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October 23, 1874: Fancy O'Neil




We're digging really deep today as no "cup of coffee" players were ever born on October 23 and only one in the history of baseball made his debut on this date. That distinction belongs to Fancy O'Neil who made his one-and-only major league appearance on this day 145 years ago. The best research done on Michael "Fancy" O'Neil's career to this point has come from Paul Batesel, who examines it briefly in his book Players and Teams of the National Association: 1871-1875.


It is important to remember that the modern major leagues hadn't even been established at the time of O'Neil's one game. The National League was still two years from being formed and the creation of the American League was more than two decades in the distance. According to Batesel's research, O'Neil got his name thanks to his boxing career. Researcher Peter Morris is the one to popularize that theory and he also theorizes that O'Neil was born in Ireland in 1853.


His "Fancy" nickname also comes from his trouble with the law. Even after his playing career was through, he was not done shedding that reputation. A Hartford Courant ran a story in 1895, 21 years after Fancy's one game in the bigs, saying the "old time boxer and ballplayer" attacked his employer with a knife and as a result was taken to the Connecticut Hospital for the Insane. Before this bizarre downturn, though, he got to play on professional baseball's biggest (and at this time, really only) stage.


O'Neil appeared in right field on this day 145 years ago for the Hartford Dark Blues. They were really creative with team names back then. In three tries in the outfield, he made three errors. In three times at the plate, he failed to reach base. It wasn't exactly the most successful big-league debut. Of course, at this point, the big leagues really weren't the big leagues and the allure of playing professional baseball wasn't nearly what it would soon become.


It was a tough draw for O'Neil who had to face future Hall of Famer Al Spalding on the mound. Spalding was a member of the 1939 Hall of Fame class, largely for his role as an architect, turning baseball into what it is roughly still known as today. The scrappy Irishman struck out once in his three trips to the plate and is credited as being just the 241st player in major-league history. Roughly 19,000 have come after him and few had as strange or as short a journey as he did.

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