There are a few quirky characters in baseball folklore that we all gravitate to, because no matter how dire a situation may be, they always provide a dose of much needed entertainment. Hank O’Day was quirky, but in a different way. O’Day is the only person in Major League Baseball history that served as a player, umpire, manager, and scout.
No one can say they’ve done it all like he did. That is quirky in its own right. His story may not be of the entertaining variety, but it’s sure as hell entertaining.
Before I get to far into the story of Hank O’Day, allow me to paint a bit of a picture of what he was like. Christy Mathewson, one of the greatest pitchers in league history, once compared arguing with O’Day to “using a lit match to see how much gasoline was in a fuel tank.”
O’Day, a Chicago native, made his baseball debut in 1884 as a member of the, wait for it, Toledo Blue Stockings. O’Day made a career two starts in the pre-modern World Series era, winning them both. He even won a deciding Game Nine, which helped the New York Giants win it all in 1889. His career was rather uneventful other than that, as he went 73-110 for four teams, before retiring in 1893.
In 1894, O’Day attended a Cubs-Indians game when his next career path fell right into his lap. The umpire that was scheduled to call that day’s game was held up due to a transportation mishap. Back then, National League games were contested by one umpire. O’Day had experience umpiring, as he’d fill in for umpires during his playing days. He was asked to fill in for the day, and he did such a great job that the NL hired him as a full-time ump in 1895.
That is where he made his mark. For 30 years, he was behind the plate calling balls and strikes for the NL. In 1903, he umped the first modern World Series, which was won by the Boston Americans.
In 1907, he was involved in a very controversial play that had a profound effect on the NL Pennant race. After what appeared to be a walk-off single, New York Giants first baseman Fred Merkle failed to advance bases when the winning run was scored, which was a regularity in that era. Chicago Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers tagged second base, arguing that Merkle was out. O’Day agreed, ruled Merkle out, and the Cubs won a makeup game for the Pennant.
O’Day managed the Cincinnati Reds in 1912, and led them to a rather unremarkable 75-78. He returned to managing in 1914, this time taking over for Evers in Chicago. He returned to umpiring full-time after the Cubs finished 78-76 in 1914. He would umpire no-hit games in four decades and witnessed the only unassisted Triple Play in World Series history. He retired from umpiring in 1927. After retiring from umpiring, O’Day became a scout for new umpires almost until his passing in 1935.
O’Day is a man who had a front row seat for many of baseball’s historic moments. He wasn’t a great player, he wasn’t a great manager, but he still made one hell of a mark on the baseball landscape.
Photo Credit: baseballhall.org
Information from the Cut4 article “The story of Hank O’Day, the only man to serve as Major League player, scout, ump and manager” as well as from O’Day’s Baseball Hall of Fame page were used in this article.