Always a winner
Steve O'Neill Led Every Big League Club He Managed to a Winning Season
By CRAIG MUDER
December 2, 2009
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – For every manager, the definition of success ultimately boils down to two numbers: Wins and losses.
By that standard, few ever experienced more success than Steve O’Neill – who never had a losing season in 14 years as a big league manager.
|Steve O'Neill is one of twenty finalists for election to the Hall of Fame Class of 2010 by the Veterans Committee. (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)|
O’Neill, who managed the Indians, Tigers, Red Sox and Phillies, is one of 10 finalists on this year’s Veterans Committee managers/umpires ballot at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The Veterans Committee will vote on Dec. 6 at baseball’s Winter Meetings in Indianapolis, and the results of the vote will be announced Dec. 7. The results of the Veterans Committee election for executives will also be announced on Dec. 7.
The 10 candidates on the managers/umpires ballot are: Charlie Grimm, Doug Harvey, Whitey Herzog, Davey Johnson, Tom Kelly, Billy Martin, Gene Mauch, Danny Murtaugh, Hank O’Day and O’Neill. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all ballots cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2010.
Born July 6, 1891, O’Neill broke into the major leagues in 1911 as a catcher with the Cleveland Indians. One of four brothers – along with Jack, Jim and Mike – to reach the major leagues from the coal town of Minooka, Pa., O’Neill quickly established himself as one of the best backstops in baseball. In 1920, O’Neill hit .321 to help the Indians win their first American League pennant, then batted .333 in Cleveland’s 5-games-to-2 win over Brooklyn in the World Series.
“Nothing’s ever going to mean more to me than that two-base hit I got in the first game of the World Series with Brooklyn,” said O’Neill of the double that gave Cleveland a 2-0 lead in an eventual 3-1 win.
But O’Neill had more thrills in store over his next 35 years in baseball.
When his 17-year big league playing career ended following the 1928 season, O’Neill returned to the minor leagues with Toronto as a manager. He won one International League title in three years there, then managed the Toledo Mudhens from 1932-34.
In 1935, O’Neill signed on as a coach for manager Walter Johnson’s Cleveland Indians. When Johnson resigned as the Indians manager that August, O’Neill was named as his replacement. He remained Cleveland’s manager through the 1937 season, leaving the Indians after posting a record of 199-168 (.542).
After returning to the International League as Buffalo’s manager for three seasons, O’Neill joined the Tigers staff for the 1941 season. Two years later, O’Neill replaced Del Baker as Detroit’s manager starting with the 1943 season.
In Detroit, O’Neill experienced his greatest success. Over six full seasons, the Tigers won more than 55 percent of their games with O’Neill on the bench. Detroit posted three second-place finishes, and in 1945 the Tigers won the American League pennant and World Series.
When he was fired following the 1948 season, only one manager – Hall of Famer Hughie Jennings – had bossed the Tigers for more seasons than O’Neill.
O’Neill wasn’t out of work for long. In 1949, Indians owner Bill Veeck brought O’Neill – who kept his permanent residence in Ohio – back to Cleveland as a coach.
“This is the job I’ve wanted,” said O’Neill, who traveled to baseball’s Winter Meetings in Minneapolis in December 1948 to campaign for a job with the Indians. “I didn’t want to take any job that would take me away from Cleveland and my family.”
However, O’Neill’s return to Cleveland lasted only one season. After being dismissed from manager Lou Boudreau’s staff after the 1949 season, O’Neill signed on with the Red Sox as a scout – only to be named Boston’s third base coach for 1950 when Kiki Cuyler suddenly died in February.
O’Neill then took over the Sox in June when manager Joe McCarthy resigned due to failing health. O’Neill lasted in Boston through the 1951 season, then took over the Phillies midway through 1952. In parts of three seasons in Philadelphia, O’Neill’s teams won more than 56 percent of their games.
O’Neill’s final record: 1,040-821, good for a winning percentage of .559. Of all the big league managers with at least 1,000 victories, only 10 – nine of them Hall of Famers – have a better winning percentage.
O’Neill suffered a heart attack on Jan 20, 1962, and died six days later at the age of 70.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum