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

Category Archives: O

Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens (Track and field.  Born, Danville, AL, Sept. 12, 1913; died, Tucson, AZ, Mar. 31, 1980.)  James Cleveland Owens, a spectacular high school athlete in Ohio and then an even more spectacular performer at Ohio State, achieved sports immortality in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.  He also provided outstanding performances for New York audiences before he performed his miraculous feats in the Olympics.  In 1935, he won the Millrose Games 60-yard dash in Madison Square Garden.  The 1936 Olympic trials were held at the new Randalls Island Stadium in New York and Owens put on his usual outstanding show, qualifying for the events that were to carry him to Olympic glory.  Owens won four gold medals (100-meter, 200-meter, 400-meter relay and the broad jump).  Owens’ performance supposedly so annoyed Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler that the Fuhrer stormed out of the Olympic Stadium, refusing to participate in the medal-presentation ceremony to Owens. A 1960 national poll named Jesse Owens the “Champion of the Century.”

Steve Owen

Steve Owen (Pro football.  Born, Cleo Springs, AR, Apr. 21, 1898; died, Oneida, NY, May 17, 1964.)  Steve Owen came out of Phillips University and was perhaps the best tackle of his era in the National Football League, but his real fame was to come during his 23-year tenure as the head coach of the Football Giants.  Owen began his N.F.L. career with the Kansas City Cowboys, but when the team folded after the 1925 season, Giants owner Tim Mara scooped him up for the Giants and he helped the team win the 1927 N.F.L. title.  In 1931, Owen became the fifth coach in the seven-year history of the team, but he was to remain for more than two decades.  During his tenure as field boss, Owen won 151 games, lost 100, and tied 17 for a .601 winning percentage.  He turned out N.F.L. championship teams in 1934 and 1938, plus division winners six times (1933, 1935, 1939, 1941, 1944, and 1946).  He also had two more teams tie for the Eastern Division title but lose in playoffs (1943, 1950). Perhaps his most famous coaching trick was equipping the Giants with sneakers on a frozen Polo Grounds field in the second half of the 1934 championship game against the Chicago Bears.  The Giants literally ran away from the Bears in the final quarter, turning a 13-3 deficit after three periods into a 30-13 victory.  Owen was also noted for creating the “umbrella defense” with defensive backs Emlen Tunnell, Tom Landry, Harmon Rowe and Otto Schnellbacher, a defensive alignment that had a powerful influence on the game.

Mickey Owen

Mickey Owen (Baseball.  Born, Nixa, MO, Apr. 4, 1916; died, Mount Vernon, MO, July 13, 2005.)  In the long catalogue of Brooklyn Dodgers frustration in World Series games, Arnold Malcolm Owen always earns prominent mention.  Mickey Owen failed to catch a third strike to the Yankees Tommy Henrich that would have ended the fourth game of the 1941 World Series and tied the Series.  Henrich reached first when the swinging third strike glanced off Owen’s glove for a passed ball.  Pitcher Hugh Casey allowed two-run doubles by Charley Keller and Joe Gordon before the Dodgers finally got the third out.  The Yankees won the game, 7-4, and closed out the Series the next day.  A fine defensive catcher, Owen started with the St. Louis Cardinals (1937-40) before being traded to Brooklyn prior to the 1941 season.  He stayed with Brooklyn until being drafted into the Navy in 1945 and, after World War II, jumped to the Mexican League.  Owen was suspended by Commissioner Happy Chandler for “life,” but returned to the majors in 1949 when Brooklyn traded him to the Chicago Cubs.  He had a lifetime .255 average but hit the first pinch homer in All-Star game history in 1942.  Owen later managed in the minors, served 16 years as sheriff of Greene County, Mo., and was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Missouri in 1980.  He also founded the Mickey Owen Baseball School in Miller, Mo., in 1960, sold it in 1965 after being elected sheriff (1964), and, in later years, suffered from Alezheimer’s Disease.  As he himself often observed, Owen is remembered because of a “dropped third strike.”

Maribel Vincent Owen

Maribel Vincent Owen (Figure skating.  Born, Winchester, MA, Oct. 12, 1911; died, near Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 15, 1961.)  A Skating Club of Boston star who won nine U.S. championships as Maribel Vincent, Mrs. Owen gave numerous exhibitions at the Garden during her skating career.  Mrs. Owen later became a leading coach whose student, Tenley Albright, won the 1956 Olympic gold medal.  She was herself a U.S. Olympic team member in 1928, 1932, and 1936.  Mrs. Owen’s daughter, Laurence, was the U.S. Ladies champion in 1961 and both were traveling with the U.S. figure skating team to the world championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia, when their plane crashed in Belgium.  The entire U.S. team was lost in the crash.  Among the 18 victims of the U.S. figure skating team were U.S. men’s champion Bradley Lord; Diane Sherbloom and Larry Pierce, the U.S. ice dancing champions; Mrs. Owen and her partner on the winning senior pairs team, Dudley Richards; and both of Mrs. Owen’s daughters.

Mel Ott

Mel Ott (Baseball.  Born, Gretna, LA, Nov. 21, 1909; died, New Orleans, LA, Nov. 21, 1958.)  Melvin Thomas Ott won six National League home run crowns during his long career with the New York Giants.  At his retirement in 1947, he had hit more home runs than any other man in N.L. history (511).  Ott was known for his unique batting style.  As the pitcher moved into his motion, Ott would raise his right leg waist-high and begin to stride toward the mound while dropping the bat below his waist.  While unorthodox, the style clearly worked for Ott.  His biggest single home run season was 1929, when he hit 42 but did not lead the league because Chuck Klein of the Phillies hit 43.  Ott did lead the league in 1932 (38), 1934 (35), 1936 (33), 1937 (31), 1938 (36) and 1942 (30).  Ott was also a steady run-producer, driving in 1,860 runs in his career (still a Giants record) and batting .304 over a 22-year career.  Ott never played in the minors, being brought to New York as a teenager to sit on the bench and learn the game from his master, John McGraw.  He began playing in 1926, when he appeared in 35 games without hitting a homer.  In 1927, he played in 82 games and hit only one.  From then on his output was steady.  On Dec. 2, 1941, Ott was named manager of the Giants, succeeding Bill Terry.  He was only the team’s third field boss since 1902, and he managed until 1948, when he was replaced by Leo Durocher, ertswhile manager of the Giants’ sworn enemies, the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Looking on the field one day at Ott and the Giants generally that Durocher, while still managing Brooklyn, said, “Nice guys.  Finish last.”  Over time, the period, and therefore the context, were removed.

Red Ormsby

Red Ormsby (Baseball.  Born, Chicago, IL, Apr. 3, 1895; died, Chicago, IL, Oct. 11, 1962.)  A combat Marine during the First World War, Emmett T. Ormsby was an A.L. umpire for 19 seasons (1923-41).  Ormsby was gassed Nov. 9, 1918, during the Argonne offensive that ended the war.  The armistice was declared two days later, but Ormsby suffered from the effects of the gas attack for the remainder of his life.  It was his illness before a 1935 St. Louis Browns-Chicago White Sox game that inadvertently started the umpiring career of Jocko Conlon, a fellow Chicagoan.  Ormsby spent nearly two years recuperating from his wartime experience and began umpiring in the 3-I League in 1921.  He moved to the Western League in 1922 and the A.L. a year later.  He was the father of 12 children.

Rey Ordonez

Rey Ordonez (Baseball.  Born, Havana, Cuba, Nov. 11, 1972.)  Virtually a one-man highlight reel at shortstop from the start of his career with the Mets (1996), Reynaldo Ordonez gradually curbed his tendencies to overswing at the plate and mess up routine plays in the field.  Ordonez defected from the Cuban National Team after the 1993 World University Games in Buffalo, N.Y., and his rights were won by the Mets in a lottery on defectors (Oct. 29, 1993).  In his first four years with the Mets (1996-99), he averaged .246 and hit one homer each season, but made himself a regular on the nightly television highlights with his spectacular plays in the field.  Ordonez hit .254 in 144 games, the second-best average of his career, in 2002, but was traded Dec. 15, 2002, to Tampa Bay.

Maureen Orcutt

Maureen Orcutt (Golf.  Born, New York, Apr. 1, 1907; died, Durham, N.C., Jan. 9, 2007.)   One of the “Big Four” of women’s golf in the 1930s and 1940s, Maureen Orcutt was a dominant figure in her sport as an amateur in the days before the formation of the women’s pro tour.  She was a leading contender for national honors for more than 40 years.  Along with Helen Hicks, Charlotte Glutting and Glenna Collett, Orcutt dominated women’s golf.  She won her first major event, the Eastern Amateur, in 1925, and 43 years later her last major, the Metropolitan Amateur.  Perhaps no competitor in any major sport has been a significant factor for so long in top-level play.  Orcutt’s victory in the Metropolitan Amateur in 1968 was her 10th.  She also won the event in 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1934, 1938, 1940, 1946 and 1959.  She lost several finals by narrow margins, including the 1927 U.S. Women’s Open to Miriam Burns and the 1936 Open to England’s Pam Barton.  Orcutt won the Eastern Amateur seven times, including the 1929 event at Aronimink, when she shot a 54-hole medal play record of 241 and defeated Hicks in the final.  During most of her competitive career, she played out of White Beeches in New Jersey.  Orcutt was also a writer on golf for several New York newspapers including The World, the Evening Journal, and, for over 25 years, The New York Times.

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.

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.

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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