Born in Manchester, England, Thomas Henry Connolly (1870-1961) came to America at age 15. Upon settling with his family in Natick, Massachusetts, he observed that the most popular game in town was one that he hadn't seen played before.
Learning it was called baseball, he discovered that while he had no overwhelming desire to play it, he nevertheless found it fascinating. Acquiring a book of rules, he studied them until he knew enough about the game that he began to be called on to umpire.
Tom Connolly flourishes the typical
umpire's garb of his time.
National League umpire Tim Hurst spotted Connolly officiating amateur games and recommended Tommy to Tim Murnane, a former major-leaguer who was then the president of the New England League. After four seasons in the minor-league circuit, Connolly graduated to the National League in 1898.
On the small and quiet side, Connolly quit the senior circuit during the 1900 season because he felt that umpires didn't get sufficient support from league moguls in disputes with unruly players. He came out of his brief retirement to join the newly formed American League the following year, after Connie Mack recommended him to loop president Ban Johnson, who had pledged that umpires in the young circuit would receive his full backing.
Connolly had the honor of umpiring the first American League game on April 24, 1901, between Chicago and Cleveland. In 1903, he was selected to umpire in the first modern World Series between Boston and Pittsburgh.
Unobtrusive but stern when he had to be, Connolly umpired a total of eight World Series and 34 seasons in the majors. He took great pride in his ability to placate even the most hot-headed players and seldom resorted to ejection. The last player he benched was Babe Ruth in 1922 (it was Ruth's last ejection as well).
After retiring as an umpire, Connolly took on a newly created position as the chief of staff of American League umpires. Attending games to watch his umpiring crews at work, Connolly remained in the post of overseer until 1954 (he was 83 years old at the time). The previous year, he and Bill Klem were the first umpires selected for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Connolly died at his home in Natick on April 25, 1961.
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