Tom O'Meara

This article was written by David Nemec

Thomas Edward O’Meara was known throughout his short tumultuous life as “Eddie,” a diminutive of his middle name. The younger brother of an Illinois state senator, he was already catching at the age of 16 for the Rivals club in the 1889 Chicago City League, one of the strongest amateur circuits in the Midwest. Born in Chicago on December 12, 1872, he remained with the Rivals through the early summer of 1892, with pitcher Charlie Cady, a veteran of the 1884 Chicago Union Association team, as his principal batterymate, and then first tested the professional waters with Ishpeming-Negaunee of the 1892 Wisconsin-Michigan League before the team disbanded on August 9.

O’Meara’s introductory play-for-pay performance under the tutelage of ex-Chicago second baseman Joe Quest was encouraging enough to induce Ted Sullivan to sign him for the Chattanooga entry in the 1893 Southern League Sullivan planned to manage according to O’Meara’s obit in The Sporting News.1 But there is no record of him playing anywhere professionally that year. He did, however, begin the 1894 campaign with Memphis of the Southern League after being recommended to its manager, Frank Graves, by someone on the Boston National League club according to The Sporting News. O’Meara did enough with Memphis that season to be reserved for 1895 Before the next campaign began Graves was replaced by Charlie Levis who found nothing in his young catcher not to like when O’Meara went 7-for-7 in an early-season game. Some 10 weeks later Memphis disbanded but not before selling O’Meara to Cleveland. Soon after his arrival in the Forest City he came to the unhappy realization that the Spiders had acquired him solely to catch batting practice and in an occasional exhibition game until the team clinched second place and a Temple Cup berth, assuring them of facing the pennant-winning Baltimore Orioles.

Even though Cleveland had two catchers, Chief Zimmer and Jack O’Connor, O’Meara nonetheless regularly traveled with the team as an emergency substitute and batting practice catcher. In early September, after a game in Brooklyn’s Washington Park, he was made the victim of a crude prank commonly played on National League newcomers who had never been to the nation’s largest city before. En route back to the Spiders’ hotel near Broadway in downtown New York, he was duped into getting out of the team’s conveyance while it was still in Brooklyn and was then abandoned when the horses galloped onward while his teammates shouted to him that he was in New York and within easy walking distance of the hotel. O’Meara subsequently struggled in vain for several hours to find Broadway, afraid to ask anyone for directions for fear of being mocked since he was carrying his glove and mask under his arm. Two months later The Sporting News proclaimed him “one of the luckiest men alive” in that he’d played only one game with Cleveland, yet had drawn three months’ salary and a full Temple Cup share, which amounted to “$533.33.”2 O’Meara’s lone appearance in a National League game had not even been a full contest. On September 29, 1895, at Louisville he relieved O’Connor behind the bat late in the fray and went 0-for-1, walked, and scored a run in a 13-8 loss to the Colonels’ rookie sensation Tom McCreery. Even though he then sat idle for the remainder of the season, he could boast that winter of playing on the first major-league champion representing Cleveland when the Spiders needed only five games to win the Temple Cup, four games to one.

After opening the 1896 season with Cleveland, O’Meara was loaned to Fort Wayne in late April, raising a hullabaloo when the Inter-State League tried to bar him since he was still Cleveland property. To avoid a protracted legal showdown, Cleveland player-manager Pat Tebeau grudgingly welcomed him back to the Forest City in July for a few last games in the show, including his finale on July 22 at Cleveland when, in one of his rare full-game appearances, he caught Nig Cuppy and went 2-for-5 in a 15-9 win over Washington’s Les German.

By August 1896, O’Meara was back in Fort Wayne, where he would remain for all but a few games until the finish of his active playing days. In 1898, his final season, he served for most of the season as the seventh-place Indians’ player-manager and hit .255 on the year in 130 games while playing more at first base or in the outfield than behind the bat. The following spring, on April 22, Markwell (first name unknown), Fort Wayne’s Sporting Life correspondent relayed: “Manager O’Meara was released outright several weeks ago. The immediate occasion was the securing of (Jack) Glasscock as manager and first baseman. The gentlemen back of the club express dissatisfaction with O’Meara’s services last year. It is justice to him as a manager to say that the players repeatedly testified to his good treatment of them, and to their desire to play good, ball for him. His great trouble was in the fact that the men in one part of the season would not get their pay and as a natural result fell down in their work. He himself had more discouragements than any of the others. As a player O’Meara is in no danger of being replaced. Except for an unreliable arm he would be easily better than any backstop who has played in the Interstate. (Lou) Criger and he caught for us the same year (1897), and while the young Cleveland star was invaluable for his batting, which that year was wonderful, the superiority of O’Meara’s catching was never in doubt. His arm was the only thing which kept him from being at all times the Interstate’s best catcher and it caused him to go to first base. His work there has been appreciated in nearly every town where it has been seen, but Fort Wayne.”3

Markwell’s report is included in its entirety because it tellingly enumerated the chief problems that besieged most player-managers of struggling minor-league franchises in that period along with an accounting of O’Meara’s strengths and weaknesses as a player and in particular as a catcher at a depth rarely found by researchers today for marginal nineteenth century players. After reading it, one might think that O’Meara was so unpopular among Fort Wayners that he could not have gotten out of town fast enough. Yet The Sporting News announced in its April 22, 1899, issue that instead of leaving Fort Wayne by the next train, he had decided to stay in town and operate the Columbia Café, a popular players’ hangout, on a full-time basis rather than continue his baseball career elsewhere.

He was still in business there when he died at age 29 on February 22, 1902, with his brother, the Illinois state senator, at his bedside along with his wife. O’Meara also left a child. Since The Sporting News reported in its obit that the cause of his death was “rheumatism and brain trouble” or fluid on the brain, it seems likely that at least part of the reason he quit playing when he was only 25 can be traced to an early onset of his rheumatoid disabling ailments. A bizarre note we offer as a caution for researchers relying on primary sources: Exactly two months after his death the April 12, 1902, Sporting Life reported: “Among the base ball celebrities wintering in Ft. Wayne are Louis Heilbroner [sic],"Chick" Stahl, Norman Brashear, Al. Fisher, George Nil [sic] and Eddie O’Meara.”

O’Meara’s height and weight are still unknown, but he displayed a fair amount of power at each of his minor league stops, suggesting that he was above average in size. Too, in the 1895 Cleveland team picture he is in the back row, usually the province of the larger men on a team. Though O’Meara reportedly batted right, his arm of choice is also unknown as yet. The September 7, 1895, issue of The Sporting News offered a first glimpse of what was almost certainly the reason he did not have a longer stay in the majors when it said he had a weak arm and was learning to throw “with a different delivery.” Markwell’s evaluation of O’Meara following the 1898 season, his last as an active player, reveals that it was a flaw he never overcame.

 

Sources

This biography is an expanded version of one that appeared in David Nemec's The Rank and File of 19th Century Major League Baseball (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2012).

In assembling this biography I made extensive use of Sporting Life and The Sporting News for details of O’Meara’s professional baseball career, 1892-1898. O’Meara’s major- and minor-league statistics came from www.baseball-reference.com.

 

Notes

1 The Sporting News, February 22, 1902.

2 The Sporting News, November 9, 1895.

3 Sporting Life, April 15, 1899.