Harry O'Neill, Township Clerk

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Ridgetown -- New York Yankee slugger Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, instead of cursing Los Angeles pitchers for their strikeouts in the World Series, perhaps should look a little deeper.

The Yankee had trouble hitting, particularly balls breaking low and away from the strike zone - the perfectly thrown "slider".

Admittedly credit should go to the Dodger's pitches and their control, but it also can be partially shared with the developer of the pitch.

Canada may not have been able to claim much in contributing to the United States game of baseball, but can boast the originator of one of the most effective pitches. Ontario, Kent County and Ridgetown can also boast, for the developer was J.H. O'Neill, Howard Township Clerk.

A former Philadelphia Athletic under Connie back in the American League, he admits that it was by a fluke that he discovered the pitch.

Throwing batting practice in Boston with the Athletics prior to the 1922 contest, his teammates complained bitterly that the ball sailed. He assured Mack he was merely trying to take the "hop" off the fast ball to let his hitters connect.

A public school teacher in Western Canada before World War I and the start of his professional career, he taught only two teammates how to throw the pitch, and they kept it to themselves until retiring. "It was our bread and butter pitch" he explained.

Mack was impressed with the Canadian pitcher right from his first glimpse of him, in a tryout arranged in Detroit by Bill Shaw of Windsor, while he was playing with the "chicks" there.

Assigned by the A's for seasoning in Augusta in the Sally League in August, Mr. O'Neill quickly hit his stride, winning his fourth game in five starts with a 1-0, no-hit decision over Greenville.

Always with a better than .500 percentage win-loss record at the end of the season, his records show his battering average as high as .350.

A second try with the American League Club in 1923 failed when he had arm trouble at an inopportune time. But he was colorful, and the hero when ever he played. Sold to Salt Lake City in the Utah Idaho League, he led the club from both the mound and the dugout as manager. They won division honours in his first year at the reins.

Injured in a car crash near the end of the 1927 season having had his hip broken, he returned to baseball for one more year, guiding Boise, Idaho before retiring.

The last batter to face him went down via the strikeout route. The victim was Lefty Gomez.

Ty Cobb, Al Simmons, Lefty O'Doul, Jimmy Dykes, Cy Perkins, Ed Rommel, Frank Crossett, Dutch Leonard and Ike Boone are among other baseball greats the Howard Township native played with and against.

On O'Neill's way up, he played the Michigan Ontario Baseball League, the International League and was on two consecutive provincial championship clubs in Medicine Hat, Alta.

He played a key part in the championship for the 1st Reserve Battalion in the Canadian forces overseas competition in Europe, in 1919.

With his baseball career over, he and his wife farmed in Howard Township, while raising their eight children, some of whom are as far away as Washington.

Township Clerk in the Kent East Municipality for 30 years, he advises councils in making decisions and striking out budgets.

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Transcribed from the records of Mrs. Geo. S. Brien, Rural Ridgetown Women's Institute.
2004-10-29