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Jim O'Rourke, Baseball Hall of Famer
(Excerpt from An Irish Odyssey- History of the Family of O'Rourke by Stephen V. O'Rourke 'Jim O'Rourke-Baseball Pioneer')

In the annals of baseball history few   players have a chapter as unique as James Henry O'Rourke (1850-1919)
Born on September 1,1850 to first generation Irish immigrants in East   Bridgeport, Connecticut  Jim O'Rourke was the first of two sons, his brother  John being born in 1853. Both sons would grow up essentially fatherless as   the senior Mr. O'Rourke would die shortly after John's birth, leaving the two   young sons to be raised by their widowed mother. Raising the two boys was in   addition to running the O'Rourke farm and as soon as the boys were able they   were enlisted into the farming chores by their mother. Their free time being   devoted to that new game sweeping the country, base-ball.

At the age of fifteen Jim O'Rourke began his life long associaction with   organized base-ball by joining the Bridgeport Unions, a year later he joined   one of the regions outstanding amateur clubs The Middletown Mansfields. Five   years later in 1872 the Mansfields became a professional club. Before the   Mansfields manager Ben Douglas could get Jim O'Rourke's signature on a   professional contract however he was informed by Jim's mother that a   replacement farm hand would have to be provided at the O'Rourke homestead.   One was found by Mr. Douglas and after this early base-ball transaction the   career of James Henry began in earnest.

That first year would not be successful, at least not for the Mansfields.   They would win only five of their twenty-four league games and would be   forced to disband at the seasons end. O'Rourke however had made an   impression, andwith the right folks. He'd played extremely well against the   champion Boston Red Stockings (late of Cinicinnati) and before the start of   the 1873 season was offered a contract from the Boston manager,baseball   pioneer Harry Wright. The twenty-two year old O'Rourke was flattered, and   after dutifully conferring with his amiable mother a contract with Boston was   signed.

Exhilirated at joining a new team, in a new city, O'Rourke delved into the   game and helped Boston to three straight championships. Although initially   there was some slight anxiety shown by Manager Wright as to how well   Puritanical Boston would take to the Irishman from Bridgeport. Wright made   the suggestion that O'Rourke alter the spelling in his surname to something   more English looking, like Roarke or Rorke. The "orator" would have  none of it. "Not in a million years. I'd rather die than give up part of   my father's name." he declared. And so it remaned O'Rourke.

As the 1870's progressed and the sport of base-ball evolved into a more   stable entity so too did the person of James Henry O'Rourke. At the urging of   his mother O'Rourke used his base-ball earnings to further his education.   Possesedwith a keen intellect he took up the study of law and eventually   earned a degree from the prestigious Yale Law School in New Haven. With his   degree he opened a private practive back in Bridgeport, a practice that would   serve as his alternative career straight up until his death.

Matrimony would   also be part of O'Rourke's undertakings during this time and he'd eventually   raise a family of eight children (seven would be daughters!) at the O'Rourke   homestead in East Bridgeport. Always community minded O'Rourke would don the   caps of Fire, Sewer and Paving Commissioner in the town of Bridgeport as   well.
By 1876 the existing professional baseball teams had incorporated   themselves into the National League of Baseball, a more solid organization than   its predeccesor the National Association. In the first game in National   League history played between Boston and Philadelphia on April 22, 1876 Jim   O'Rourke got the first basehit, a sharp line-drive to left, the first of over   2300 he would rack up in his 19 year career.

Three more successful seasons in Boston were followed in 1879 with a move   to Providence and another championship. Meanwhile back in Boston another   O'Rourke, Jim's younger brother John had followed in his footsteps and   dazzled the Boston crowd with his impressive hitting skills. John in fact led   the league in several categories that year and became a fan favorite. Despite   winning the championship in Providence Jim saw the possibilties of playing   along side his brother on the same field and returned to the Red Stockings   for the 1880 season. Together the two brothers became celebrities, the   Chicago Tribune calling them "two fastidious young men."These were   the days when ball players were virtual folk heros, when an uproar was caused   by the Boston owner when he instituted a clause into the player's contract,   essentially forcing them to pay for their own uniforms, the "O'Rourke   fan club" came to the brothers aid providing them with the $40 fee.

The union of the two brothers would be shortlived however. John would   injure himself by stepping in a hole in the Boston outfield, severely   dislocating his ankle and cutting his baseball career short but a year later.   Jim meanwhile, his popularity rising as he tied for the National League   homerun title in 1880, was offered the managerial post out in Buffalo and for   the next four seasons held down the reins there on a team that included such   l9th century stars as Dan Brouthers, Pud Galvin and Deacon White. Jim himself   would have one of the finest seasons of his career in Buffalo, winning the   batting championship in 1884 with a .350 average. But Buffalo would never   finish higher than third place and the championship minded O'Rourke longed to   be back in the limelight and back closer to his family in East Bridgeport.

O'Rourke would get his wish in 1885 when Jim Mutrie, the manager of the famed   New York Giants, offered him a contract. Jim needed little prodding, this   Giant team featured no less than six future Hall of Famers, and all including   O'Rourke were in peak form at this point in their careers. Buck Ewing, Roger   Connor, Monte Ward, Tim Keefe and Smilin' Mickey Welch all excelled on that   great Giant team of the 1880's, winning two hard fought championships in 1888   and 1889.

Fellow lawyer and close personal friend Monte Ward was the leading figure   in the formation of the first players union, known as "The   brotherhood". In 1890 Ward orchestrated one of the games greatest   victories over the dictatorial owners by launching the Players League.; a   league owned and operated by the players themselves. Virtually the entire   Giant team crossed over to the new league including Jim O'Rourke who   responded with his highest batting average of his career, a hefty .366.   Finances however weren't as hefty for the new league and the Players League   ceased to exist when 1891 dawned.

Along with Ward and Albert Spaulding Jim O'Rourke provided the game with a   sort of high brow intellect persona which countered the games other styles of   the day,'ie. drinking and gambling. From his days of managing Jim left us   this memorable quote when asked by one of his players for a pay increase.   ";I'm sorry, but the exigencies of the occassion and the condition of our   exchequer will not permit anything of the sort at this period of our   existence. Subsequent developments in the field of finance may remove the   present gloom and we may emerge into a condition where we may see fit to   reply in the affirmative to your exceedingly modest request." In other   words, "no".

After the demise of the Players League O'Rourke and most of the rest of   the stars that had fled the National League returned to their former clubs in   1891. After two more succesful seasons with the Giants O'Rourke left for   Washington D.C. in 1893 where he both managed and played the outfield . It   was to be his last full year in the Major Leagues. Much to his chagrin his   career would end on a down note as his Washington Nationals finished dead   last.
This last place finish would haunt O`Rourke in the years ahead but   wouldn't diminish his love and affiliation with the game throughout the rest   of the 1890's.

In 1894 he became a National League umpire but finding the   work not to his liking he returned to Bridgeport and established a minor   league team in the Bridgeport Victors. Along with the team came a new league,   the Victor League, formed by O'Rourke and fellow prominent businessmen of the   area. Later the league would be renamed the Connecticut League and survives   to this day as the Eastern League

Life with the Bridgeport Victors was a dream come true for O'Rourke. He   now was able to oversee the entire running of a baseball franchise and as the   team's stadium was carved out of the old family farm land he was able to even   take charge of the field's maintenance, a chore to many but a delight to the   energetic Uncle Jeems,as he was now known. "Uncle Jeems" over saw   much of the running of the young Victor League serving as the leagues   treasurer in addition to donning a uniform and playing alongside the Victor   ballplayers of the day which included his son James Stephen "Queenie" O'Rourke, future Major League shortstop with the New York Highlanders.
As the new century dawned O'Rourke remained a popular figure in the   affairs of the Victor League and among the community of his hometown of   Bridgeport. one thing however remained on the back of his mind: that last   place finish back in 1893.

He yearned to go out a winner, to play his final   Major League game on a Champion. Finally in 1904 he made his move, down to   New York he travelled to the office of his old friend, the Giant Manager John   McGraw. McGraw was his own man and not easy to sway but he found O'Rourke's   plea to be a noble one, afterall was it not O'Rourke who'd help the Giants to   their original glory back in the 1880's with clutch hitting and steady   fielding. Yes O'Rourke could play one more game for the Giants, he would   catch and bat 7th in the first game of the September 21, doubleheader.

In typical storybook fashion O'Rourke's last game was memorable. In four   trips to the plate he got one basehit, scored a run and was the oldest   batterymate in Major League history to the pitcher, "Iron Man"Joe   McGinnity. It was the Giants 100th victory of the season and secured their   championship status. Uncle Jeems had fulfilled his wish on his own particular   "field of dreams" and had concluded his playing career on a   National League Champion.

His full schedule with the Victor League, now the Eastern League, was   maintained throughout the remainder of the decade, a hectic pace that   O'Rourke would eventually give up on advice from his doctor after a severe   illness in the winter of 1909. In 1910 he sold his beloved Victors and also   made his final appearance as a player, at the age of 59, concluding a period   of 36 consecutive seasons in which he played in at least one game.

The "Orator" would spend his final years in his hometown of   Bridgeport, continuing his legal practice and being briefly employed as a   consultant for the National League. He died on January 8, 1919 of pnuemonia   after a long walk home in a snowstorm from one of his clients. In 1945 Jim   O'Rourke, a man whose career spanned four decades, included a career batting   average of .310, over 2300 basehits, stints as manager, umpire, League   President and owner, was elected into the The Baseball Hall of Fame in   Cooperstown, New York.

James Henry O'Rourke (1850-1919). The first man to get a basehit in Major League history and the oldest man, at age 54, as well. Jim aka Orator O'Rourke, aka Uncle Jeems, played professional ball until he was 60 and appeared as a player in 36 consecutive seasons. In total he had over 2300 hits and a .314 average. A Yale graduate, O'Rourke was one of the highest paid players of his day, earning some $4500 per season.
Jim O'Rourke'scareer statistics can be found at this interesting site.
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