Jamestown Sun

O'Neil, Once Falcon Shortstop, Gets Fast Start With Hollywood

(Bob Panella, baseball writer of the Hollywood Citizen-News, is author of this feature story on Johnny O'Neil, the first of a string of topnotch shortstops appearing in the Jamestown Falcons uniform. O'Neil was with the Falcons in 1941).

HOLLYWOOD, Calif., April 27 - "You ought to have a birthday every day, Johnny," the manager said as he gave the little infielder a slap on the rump in the dressing room after the game.

The little infielder was Jamestown's Johnny "Scooter" O'Neil, shortstopping in his initial year with the Hollywood Stars, and the deliverer of the rump blow was Fred Haney, the Stars' manager.

And quite a birthday it was to, for O'Neil. The diminutive shortstop really celebrated his 29th birthday in fine style. The box score for April 19 attested to that.

O'Neil rapped out four hits, including a triple for a perfect night at the plate, drove in two runs and performed as usual flawlessly in the field.

Although Hollywood fans have known Johnny little less than a month as a member of the Stars, the colorful little guy is no stranger to Pacific Coast League fans in general, or Star fans in particular.

Since leaving Jamestown in 1941, O'Neil has spent six of the subsequent eight yeas in the coast circuit. During that time he's built up quite a following, primarily because of his spectacular fielding.

Haney Bid Early

Haney thought so much of O'Neil that one of his first official acts as Star manager was to bid for Johnny, who had been playing the last two seasons with the Seattle club, also of the coast league.

Just how badly Haney wanted O'Neil can be measured by the fact he gave up his top starting hurler, Rugger Ardizoia, to bring Johnny to the Film City.

And thus far, Johnny has justified the price in spades!

Teaming up with second baseman Gene Handley this season O'Neil has been instrumental in booting the Stars up from dead last in the double play department last season to first this year, and in the process, gave the local fans a lavish display of dipsy-do in the field.

But to get back for a moment to Johnny's birthday eve in the Hollywood clubhouse: O'Neil smiled a little and rubbed his chin when the subject of Jamestown came up.

Although he admitted to a heckuva lot of pleasant memories about his days with the Jamestown club, he slyly said he wanted to make it clear his most pleasant one was meeting the girl he married there.

"Gee, yeah," said Johnny, "That was quite a baseball town. We really had a good club that year, we won the pennant. That was the first year of the new ball park, too," he added.

"I got a watch from Manager Greg Mulleavy, too, for being the most popular player. Don't know why," he added as an afterthought, "I only batted around .285, and didn't do anything spectacular, just got out there and carried a glove."

"Hey," said Chuck Stevens the Stars' first baseman, who gave a listen to the conversation. "Hey Johnny, ya still got that watch?"

O'Neil laughed and shot back, "Sure thing! And it still works fine too."

That birthday night here was particularly pleasant for O'Neil especially so since he himself rates getting base hits as the toughest thing in baseball.

Well, Naturally

In the course of conversation Johnny confided that his greatest thrill in baseball was in helping to win a couple of pennants for Jamestown and the other for Portland in 1945.

On the personal history side of the ledger, Johnny moved onto Pittsfield in the Canadian-American League after he left Jamestown. A .297 batting year there and he was shipped to Portland in the coast league, where he remained from 1943 to 1945.

It was in 1945 that he had his best year in the batters box, pelting the ball at a .315 clip. As a result of this one year, O'Neil was acquired by the Philadelphia Phils.


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