be a man without a country, home or haunt in the world of baseball. He must be alone on the train. He must stay in a different hotel. He must keep aloof while in the baseball park and avoid all baseball assemblies. … Strength of character, courage of conviction, fixity of purpose and intelligence are necessary requisites for a successful umpire.”65 Although Heydler didn’t mention Hank O’Day by name, everybody knew whom he was referring to.
It would take a skilled psychologist to determine why O’Day became such a sullen, secretive man both on and off the field. One explanation is that it was simply his nature, that “O’Day was born not liking people.”66 But accounts of his dour personality do not appear until after he became a full-time major-league umpire. A fan recalled that when O’Day was a pitcher in 1886, he was “a good-natured happy-go-lucky boy from the North, as full of fun as any other youngster on the Savannah team.”67 It is curious that the few friends O’Day had were all baseball men he had met as a younger man.68 The many personal tragedies of his life may also have triggered the profound change in his personality.69 There is yet another reason he was so unsociable: O’Day was so concerned that his integrity was beyond reproach that he had taken it to a ridiculous extreme. Fearful that even the slightest personal relationship might influence his calls on the field, he refused to get close to anyone.
All these factors no doubt contributed to O’Day’s being so miserable, but the main one was likely the burden of being an umpire during his era. Umpire Silk O’Loughlin tried to persuade a young Bill Klem not to become an umpire by using O’Day as an example. “Look at O’Day,” O’Loughlin told Klem. “One of the best umpires. Maybe the best today. But he’s sour. Umpiring does that to you. The abuse you get from the players, the insults from the crowds, and the awful things they write about you in the newspapers.”70
“O’Day served as a model to young umpires for courage, loyalty and a deep ingrained honesty,” wrote Fred Leib.71 O’Day encouraged Klem to make umpiring a career and, in 1904, introduced and recommended him to NL President Harry Pulliam.72 When Klem made it to the majors, O’Day tutored and guided him. During his long career, O’Day was a mentor for countless umpires. “He told me a lot about umpiring, things to look for,” said 24-year major-league veteran umpire Beans Reardon. “He was big and tough; guys didn’t fool around with him. … And he told me, ‘Hustle all the time. Be on top of every play, so you’re in position to make the decision.’ … He recommended me to the National League. I was very fortunate to learn from a great umpire like Hank O’Day. He was the best.”73
On October 2, 1927, O’Day worked the Cubs-Cardinals game as the third-base umpire in a four-man crew. Nobody knew it at the time but the game featured the oldest man to ever umpire a major-league game. O’Day was 68 years and 86 days old. During the 1927 season, he had been behind the plate only a dozen times out of 147 games, quite a contrast to his younger days. At the end of the season, Heydler took O’Day off active duty, conferred him the title “umpire emeritus,” and offered him a job as umpire scout. Grumbling, O’Day accepted it “with regret” because, in his heart, he wanted to continue umpiring.74 He spent the next few years touring baseball’s sandlots and minor-league parks, instructing and developing young umpires. O’Day umpired in 35 major-league seasons, particularly notable in an era when there were no unions and umpires signed one-year contracts.
In the early months of 1935, baseball fans read various reports of O’Day being seriously ill. In his final days, he was delirious, muttering about games he had umpired years earlier. He could go through a catalog of more than 4,000 games, each one with a different story, some thrilling, many routine, others amusing or trivial, and more than a few dangerous.
There was that game in 1898 when a fast-burning fire destroyed the old wooden Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. O’Day and players from both teams were heroes by creating a makeshift chute from the dugout benches for fans to slide down to the field to escape the burning grandstand, and then leading them to safety through an exit untouched by the flames.75 Or that game when Luther Taylor, a deaf-mute, swore at O’Day with sign language only to be surprised when O’Day signaled back that he was ejected from the game. Taylor was unaware that O’Day, having had deaf parents, was fluent in American Sign Language. Maybe, as O’Day lay dying, he remembered his extended work on October 2, 1920, when he umpired the only twentieth-century major-league tripleheader with partner Peter Harrison.76 O’Day may have recalled that time he learned that Giants shortstop Bill Dahlen was purposely getting ejected from games so that he could leave early and go to the race track, so O’Day refused to toss him despite being called “a big beer-soaked, fat-headed loafer and thief.”77 And, of course, there was that game when the zany Rabbit Maranville humiliated him when he stole second base by sliding between the umpire’s legs.
On July 2, 1935, Hank O’Day died in Chicago of bronchial pneumonia, six days shy of his 76th birthday. To the end, he was still drawing pay as a NL “advisory umpire.”78 His funeral service, held in St. Jariath Catholic Church, was attended by many baseball dignitaries with major-league umpires serving as pallbearers.79 He left no will; his sole heir was Henry McNamara, a nephew who had been named after him. O’Day was buried in Calvary Cemetery in Evanston, Illinois.
The Chicago Tribune ran a feature on the venerated arbiter, saying O’Day was “one of those blunt, rugged characters who seldom allowed his crusty exterior to reveal the really warm heart beneath. Hank O’Day’s bark was worse than his bite. He was a great umpire, one of the game’s greatest, courageous, honest, and with a thorough knowledge of the rule subtleties.”80
In announcing O’Day’s death, virtually every newspaper included in its headline the name Merkle. In one obituary, it was stated: “Hank is gone, but he’ll not be forgotten.”81 Sadly, he would be forgotten for years when it came to being bestowed baseball’s highest honor.
On July 28, 2013, Hank O’Day was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, 78 years after his death and 86 years after he had umpired his last ballgame.82
Why did it take so long for such an influential baseball figure to make it to Cooperstown?
The Hall of Fame held its first election in 1936 and, in the years following, many of the game’s great players were properly honored, along with influential pioneers, executives, and managers. But what about the umpires, those dedicated men in blue who have had such a positive image on the game? It wasn’t until Bill Klem died in 1951 that attention was brought to the fact that no umpire had ever been inducted. Two years later the legendary Klem was honored along with Tommy Connolly, the first umpires enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Why Connolly over O’Day? As fine an arbiter as Connolly was, O’Day had always been considered the greater umpire and more influential. Simply put, Connolly was an American League umpire while O’Day was a National League umpire. When the electors honored NL umpire Klem, they wanted an umpire representing the AL in the Hall of Fame.83
After Klem and Connolly, it would be another 20 years before another umpire was elected. Subsequently, six other outstanding umpires were inducted. O’Day, arguably the best of them all, was always overlooked. Baseball historian David Anderson endorsed O’Day and wondered why he had not already been bequeathed the big honor. “That he is not in the Hall of Fame is an oversight,” Anderson wrote. “This is partly a function of the fact that he never married; baseball was his love, and he had no family to lobby for him. Conspiracy buffs may believe the oversight to be a measure of revenge by New York sportswriters for O’Day’s decision in the infamous Merkle game, but more likely it is because O’Day was not known to be a particularly friendly person.”84
Anderson is correct but ironically, the explanations for O’Day not having been honored are reasons why he should be honored. For O’Day, baseball was indeed his love, which came at the expense of not having the comfort of family and friends. He was also not “a particularly friendly person,” but this was because he did not want to get close to anyone to ensure that his integrity as an umpire was never compromised. O’Day’s credo was “I know no friends nor enemies on the field,” an attitude that extended to his private life.85 Nonetheless, it was through his forceful will and personality, at great personal sacrifice to him, that the game was enriched.
As for the Merkle incident, there is no better demonstration of O’Day’s integrity, one of the criteria for the Hall of Fame.86 That fateful day, it would have been easier to have just walked off the field when the “winning” run scored, but that would not have been the ethical thing to do.
Bill Klem’s remarks also did not help O’Day’s chances of reaching Cooperstown. He called the Merkle ruling “the rottenest decision in the history of baseball. … It was bad umpiring.”87 On the contrary, it was a courageous decision and excellent umpiring. It was a betrayal by Klem of his former partner and the man who helped Klem become a major-league umpire. Of course, Klem waited until O’Day had been dead for 16 years before making his craven criticism.
Klem is universally recognized as “the greatest umpire in baseball history” and is much more celebrated than his contemporary Hank O’Day.88 The two men had quite different philosophies regarding their profession. Klem was a showman and self-promoter; O’Day eschewed publicity. Klem enjoyed drinking and dining with players and managers; O’Day avoided all off-field contact with baseball people. Klem would make up his own baseball rules; O’Day insisted on the enforcement of the rules as written.89 One could argue that O’Day, rather than Klem, should have been the first umpire inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Dennis McNamara, a retired Chicago police officer and O’Day’s grandnephew, gave the induction speech at the posthumous Hall of Fame induction of the great umpire. “Uncle Hank was almost a mythic figure in our family and his example guided me as a policeman,” McNamara said. “The lesson of Hank O’Day is: Do your best with honesty and integrity.”90
This biography is included in "The SABR Book on Umpires and Umpiring" (SABR, 2017), edited by Larry Gerlach and Bill Nowlin.
1 When Ted Breitenstein (1898), Johnny Lush (1906), Hod Eller (1919), and Jesse Haines (1924) tossed their no-hit gems, Hank O’Day was calling the balls and strikes.
2 Lee Allen, The Cincinnati Reds (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1948), 99.
3 G.H. Fleming, The Unforgettable Season (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981), 243.
4 Personal information about Hank O’Day often conflicts because he always refused to talk about his private life. He was particularly thick-lipped about his age. Depending on the obituary or biography, his birth year varies widely. On his Sporting News umpire card, the year 1861 is crossed off and replaced with the handwritten “July 8, 1862.” O’Day’s birth certificate was lost in the Great Chicago Fire; however, census reports confirm that he was born in 1859. Hank’s siblings were named Daniel, James Jr., Catherine (Kate), Margaret, Mary, and Joseph. His mother’s name is often reported as Mary but it was actually Margaret. (Death notice, Chicago Tribune, March 14, 1895). Most sources contend that O’Day’s middle initial is “M,” including the National Baseball Hall of Fame; but prominent baseball historians, including Larry Gerlach, Norman Macht, and David Nemec, state that it is “F” for Francis. Dennis McNamara, O’Day’s grandnephew, said Hank’s parents were deaf. (YouTube website video entitled “Umpire O’Day Inducted Into Hall of Fame,” posted December 11, 2013).
5 By the time O’Day became a full-time major-league umpire; he was much heavier and had shaved off his mustache. Hank would begin each baseball season weighing about 205 pounds, only to lose 30 pounds by October after hustling around the diamond in the hot sun all summer. “Not So Easy,” Sporting Life, November 10, 1900: 5.
6 G.W. Axelson, Commy: The Life Story of Charles A. Comiskey (Chicago: Reilly & Lee Co., 1919), 21. The O’Day brothers, all pitchers, played for the semipro Libertys. Hank also played for the Spaldings, a team sponsored by Al Spalding. Publisher Alfred Spink was a teammate of the O’Day brothers, serving as their bare-handed catcher. Spink wrote: “The O’Day boys were all fine, brave fellows and Hank … is perhaps the bravest and best of the lot.” Alfred H. Spink, The National Game (St. Louis: The National Game Publishing Co. 1911), 371.
7 Chris Goode, California Baseball: From the Pioneers to the Glory Years (self-published, 2009), 17-18. Whether O’Day actually attended any classes at St. Mary or just played baseball is a good question. At the time there was an intense athletic rivalry between California colleges and many schools recruited ballplayers to serve as ringers. St. Mary’s College must have had an excellent team in 1881-1883, when O’Day was a member, because the team had six players who would later become major leaguers.
8 “Hank O’Day, Picturesque Figure in National League History, Retires,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 14, 1927. Although it was reported that O’Day was Bay City’s best hitter and fielder, few statistics survive from this minor league to confirm this. In any case, it most have been an aberration, because O’Day’s hitting statistics for the rest of his career are not impressive.
9 David W. Zang, Fleet Walker’s Divided Heart: The Life of Baseball’s First Black Major Leaguer (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), 39. During his baseball career, Walker suffered much racial abuse from both teammates and opponents. Tony Mullane, self-admitted racist, and Curt Welch, open segregationist, were Walker’s teammates. What was O’Day’s relationship with Walker? Esteemed baseball historian Lee Allen wrote, “Neither O’Day nor Mullane liked Walker, and each did his best to throw the ball so hard the catcher would be injured, but they never succeeded in forcing him off the job.” (Allen, The Cincinnati Reds, 100). If accurate, this is a large stain on O’Day’s character. Allen is one whose view must be respected; however, his account is the only source that asserts that O’Day had any prejudicial tendencies. In his extensive research, David Nemec, the foremost authority on nineteenth-century baseball, “found nothing negative about (O’Day’s) relationship with Walker” nor did he find “any reported derogatory incidents.” (Email correspondence with author, January 2017) Additionally, according to Zang’s well-researched biography, Walker had a cordial and successful partnership with O’Day.
10 Norman L. Macht, “Henry Francis ‘Hank’ O’Day,” Baseball’s First Stars (Cleveland: Society for American Baseball Research, 1996), 123.
11 “O’Day of the Pittsburgs Is in Chicago Attending a Very Sick Father,” Sporting Life, July 7, 1885: 7.
12 “City Items,” Chicago Tribune, September 4, 1885: 3.
13 Statistics are from Hank O’Day’s minor-league page on Baseball-Reference.com. Typical of O’Day’s hard-luck 1887 season was when he smashed a triple, “the longest hit of his career,” and then scored on a wild pitch only to have the game called on account of darkness. The score reverted to the previous inning and Hank was deprived of his mighty hit and run scored. (Wm. A. Phelon, “Baseball Customs Past and Present,” Baseball Magazine, October 1915: 55.)
14 O’Day’s teammates and future Hall of Famers were Roger Connor, Buck Ewing, Jim O’Rourke, Monte Ward, Tim Keefe, and Mickey Welch.
15 “Championship vs. Exhibition Games,” Sporting Life, November 6, 1889: 4.
16 Jerry Lansche, Glory Fades Away: The Nineteenth-Century World Series Rediscovered (Dallas: Taylor Publishing, 1991), 177.
17 In 1891-93, O’Day pitched for the Lincoln Rustlers, Columbus Reds, Marinette Badgers, and Erie Blackbirds, respectively in the Western Association, Western League, Wisconsin-Michigan League, and Eastern League. In leagues for which we have statistics, O’Day had a losing record every year despite recording decent earned-run averages.
18 David Nemec, Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871-1900, Vol. 1 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011), 145-146.
20 During this era and into the early years of the twentieth century, usually only one umpire was scheduled to work major-league games. Quite often he would fail to show up by game time because of travel disruptions, illness, or the fact that he had simply quit. Whenever this occurred, the two managers would each select one of their players to umpire the game, usually a pitcher on his offday or a catcher needing a day off. The selected player would have to be agreed upon by the opposing manager. The players would umpire the game in their baseball uniforms.
21 No fewer than 135 active players served as emergency substitute umpires during O’Day’s seven-year major-league playing career (1884-1890), the vast majority of them umpiring only one game their entire career. O’Day was the exception. While an active player, Hank was called upon to serve as umpire for seven major-league games (three behind the plate), tied with pitcher Mickey Welch for the most during this period. While he served as a substitute umpire, O’Day’s “team” lost four times; it is likely his teammates had some choice words for him in the clubhouse afterward.
22 Bill James, The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (New York: Free Press, 2001), 53.
24 Before taking the job with the city, O’Day umpired some games in the Western League. Hank returned to Chicago in 1895 not only to find employment but also because his mother had died that year and his sister Margaret had died not much earlier (“Deaths,” Chicago Tribune, March 14, 1895: 7). It is not known exactly why Hank, at this point, had foregone baseball as a career and had taken the security of a government job. It may have been because of the low salary of a minor-league umpire. As tough as O’Day was, it is unlikely that he gave up umpiring because of the profession’s harsh demands.
25 Addie Joss, “Hank O’Day Got Job by Accident,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 7, 1910: 7. Some details of Joss’s account are inaccurate, such as stating that Thomas Lynch was the absent umpire. Joss wrote the article on the occasion of Lynch being appointed National League president in 1910, when O’Day was baseball’s most famous umpire. It made for a good story that Lynch, O’Day’s new boss, was the tardy umpire responsible for Hank becoming a major-league umpire 15 years earlier. Although Lynch was an NL umpire from 1888 to 1894, returning in 1896, he was not a full-time umpire in 1895. Research reveals that the absent umpire was likely Miah Murray, who worked the Giants-Cubs game on July 8, the day after O’Day had come to the rescue as arbiter. (Umpire pages for 1895, Retrosheet.org) Joss mentions that “there were three or four baseball magnates in the stands” that game; although unusual, this rings true. The July 7 game was a makeup, with Cleveland traveling to Chicago for that one game. The Giants had played the Colts the previous day and would play them the next day, meaning the team (and their owner) were also in Chicago on July 7. Stanley Robison, part-owner of the Spiders, may also have been in the ballpark that day.
26 “Umpire’s Close Call,” Washington Post, August 21, 1895: 4.
27 Norman L. Macht, Connie Mack and the Early Days of Baseball (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007), 118-119. Mack’s ejection occurred on September 6, 1895; afterward, Connie still remained friends with O’Day.
28 On July 26, 1896, O’Day was called up from the minors to umpire one major-league game in Chicago that season.
29 Besides O’Day’s strong actions, another influential factor in reducing the violence in baseball was Ban Johnson’s minor league reaching major-league status in 1901 as the American League. Nonetheless, even with the forceful personalities of Johnson and O’Day, the game’s culture of rowdiness was so embedded that it took several years before the problem was effectively curtailed. Meanwhile, the NL lost some excellent arbiters, like Jack Sheridan and Tommy Connelly, who jumped the senior circuit to umpire in the AL for its better working conditions. O’Day remained loyal to the NL, steadfastly working to rid the game of its violence. When the AL, in only its second season, outdrew the National League and continued to so for the rest of the decade, the older league eventually realized the importance of strict discipline and the wisdom of greater support of its umpires.
30 “Notes and Comments,” Sporting Life, June 5, 1898.
31 Of the 81 major-league umpires who have worked more than 3,000 games (through 2017), the three with the highest rate of ejections are all National League umpires from the early twentieth century. Cy Rigler has the highest rate (an ejection every 17.2 games), followed by Bill Klem (17.9) and Hank O’Day (18.7).
32 Christy Mathewson, Pitching in a Pinch (New York: Grosset & Dunlap Publishers, 1912), 175.
33 F.C. Lane, “The Gamest Player in Baseball,” Baseball Magazine, September 1913: 58.
34# “Live Talk About the Baseball Players,” St. Louis Republic, March 20, 1904.
36 David Nemec and Eric Miklich, Forfeits and Successfully Protested Games in Major League Baseball (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Publishers: 2014), 97.
37 Nemec and Miklich, 102.
38 E-mail correspondence with umpire historian Larry R. Gerlach, November 2012.
39 “Close Decisions: An Inside Study of the Life, the Work, the Difficulties and the Humor of a Baseball Umpire,” The American Magazine, Volume 72 (New York: Crowell Publishing Company, 1911): 210.
40 “Notes of the Cubs,” Chicago Tribune, July 16, 1909: 18.
41 Frederick G. Lieb, “Late Hank O’Day, Sphinx-Like, Fearless and Honest, Defied Wrath of McGraw in Merkle Decision,” The Sporting News, July 11, 1935: 2.
42 As for the argument that Merkle should not have been called out because Evers did not have the right ball, O’Day later said the out would have been called regardless of what ball Evers was holding because of McGinnity’s interference. “The Merkle Play,” Sporting Life, October 24, 1914: 19.
43 New York Herald, September 24, 1908, account of game found in Fleming’s The Unforgettable Season, 245.
44 E-mail correspondence with Gerlach.
45 John Snyder, Cubs Journal (Cincinnati: Clerisy Press: 2008), 141.
46 “Hank O’Day Resigns,” New York Times, November 7, 1912. The Reds were so successful that a sportswriter joked that even their manager “Hank O’Day can smile these days without hurting his face.” (“Around the Bases,” Chicago Defender, May 18, 1912: 6).
47 “Hank O’Day Resigns.”
48 “O’Day to Umpire American League,” Providence Evening News, November 24, 1914: 4.
# E-mail correspondence with Gerlach.
50 “Hank O’Day Is Unalterably Opposed to Proposed Double-Umpire System,” Pittsburgh Press, October 16, 1908: 22.
51 Spink, 370.
52 For a fine description of the evolution of the foul-strike rule, see Peter Morris, A Game of Inches: The Stories Behind the Innovations That Shaped Baseball (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2006), 84-89.
53 One of O’Day’s rule proposals that never made the rulebook was actually not a bad idea. Hank wanted to install white rubber strips for the batter’s box to prevent players from wiping away the chalk lines. (“Ump O’Day’s Idea,” Sporting Life, December 29, 1906).
54 Fred Lieb, Baseball As I Have Known It (New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1977), 74-75.
55 David W. Anderson, You Can’t Beat the Hours: Umpires in the Deadball Era From 1901-1909 (North Charleston, South Carolina: CreateSpace Independent Publishing: 2013), 78.
56 Lieb, “Late Hank O’Day.”
57 In honor of the great umpire, a thoroughbred race horse was named Hank O’Day. Dorothy Ours, Man of War: A Legend Like Lightning (New York: Macmillan Publishers: 2006), 77.
58 Lieb, “Late Hank O’Day.”
60 “Short Lengths,” Baseball Magazine, August 1913: 76.
61 Mathewson, 168.
62 Lieb, “Late Hank O’Day.”
63 William J. Klem and William J. Slocum, “I Never Missed One in My Heart,” Collier’s Weekly, March 31, 1951: 59.
64 Associated Press, "Umpire Hank O'Day Dies at Age of 74," Boston Herald, July 3, 1935: 17.
65 Associated Press, “To Be Successful Umpire, Official Must Be a Pariah,” Ludington (Michigan) Daily News, April 9, 1924: 3.
66 Cait Murphy, Crazy ’08 (Washington: Smithsonian Books: 2008), 185. Murphy’s work is a wildly entertaining account of the exciting 1908 season and the Merkle incident.
67 Lieb, “Late Hank O’Day.”
68 O’Day played ball with Charlie Comiskey as a teenager; Connie Mack was a teammate; Bob Emslie was an opposing pitcher in Hank’s playing days; and John Heydler was a fellow umpire in the early years. To psychoanalyze, socializing with these men may have brought back memories of happier times for O’Day.
69 When Hank was 12 years old, the Great Chicago Fire ignited about a block north of the O’Day home in 1871, a catastrophe he refused to ever talk about. Hank outlived his six siblings; all dying at relatively young ages, one by suicide and another in a tragic accident. He may have been closest to his younger sister Mary, with whom he had lived with for a short time. When Mary gave birth to a son on Hank’s 40th birthday, she named the baby after her brother. Mary’s death in 1924 must have hit Hank hard. (“Deaths,” Chicago Tribune, February 18, 1924: 10).
70 Klem, “I Never Missed One in My Heart,” 61.
71 Lieb, “Late Hank O’Day.”
72 Bob Considine, “Foghorn,” Collier’s Weekly, April 13, 1940: 76.
73 Larry R. Gerlach, The Men in Blue: Conversations With Umpires (New York: Viking Press, 1980), 9-10.
74 Pittsburgh Press, December 16, 1927.
75 “Fire Ends the Game,” Chicago Tribune, April 17, 1898. Hank lost clothes and personal effects when the umpire’s dressing room burned down.
77 “Close Decisions,” The American Magazine.
78 George Kirksey, “Hank O’Day is Near Death; Merkle Boner Recalled,” Pittsburgh Press, February 22, 1935: 39.
79 “Many Baseball Notables Attend O’Day Funeral,” Chicago Tribune, July 6, 1935: 17. Among those in attendance were Commissioner Kenesaw Landis; Tom Connolly, supervisor of American League umpires; his protégé Bill Klem; and Bill Emslie and John Heydler, Hank’s greatest admirers and closest friends.
80 “In the Wake of the News,” Chicago Tribune, July 11, 1935: 21.
81 “Hank O’Day, Picturesque Figure,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
82 O’Day received 93.8 percent of the vote from the Hall of Fame’s Pre-Integration Committee to earn induction. The 16-member committee consisted of Hall of Famers Bert Blyleven, Pat Gillick, Phil Niekro, and Don Sutton; baseball executives Roland Hemond, Bill DeWitt, Gary Hughes, and Bob Watson; and sportswriters and historians Jim Henneman, Steve Hirdt, Peter Morris, Phil Pepe, Tom Simon, Claire Smith, T.R. Sullivan, and Mark Whicker. They deserve praise for bestowing on O’Day the honor he had long deserved.
83 Another reason Connolly was elected to the Hall of Fame before O’Day was that his name was much better known at the time. In 1953 Connolly was still actively serving as the American League umpire supervisor at age 82; O’Day had been dead for 18 years. It was not the first time the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee had selected the wrong man. Years earlier, it had inducted the worthy Ban Johnson, the first American League president; at the same election, as a counterpart, the electors honored the forgettable Morgan Bulkeley, the first National League president, rather than the influential William Hulbert, the second NL president.
84 David W. Anderson, More Than Merkle: A History of the Best and Most Exciting Baseball Season in Human History (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000), 98.
85 Lieb, “Late Hank O’Day.”
86 Evidence that the Merkle decision was indeed a reason O’Day had not been inducted earlier is the newspaper headline reading: “Despite Call, O’Day Gets Call” (David Briggs, Toledo Blade, July 28, 2013).
87 William J. Klem and William J. Slocum, “Jousting With McGraw,” Collier’s Weekly, April 7, 1951: 31.
88 David Pietrusza, Matthew Silverman, and Michael Gershman, eds., Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia (New York: Total Sports Publishing, 2000), 613.
89 “Klem was a czar on the field. He made up his own rules,” said veteran NL umpire Lee Ballanfant. (Gerlach, Men In Blue, 9). Authors David Nemec and Eric Miklich wrote, “Klem’s infallibility is not even remotely true. Klem, in actuality, may have been involved in more overturned and controversial contests than any other umpire in history.” (Forfeits and Successfully Protested Games, 212).
90 YouTube, “Umpire O’Day Inducted Into Hall of Fame,” posted December 11, 2013.