by Waite Forsyth
October 30, 1945
Major Looper John O’Neil Joins BB Winter Colony Here
report at the Phils’ training camp in Florida next spring.
Bobby Coltrin, scout of the Phillies, who recently died, signed Johnny after watching him play sensational defensive ball for the pennant-winning Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast (Class AA) League. Some people will claim also the fact O’Neil wound up his third season with the Beavers with a .309 batting average might have had some influence on the scout.
There was never any doubt about the Kentucky’s youth’s fielding ability. Members of the big leagues’ ivory hunting clan were high on Johnny’s fleetness of foot, ability to cover ground and to come up with the hard ‘uns, his fast reflexes and his iron arm from the time they first caught sight of him performing at short for the Tallahassee club in the Georgia-Florida State League back in 1939. One and all, the scouts tagged O’Neil as a comer.
Johnny finished the 1939 season with Greenville in the Appalachian League and spent the 1940 campaign with the Winston-Salem club.
Jamestown fans caught their first glimpse of O’Neil in the spring of 1941. It became apparent early he was to be the Falcon’s regular shortstop that year. He teamed up with Manager Greg Mulleavey to make what was conceded by those who knew to be the best keystone combination in the league.
His 1941 performance won him a trial with the Buffalo Bisons in 1942, but his hitting did not satisfy the Bison bosses and he was sent to the Elmira Eastern League Club and finished the season with Pittsfield in the Canadian-American League. Portland bought Johnny’s contract during the ensuing winter and in the spring of 1943 he reported to the west coast club. Figuring in the deal with O’Neil was Jack Redmond, former catcher for the Washington Senators and the Baltimore Orioles.
Popular With Beavers
O’Neil soon became a fixture for the Beavers. He quickly won popularity with the Portland fans, a popularity that grew steadily during his three seasons as a Beaver. He hit at a .260 clip in 1943, and .236 in 1944. It was not until the 1945 pennant race he came into his own at the plate.
“I think I must have been the most surprised ball player in these United States when I picked up the Sporting News (national baseball weekly) one day late in the season and found therein an item stating I had been purchased by the Philadelphia Club. That was the first I knew about it.”
Johnny, now 24, is a native of Shelbiana, Ky. After being graduated from high school in his home town, he attended Pikeville, Ky., Junior College for two years and was a student at the University of Kentucky for three semesters. The call of baseball was stronger than his desire for a diploma, however, and he traded campus life for the diamond.
During the off-season in 1944, O’Neil was a fireman on the New York Central Railroad, on the “run” being between Toledo and Cleveland. “That was a real man’s job,” says Johnny. “I never worked so hard in my life.” Last winter he was employed as an engineering rodman in the Portland shipyards.
Johnny became acquainted with Miss Janette Swanson, daughter of Edwin G. Swanson of this city while a member of the Falcons. They were married on Nov. 16, 1943.
The O’Neil’s will reside at 18 Cross Street. It’s pretty safe bet you’ll see him prancing the hardwood as a member of one of the teams of the Y.M.C.A. Community Basketball League this winter. He plays either at guard or forward.
“A fellow has to keep his legs in shape, you know,” he explains. “And legs are not all, you can bet.
“I’ve my big chance to make the major league grade next spring, and, I’m certainly going to give it everything I have.
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