Former New York Giants Player Turned Legendary Umpire: Hank O'Day

Henry M. O’Day was born on July 8, 1859 in Chicago, Illinois. O’Days parents were reportedly deaf immigrants from Ireland. The family left their Chicago neighborhood, by 1871, the year of the great Chicago Fire. The O’Day family went west & Henry attended St. Marys College in California. He worked as a steam fitter before making a career in baseball.

The six foot right hander began pitching in 1884, where he went 9-28 for AA Toledo. Throughout his career he would play all nine positions at some point.

In 1886 he joined the National League for the 1880s version of the Washington Nationals. He spent three & a half seasons with the Nats, leading the league with 29 losses (16-29) posting a 3.10 ERA in 46 Games. His battery mate in Washington, was the legendary Connie Mack. Mack would mange the Philadelphia Athletics for 50 years. He was known for being a gentleman who actually wore a suit in the dugout. The two were friends for their entire lives.

In 1889, after going 2-10, his contract was purchased by The New York Giants where he finished his year winning nine of ten games (9-1). In that year’s version of the World Series he won two games for the Giants, going 2-0 allowing just three runs in 23 innings. In that series the Giants beat the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, who later became the Dodgers.

In 1890 he had his best season, going 22-13 with a 4.21 ERA for the third place giants. This was the Giants team playing in the Polo Grounds at 110th St. near Central Park, before the days of John McGraw & the championships.

At 31 years old, he retired from pitching going 73-110 with a 3.74 ERA in 201 games pitched. He began working as a clerk for the City in Chicago but one day he had a career change. While sitting in the stands as a spectator he was recruited to fill in for an injured umpire.

He would be an umpire beginning in 1895, then from 1907 to 1911 & again in 1915-1927. He would umpire in ten World Series, second only to Bill Klem. He was part of a two man umpire team in his first three World Series (1903-1905-1907) then an alternating two crew two man team in his next three (1908-1910-1916). In his next four Series he was part of a four man team (1918-1920-1923-1926). He worked home plate for four no hitters as well.

O'Day sat on the board for the leagues rules committee & was known to challenge many of the new rules that were coming into the game at the time. In a 1901 game at St. Louis, his ruling on the field led to an outrage by fans, who continued to storm the field & attack him. He was rescued by players & the police department, but suffered a split lip.

In another famous game, involving his old Giants team; a brawl broke out between Iron Joe McGinnity & Pittsburgh Pirates catcher; Heinie Peitz. O'Day was fined by the NL President for not trying to break it up. O'Day was so furious at the ruling, he temporarily resigned causing the league to worry he wouldn't return. The situation cooled down & he returned to work a week later.

On September 23rd, 1908 that O'Day made a decision in one of the most controversial plays in baseball history. It was on the famous "Merkle's Boner" at the Polo Grounds.

The New York Giants & the Chicago Cubs were tied for first place with 16 games left to play during the wild season of 1908. In a classic game between the two teams at the Polo grounds in New York, Hank O'Day was the home plate umpire at a time when only two umpires were used.

NY Giants Fred Merkle
The Giants sent legendary Christy Mathewson to the mound against the Chicago Cubs Jack Pfiester. The Cubs shortstop Joe Tinker hit an inside the park HR off Mathewson in the 5th inning. The Giants tied it in the 6th, on catcher Roger Bresnahan's sac fly, after a Buck Herzog base hit & advancement on an error.

In the bottom of the 9th, the Giants Art Devlin singled with one out. Moose McCormick grounded in what looked like a double play but Devlin's hard slide prevented the out at first. Rookie Fred Merkle (who had just 47 at bats all season) drove a single down the right field line, advancing Moose to third. Al Bridwell then singled driving in Moose in what appeared to be the winning run.

The fans began to jump on the field, as in those days they exited through centerfield. But on the base paths Fred Merkle stopped running, he left the field never reaching second base. Back in the day, this was common practice, but Official rule 4.09 states that "A run is not scored if the runner advances to home base during a play in which the third out is made ... by any runner being forced out".

Cubs Johnny Evers
Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers made the point to O'Day & called to outfielder Solly Hoffman for the ball. In the midst of chaos of fans on the field, a ball was thrown back to the field. Whether it was the actual ball no one knows.

As the Giants saw what was happening, pitcher Iron Joe McGinnity who was coaching at first base, claims to have gotten the ball & thrown it into the stands. Evers claimed the ball was taken by a fan, he retrieved it & touched second base.

In any event a ball was tossed to Evers & he did step on second base. Some accounts say the Cubs players, held Merkle back from getting to the base. If a fan did touch the ball then the play should have been dead as well. All sorts of stories came out & were printed in the next days papers. Remember, most fans & writers had left the game thinking the Giants had won.

But O'Day & umpire Bob Emslie met in a cinderblock room under the stands & ruled the game over on account of darkness, in a tie 1-1. O'Day wrote a letter to league President Harry Pulliman saying:

Dear sir, In the game to-day at New York between New York and the Chicago Club. In the last half of the 9th inning, the score was a tie 1–1. New York was at the Bat, with two Men out, McCormick of N. York on 3rd Base and Merkle of N. York on 1st Base; Bridwell was at the Bat and hit a clean single Base-Hit to Center Field. Merkle did not run the Ball out; he started toward 2nd Base, but on getting half way there he turned and ran down the field toward the Club House.

The Ball was fielded in to 2nd Base for a Chicago. Man to make the play, when McGinnity ran from the Coacher's Box out in the Field to 2nd Base and interfered with the Play being made. Emslie, who said he did not watch Merkle, asked me if Merkle touched 2nd Base. I said he did not. Then Emslie called Merkle out, and I would not allow McCormick's Run to score. The Game at the end of the 9th inning was 1–1. The People ran out on the Field. I did not ask to have the Field cleared, as it was too dark to continue play.

Yours respt. (signed) Henry O'Day

The game was officially ruled a tie & a make game was played at the end of the year. As fate would have it the two teams ended up tied & played a one game tie breaker. The Cubs won it & took the pennant in New York. Hank O'Day's ruling was one of the most controversial decisions of all time.

In 1912 O'Day surprised everyone in baseball by being named the manager of the Cincinnati Reds. His team won 20 of its first 25 games but finished the year at .500. He resigned after the season & moved on to manage the Chicago Cubs to a 78-76 record. He was fired & went back to umpiring for ten more seasons.

At the time he retired, he was third among umpires in games worked & although it was not known at the time was probably the oldest umpire to ever work a game at 65 years & nine months old.

Passing: O'Day was known to lead a very private life off the field. He died of bronchial pneumonia at a Chicago Hospital in 1937 at age 75.

Honors: In 2013 he is finally to be inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame.


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