New-York Historical Society's Bill Shannon Dictionary of New York Sports

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Bill O’Donnell


Bill O’Donnell (Harness racing.  Born, Spring Hill, Nova Scotia, May 4, 1948.)  Honing his talent as a harness driver in New England and at the Saratoga (N.Y.) harness track, William A. O’Donnell came into national prominence at the Meadowlands racetrack.  O’Donnell vied with John Campbell to dominate the Big M in the 1980s with three driving titles (and five second-place finishes) in that decade.  He is third in all-time money won with almost $95 million and left his mark on two of the sport’s biggest events in 1985 with victories in the Hambletonian with Prakas and The Meadowlands Pace with Nihilator. – M.F.

Floyd Odlum


Floyd Odlum (Executive.  Born, Union City, MI, Mar. 30, 1892; died, Indio, CA, June 17, 1976.)  A law graduate of the University of Colorado, Floyd Bostwick Odlum came to New York in 1917 to join the firm of Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett, specializing in utilities work.  In 1923, Odlum and his first wife with a partner formed an investment pool that became Atlas Utilities Corp., an exceptionally successful holding company.  He shrewdly sold his stock just before the 1929 stock market crash and used the resultant cash to prosper even further during the Great Depression.  On Sept. 24, 1935, Odlum and several associates took control of the financially-ailing Garden, installing Col. John Reed Kilpatrick as president.  In 1937, he took over R.K.O. Radio Pictures and shifted his attentions towards California, where he and his second wife, aviatrix Jacqueline Cochran, subsequently moved.  Odlum later moved into the aviation industry and promoted the development of a new missile (called the Atlas), which was eventually used to power N.A.S.A.’s lunar landers.  During World War II, he served with the War Production Board and the Office of Price Administration.  Odlum subsequently sold his Garden interests, left Atlas in 1960, and, afflicted with severe arthritis, went into semi-retirement on a 732-acre estate in Indio, Calif.

Hank O’Day


Hank O’Day (Baseball.  Born, Chicago, IL, July 8, 1862; died, Chicago, IL, July 2, 1935.)  After a brief career with the Giants as a pitcher, Henry Frances O’Day embarked on his life’s work as an umpire.  O’Day spent 35 years umpiring in the majors, 34 of them in the N.L. and one in the Players League in 1890.  O’Day ultimately umpired from 1888 to 1927 with several breaks.  He was one of two umpires in the first modern World Series in 1903 (Tom Connolly, representing the A.L., was the other).  He worked most of his career in one-man or two-men crews.  O’Day made his most famous call in 1908.  On Sept. 23, Fred Merkle failed to touch second in the ninth after an apparent game-winning hit by the Giants against the Cubs.  With base umpire Bob Emslie out of position, plate umpire O’Day ruled Merkle out after a force at second, creating a 1-1 tie.  The playoff Oct. 8 was won by Chicago, sending the Cubs to the World Series (where O’Day was one of four umpires assigned).  The 1908 Series was O’Day’s fourth in the first five Series played (also 1905 and 1907), and he subsequently umpired six more (1910, 1916, 1918, 1920, 1923, 1926).  In his early days as a righthander, he pitched for Toledo (1884) and Pittsburgh (1885) in the A.A. and Washington (1886-88) in the N.L.  He was 71-112 overall.  O’Day also managed the 1912 Reds and 1914 Cubs.  He returned to umpiring Aug. 8, 1915, replacing Bill Hart, who resigned four days earlier, and remained in the N.L. until 1927.

Jack O’Connell


Jack O’Connell (Sportswriter.  Born, New York, NY, Nov. 4, 1948.)  Primarily a baseball writer for more than three decades, John William O’Connell became the national secretary-treasurer of the B.B.W.A.A. in 1993.  O’Connell started his sportswriting career with the Suffolk Sun on Long Island in 1967.  When that paper folded, he went to the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat & Chronicle in 1969 and then became a baseball writer on a regular basis at the Oakland Press of Pontiac, Mich., in 1971.  O’Connell returned to the metropolitan area in 1977 with the Bergen Record.  While with the Record, he served as chairman of the New York chapter of the B.B.W.A.A. (1985-86) and then moved to the Daily News (1987-89).  In 1989, O’Connell joined the Hartford (Conn.) Courant, where he regularly covered the Yankees through 2004.  Among his duties with the B.B.W.A.A. is conducting the annual award selections and the Baseball Hall of Fame elections.

Larry O’Brien


Larry O’Brien (Pro basketball.  Born, Springfield, MA, July 7, 1917; died, New York, NY, Sept. 28, 1990.)  A leading Democratic Party operative and fundraiser, Lawrence Francis O’Brien, Jr., served as commissioner of the N.B.A. for nine years (1975-84).  Previously, O’Brien had been Postmaster General (1965-68) under President Lyndon Johnson, a political associate and campaign strategist for President John Kennedy, and twice chairman of the Democratic National Committee (1968-69 and 1970-73).  It was the break-in of his office that triggered the Watergate scandal that resulted in the resignation of President Richard Nixon. During his term as N.B.A. commissioner, the N.B.A.-A.B.A. merger was negotiated (1976) and the N.B.A. grew from 18 teams to 23.

John J. O’Brien


John J. O’Brien (Pro basketball.  Born, Brooklyn, NY, Nov. 4, 1888; died, Rockville Centre, NY, Dec. 9, 1967.)  Although he was successful in other fields, John J. O’Brien was devoted to basketball.  O’Brien was an energetic and efficient organizer who helped form the Interstate pro league (1914) at age 26 and served as its president from 1915-17.  In 1921, he helped start the Brooklyn Arcadians, one of the better pro teams in the days of regional play.  O’Brien headed the Metropolitan League (1922-26), a six-team circuit with clubs in New York, Brooklyn, Paterson, N.J., and Kingston, N.Y.  Benny Borgmann, Carl Husta, and “Poison Joe” Brennan were among the famous stars who played in the league.  Throughout this period, O’Brien was a celebrated referee in college ranks for over 20 years starting in 1910.  He was an E.I.B.L. referee (1915-30) and worked the first Army-Navy basketball game (1920).  But he really hit his stride in 1928 when Joe Carr of Columbus, O., president of both leagues, elected to run the N.F.L. full-time and O’Brien was chosen his successor as president of the American Basketball League.  The A.B.L. was the closest thing to a major league in pro basketball and he headed the league until 1954, when it, surpassed by the N.B.A., closed down.

Charles Oakley


Charles Oakley (Pro basketball.  Born, Cleveland, OH, Dec. 18, 1963.)  At 6’9″, 245 pounds, Charles Oakley was an intimidating presence who played for Knicks teams that went to the playoffs in each of his 10 seasons with the team (1988-98).  Oakley averaged just over 10 rebounds and 10 points per game for the Knicks while starting 722 of the 729 games in which he played.  All but one of his 10 teams got out of the first round in the playoffs (the exception was 1991, when the Knicks lost to the eventual champions. Chicago), and the 1994 team made the N.B.A. final before losing to Houston in seven games.  Oakley was acquired June 27, 1988, from Chicago for Bill Cartwright (four draft choices also changed hands).  He combined with center Patrick Ewing to give the Knicks a formidable frontcourt tandem.  The power forward was traded June 25, 1998, to Toronto for Marcus Camby.  Oakley also played for Chicago (1985-88), who drafted him out of Virginia Union, Toronto (1998-2001), Washington (2002-03), and Houston (2003-04).

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The Bill Shannon Biographical Dictionary of New York Sports is an open database of sports biographies maintained by Jordan Sprechman and Marty Appel. We welcome public and scholarly contributions and suggestions.

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A prolific author, wire service sports reporter, long time Major League Baseball official scorer, football statistician, sports museum founder, theatrical agency owner and public ... read more

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