By Len "Muddy" Mardeusz
O’Neill’s longest term as player/catcher was with Cleveland. Later he played for Boston, New York and St.Louis. His life time batting average was .263 In1,586 games. In the 1920 World Series with Cleveland he hit .333. His career in baseball almost ended during traffic accident. Steve recovered and decided to try managing. He started managing various minor league teams. In 1943, the Detroit Tigers hired him to manage the Detroit Tigers. Several key players includingtheir hot shot 2nd baseman Charlie Gehringer joined the U.S. Armed forces. As with most baseball clubs at this time fielding a team with talented players like the “luck of the draw”. True some good players remained due to 4-F health issues but not many.
President Roosevelt encouraged that baseball continue for the moral of the people. Steve O’Neill was an experienced manger. He knew at he had as far as players. It was a mixture of rookies, some veteran guys and a decent pitching staff. Steve O’Neill was not under any misguided illusion. His job was to get the most of what he had. In 1943, finished in 5th place out of 8 teams. In the ‘44 season, the Tigers lost 6 players to the Armed service including pitchers Tommy Bridges and Fireball Virgil Trucks. Still with some new rookie blood and capable veterans O’Niell was able to put a consistent spark into the team. Hal Newhouser won 29 games. Veteran Dizzy Trout had his best season winning 27 game. 1st baseman Rudy York also rose to the occasion batting .278, he drove in 98 runs. The Tiger’s missed winning the American League Pennant by one game.
The 1944 season gave real hope to the fans in Detroit. They were ready for the start of the 1945 season. Slugger Hank Greenberg returned for service for 78 games. The Tiger’s acguired Roy Cullebine from Cleveland. 2nd baseman Eddie Mayo developed into a steady hitter as did veteran Roger Cramer. Pitchers Hal Newhouser, Al Benton and Dizzy Trout were steadfastly consistent. Hank Greenberg hit .311 in only 78 games. At the close of the season Detroit out paced Washington by one game 88 to 87 clinching the American League pennant. Now the Tigers faced the powerful Chicago Cubs for the World Series championship. Virgil Trucks and Dizzy Trout each pitched a winning game. But “Prince” Hal Newhouser won two games giving the Tigers the World Series. The people of Detroit were ecstatic to say the least. Steve O’Niell and the team brought home the World Series flag.
In 1946, the Tigers returned to Lakeland Florida for spring training. As league play started there were high hopes for a Tiger repeat as AL pennant winners. Unfortunately, the old sports bugaboo of injuries hit the Tigers throughout the season. Outfielder Hoot Evers collided with 2nd baseman Eddie Mayo sending both players with serious injuries. They were sidelined for most of the season. During
the season others players suffered minor injuries. Still key players did much to contribute to a tight pennant race. Hank Greenberg belted 44 Home Runs and 127 RBI’s. Newcomer George Kell, batted .322. But the Boston Red Sox ran away from the pack and first place with 104 wins. Detroit ended with 92. In 1947, the Tigers waivers Hank Greenberg to Pittsburg. The season saw a slippage in some player performance age was catching up to them. The only real stellar performance came from George Kell, he batted .322 and drove in 93 runs. Pitching also suffered as only Fred Hutchinson had a 18-10 season.
1948 saw a complete collapse of the aging Detroit Tigers as they dropped to 5th place. Still Steve O’Neill, who was released after the ‘48 season never had a losing team record. His teams never performed under .500. Over the course of his seasons as the Detroit Tigers manager Steve O’Neill’s over all winning percentage was .551. That placed him at #22 in percentage of wins. O’Neill was inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame.