Athletics history: Remembering Harry O’Neill

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 15: An Oakland Athletics hat and glove on the steps of the dugout during the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 15, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 15: An Oakland Athletics hat and glove on the steps of the dugout during the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 15, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images) /
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Harry O’Neill did not have a long major league career, but he still holds a notable place in Athletics history.

Harry O’Neill did not have a career that would seemingly be more than a footnote in Athletics history. He was a notable football player at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, but found himself signing with the Philadelphia A’s upon graduation. Connie Mack brought him right to the majors, a third string catcher who essentially saw the diamond from the bench.

All told, he would only have one game of major league action. He appeared for one inning behind the plate on July 23, 1939, recording neither a putout or an assist. O’Neill would not take a turn at bat for the A’s either, as he became one of the 999 players in MLB history to have just one appearance in the majors.

O’Neill’s minor league career did not last much longer. He had just 16 games in 1940, notching ten hits with a double and a home run in 42 plate appearances. After that, he hung up his cleats, becoming a high school football coach and playing semi-pro basketball.

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That career did not last long either. As the United States entered World War Two, O’Neill joined the Marines. He was sent to Quintico to their Officer’s Training School, graduating as a Second Lieutenant. After graduation, he was assigned to the 4th Marine Division at Camp Pendelton.

Eventually, he was assigned to combat duty. A part of the 25th Weapons Company, he was sent to the Pacific in January 1944. He was wounded in action on June 16, eventually rejoining his division in late July. By February 1945, his division had landed in Iwo Jima, where they were bogged down in the ferocious battle on the island. O’Neill would not escape, as he was killed by a sniper on March 6.

O’Neill was the second major league alum to be killed in World War Two. Elmer Gedeon, a former outfielder with the Senators, was killed when his aircraft was shot down over France just five days after his 27th birthday. O’Neill was also the second to last major league to be killed in combat, as Bob Neighbors‘ aircraft was shot down over North Korea, his body never recovered.

Next. Appreciating Frank Thomas. dark

On Memorial Day, as we remember those lost in combat, the A’s were touched by that tragedy as well. Harry O’Neill may not have had a great career, but he remains the only player in Athletics history to be killed in combat.

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