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.

Lefty O’Doul


Lefty O’Doul (Baseball.  Born, San Francisco, CA, Mar. 4, 1897; died, San Francisco, CA, Dec. 7, 1969.)  Although he has the fourth-highest career average among players with 10 or more years’ service as a hitter, Francis Joseph O’Doul started his career as a pitcher.  During the course of his 11 major league seasons, O’Doul played for all three New York teams, starting in 1919 with the Yankees.  He was 0-0 in six games over two seasons as a pitcher and was shipped back to San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League.  There, O’Doul hit .338 and was 25-9.  The Yankees brought him back in 1922 but he was 0-0 and hit .143 in six games, and was waived to Boston.  O’Doul had four more sensational seasons in the minors and came back to the majors in 1928 with the Giants.  He hit .319 as an outfielder but struggled defensively and was sent to Philadelphia, where he won the N.L. batting title in 1929, hitting .398.  In 1931, he and second baseman Fresco Thompson were traded to Brooklyn.  O’Doul hit .336 that year and .368 in 1932, winning another N.L. batting title.  He went back to the Giants in 1933 and ended his big league career the next season, finishing with a .349 lifetime average.  Only Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, and Joe Jackson have higher averages for their careers.  O’Doul then became a manager in the P.C.L. (1935-57), winning three pennants and managing talent such as Joe DiMaggio.  He made many trips to Japan, playing a substantial role in establishing pro baseball there, and also owned a highly successful restaurant in San Francisco.

Daniel O’Leary


Daniel O’Leary (Pedestrian.  Born, Carrigroe, County Cork, Ireland, June 28, 1842; died, Los Angeles, CA, May 29, 1933.)  A sport that reached its popular apogee in the years following the Civil War, walking, or pedestrianism, saw Daniel O’Leary become the world champion.  O’Leary twice beat Edward Payson Weston in challenge matches and then won the Astley Belt, emblematic of world supremacy.  He outwalked Weston on Nov. 20, 1875, in a six-day match in Chicago, Ill., and in another six-day Apr. 7, 1877, in London, England.  O’Leary often competed in walking contests, which were generally held indoors, in the years before bicycles were invented.  His frequent appearances in the New York area excited great public interest, but the sport was supplanted by bike racing six-days in the 1890s.  O’Leary later turned to cross-country endurance walks, many tied to the dedication of athletic facilities.

Walter O’Malley


Walter O’Malley (Baseball.  Born, The Bronx, NY, Oct. 9, 1903; died, Rochester, MN, Aug. 9, 1979.)  While reviled by fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers everywhere, Walter Francis O’Malley actually made a serious effort to keep the team in the borough of its birth.  O’Malley became president of the Dodgers in 1950 and shortly began to try to find an alternative to the team’s deteriorating ballpark, Ebbets Field.  He proposed building a new stadium (possibly domed) at Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues in downtown Brooklyn, atop the Long Island Railroad terminal.  However, he was unable to acquire the site from the Pennsylvania Railroad, owners of the L.I.R.R., and unable to convince the administration of Mayor Robert F. Wagner to condemn it, even though he offered to pay the construction costs of the new stadium.  After over two years of fruitless effort, O’Malley signalled the seriousness of his intentions by scheduling seven Dodgers games at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, N.J., for the 1956 season (one game against each other National League team).  As the departure scenario reached its endgame, that pattern was repeated in 1957.  Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller entered the fray with a plan for the downtown Brooklyn location, but on the off-day between the fifth and sixth games of the Yankees-Milwaukee World Series (Oct. 8, 1957), O’Malley announced that the team was moving to Los Angeles.  A graduate of Pennsylvania (1926) and Fordham Law School (1930), O’Malley was an executive with the Brooklyn Trust Co. when he assembled a consortium that bought control of the Dodgers.  The group then bought out club president (and general manager) Branch Rickey, naming O’Malley president.  He served as team president until 1970, by which time he had become virtually the sole owner and he was succeeded by his son Peter.  O’Malley was a powerful voice in the councils of the National League for decades and was considered a reactionary by many observers.  But he foresaw the prosperous prospects for major league baseball in Southern California despite some opinion to the contrary and purchased the Chicago Cubs’ minor league in Los Angeles (the Angels) in the spring of 1957, preparatory to the Dodgers’ move.  During his years in Brooklyn, the Dodgers won the N.L. pennant in 1952, 1953, 1955, and 1956, as well as the borough’s only world championship (1955).  O’Malley sold Ebbets Field to real estate developer Marvin Kratter in 1955 and it was demolished in 1960, replaced by an apartment development.

Leo O’Mealia


Leo O’Mealia (Cartoonist.  Born, LeRoy, NY, Mar. 31, 1884; died, Brooklyn, NY, May 7, 1960.)  On the day after the Brooklyn Dodgers won their first (and only) World Series in October 1955, the front page of the New York Daily News was adorned for the first time in its history with a cartoon, entitled “Who’s A Bum?”  That drawing was the work of Leo Edward O’Mealia, the regular sports cartoonist for the tabloid.   Then known as “New York’s Picture Newspaper,” the Daily News prided itself on its photographic coverage of events in the city and the world but no photo captured the mood of delirious  Dodgers fans like Leo’s drawings.  All of his work was signed with a little lion figure that made the connection between his name and the name’s zodiac sign.  O’Mealia had a long and varied career as an artist and cartoonist for newspapers throughout New York State starting in 1907 when he joined the Rochester Herald near his hometown. From 1909 to 1912, O’Mealia was a cartoonist doing both sports and politics for The Rochester Times. In 1912, he came to New York to join Hearst’s Evening Journal where he drew a comic strip entitled “Wedlocked,” which was distributed for 17 years by the Associated Newspapers Syndicate. In 1929, he joined the Daily News and several years later became the principal daily sports cartoonist, a position he held until his death when he was succeeded by his understudy, a young man named Bill Gallo.

Lou O’Neill


Lou O’Neill (Sports Editor.  Born, Ravenswood, NY, Dec. 15, 1906; died, Rego Park, NY, Jan. 23, 1978.)  On the 50th anniversary of his start in the newspaper business, over 400 friends of Louis Francis O’Neill turned out in his honor at an Astoria banquet hall.  Most of the organizers of the O’Neill tribute were people who had worked under him.  It was a rare event for a rare man.  O’Neill began his career Sept. 25, 1925, at the Long Island Daily Star in Long Island City.  In 1937, that paper merged with the Flushing Evening Journal to form the Long Island Star-Journal.  O’Neill became the sports editor in 1946.  He was columnist, sometimes reporter and leading personality on the afternoon paper that served Long Island City, Astoria, and northern Queens.  When it closed in 1968, O’Neill moved to its sister paper, the Long Island Press in Jamaica.  Along the way, he was a racecaller at Yonkers Raceway, a consistently good handicapper, and one-time manager of a semipro basketball team, the L.I. Pro-Imps.  The Press folded Mar. 25, 1977.

Paul O’Neill


Paul O’Neill (Baseball.  Born, Columbus, OH, Feb. 25, 1963.)  It was a long, circuitous trip for Paul Andrew O’Neill to Yankee Stadium, but once he got there, he made his presence felt.  O’Neill spent seven seasons in seven minor-league towns , getting three callups with Cincinnati from 1985-87 that aggregated 92 major league games.  He finally became a regular in 1988 but hit over .270 only once in five seasons before Nov. 3, 1992, when he was traded to the Yankees.  In O’Neill’s first six years in New York, he never hit less than .300 and won the A.L. batting title in the strike-shortened 1994 season (.359).  In his nine years (1993-2001) with the Yankees, he hit 185 of his 281 career homers and drove in 958 runs, including 100 or more four years in a row (1997-2000).  O’Neill retired after the 2001 World Series.  He was the Yankees’ steady rightfielder almost from his first day with the club.  Despite his well-publicized outbursts of temper, helmet-slamming, bat-throwing, and water-cooler assaults, O’Neill, an intense man with high expectations of himself was a thoughtful, perceptive, and analytical player.  He is the brother of The New York Times food reporter Molly O’Neill.  During his years in New York, he was a major reason for the Yankees’ four World Series titles in five years at the end of the 1990s.  O’Neill played through injuries and personal tragedy (notably during the 1999 World Series when his father died on the morning of the fourth and final game).  He was saluted with rhythmic chanting by Yankees fans during the ninth, 10th, 11th, and 12th innings of the fifth game of the 2001 Series (New York’s last home game of the year), after it became public knowledge that he was retiring at season’s end.  In 2005, O’Neill became a part-time color commentator on Yankees telecasts.

About This Dictionary

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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