May 08

Washington baseball fans go after O’Day

On August 20, 1895 the Cleveland Spiders defeat the Washington Senators 8-7.

This game features two well known players. Win Mercer in the box and Hank O’Day behind the plate, each at the start of their respective careers.

Win Mercer is in his second season. At 21, with 17 wins in his rookie season, he is a valuable player. Win Mercer had come into training camp six pounds heavier than at any time in his career. He felt that the extra weight would add some zip to his fastball. Much is expected from Mercer who can not only pitch but has proven to be a reliable hitter and one of the fastest base runners in the game. He is young, handsome and popular with the spectators.

Hank O’Day, 32 years old, is well known to District baseball fans. O’Day had pitched for Washington from 1885 to 1889, winning 41 games. His final year in the majors was in 1890 with New York in the Player’s League. In 1895 he was hired by the National League as an umpire. While he is a rookie umpire he had previously umpired baseball games when the scheduled umpire did not appear.

Hank O’Day was a loner; he had a dour almost forbidding bearing. The great Christy Mathewson said, arguing with O’Day was like; “using a lit match to see how much gasoline was in a fuel tank”.[1]

Win Mercer and Cy Young give the crowd a great game but the fireworks come in the eighth inning. Umpire Hank O’Day forces the Senators to take the field in the bottom of the eighth inning despite the darkness.

Patsy Tebeau led off for Cleveland. He hit a hard one to Frank Scheibeck at shortstop, who made a good stop but was unable to get the speedy Tebeau at first. Chippy McGarr was out at first. Tebeau, who had gone to second, reached third on a ball that Jim McGuire let pass him. Harry Blake hit and went to first. Zeke Wilson struck out. Jesse Burkett hit to center and went to second and Tebeau scored. Ed McKean came up and hit the ball hard far into center field. Charlie Abbey did not see the ball and has to chase after it.

Harry Blake and Jesse Burkett come home, but Chippy McGarr was fairly caught at the plate, and here is where O’Day got in his hooks. He declared McGarr safe. McGarr was not within five feet of the plate when he was touched. No more runs were made during the inning but the Spiders had enough. It was too dark to play any longer, and the game was brought to an end.[2]

When this most unfair inning was over, the crowd boiled over with rage and made a break for the field. A dozen men tried to get to O’Day, but three or four policemen came to his rescue. Some of the angry bleachers were tossed aside pretty roughly but they were urged to go ahead by a thousand voices from every direction. Manager Gus Schmelz and the police, however, landed Hank O’Day under the grand stand, and what for a few minutes threatened to be a calamity, was averted.[3]

Win Mercer gets the loss and Hank O’Day has a bad day in the office. Both are fixtures in the District’s baseball history and both go on to impressive careers.

In his seven years in Washington Win Mercer won 104 games. He batted .285 and was the most popular player in the team for most of his career in Washington. He also battled various ailments that limited his effectiveness. In 1903, despite having all his achievements he takes his own life.

Hank O’Day went on to a lengthy career in baseball and is considered to be one of top umpires in the history of the game. He retired in 1927. Lee Allen described O’Day as “a crusty old pitcher who had umpired in the league as early as 1888 and had the scars to prove it.”[4] Hank O’Day died at the age of 73 in Chicago on 2 July 1935. Not generally knows is that his brother, a Pinkerton, would commit suicide after being involved in the 1892 Homestead Strike.

Mark Baldwin, a pitcher and resident of Homestead had this to say. “After the riot and it was safe, I went to visit the Pinkerton’s in the building they were being held in. I have never seen such a sight and hope I never will again. One poor hatless fellow, all battered up came out of the crowd and asked me, ‘Aren’t you Mark Baldwin? I said ‘Yes’ and he went on: ‘My name is Jimmie O’Day, I’m Hank’s brother. I lost my hat in running that gauntlet of devils. Can’t you get me another? I promised to do so but before I could get back to him the group had been hurried to a special train. I could not find him. Poor O’Day! His experience of that terrible day made a madman of him, and he jumped off the train and was killed.”[5]


[1] Baseball Biography Project, SABR David Anderson

[2] Washington Times

[3] Washington Times

[4] Wikipedia

[5] Sporting Life

*The Flynn’s have written two books about baseball in D.C.