Jim O'Rourke (baseball)
September 1, 1850|
|Died: January 8, 1919
|April 26, 1872, for the Middletown Mansfields|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 22, 1904, for the New York Giants|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Member of the National|
|Baseball Hall of Fame|
|Election Method||Veteran's Committee|
James Henry O'Rourke (September 1, 1850 – January 8, 1919), nicknamed "Orator Jim", was an American professional baseball player in the National Association and Major League Baseball who played primarily as a left fielder. For the period 1876–1892, he ranks behind only Cap Anson in career major league games played (1644), hits (2146), at-bats (6884), doubles (392) and total bases (2936), and behind only Harry Stovey in runs scored (1370). (Stovey was a younger player. Anson played five seasons and O'Rourke four prior to 1876.)
O'Rourke was born in East Bridgeport, Connecticut, and worked on his family's farm while playing youth league and semi-pro baseball. He began his professional career as a member of the Middletown Mansfields in 1872, joining the one-year-old National Association team as a catcher. The Mansfields were not a top-tier team, and folded in August, but O'Rourke had impressed other teams sufficiently enough to be offered a contract with the Boston Red Stockings, with whom he played until 1878. On April 22, 1876, O'Rourke had the first base hit in National League history.
He graduated from Yale Law School in 1887 with an LL.B., practicing law in Bridgeport between early playing stints, and earning the nickname "Orator Jim" because of his verbosity on the field, his intellect, and his law degree—uncommon in a game regarded as a rough immigrant sport at the time.
After leaving the major leagues following the 1893 season he continued to play in the minor leagues until he was over 50 years old. As an executive of the Bridgeport team in the Connecticut League, in 1895 O'Rourke hired the first African American minor league baseball player in history.
In 1904, he made a final appearance with the New York Giants under manager and friend John McGraw, becoming at age 54 the oldest player ever to appear in the National League, and the oldest player to hit safely in a major league game. O'Rourke is one of only 29 players in baseball history to appear in Major League games in four decades.
O'Rourke died of pneumonia at age 68 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945 as one of the earliest inductees from the 19th century. His older brother John O'Rourke and his son James "Queenie" O'Rourke also played in the majors.
One legend concerning O'Rourke is that he was asked to drop the "O'" from his last name when he signed a contract with Boston and its Protestant backers. The son of Irish immigrants and the husband of a woman born in Ireland, O'Rourke refused, saying "I would rather die than give up my father's name. A million dollars would not tempt me."
Another legend about O'Rourke is that his signing by the Mansfields in 1872 was conditioned on the team finding someone to take over O'Rourke's chores on his parents' farm.
"O'Rourke has made a brilliant record for himself as an outfielder, being an excellent judge of a ball, a swift runner, and making the most difficult running catches with the utmost ease and certainty. As a thrower, too, he stands pre-eminent, being credited with a throw of 365 feet, the next to the longest yet accomplished by any player."— The Sporting Life
- List of Major League Baseball career hits leaders
- List of Major League Baseball career doubles leaders
- List of Major League Baseball career triples leaders
- List of Major League Baseball career runs scored leaders
- List of Major League Baseball career runs batted in leaders
- List of Major League Baseball career stolen bases leaders
- List of Major League Baseball players to hit for the cycle
- List of Major League Baseball annual home run leaders
- List of Major League Baseball annual runs scored leaders
- List of Major League Baseball annual triples leaders
- List of Major League Baseball player-managers
- List of oldest Major League Baseball players
- List of Major League Baseball players who played in four decades
- New York Times, O'Rourke Becomes a Lawyer, November 6, 1887
- C.J. Hughes, Famous and Forgotten: A Baseball Legend From Bridgeport, New York Times (Aug. 8, 2004)
- Bridgeport Banner, A Fitting Tribute for Orator Jim (Jun. 17, 2009) A Fitting Tribute for Orator Jim
- Meriden Daily Journal, Bostons in Lead: American Race, September 27, 1904
- Detroit Free Press, Old Jim O'Rourke in Giants' Century Win, September 23, 1904
- Scott Gargan, Fairfield News-Times, It’s a Hit: Baseball Exhibit at Fairfield Museum and History Center, June 21, 2010
- New York Times, Holds Record for Playing Baseball, September 14, 1913
- Lewiston Daily Sun, O'Rourke Connected With Baseball Half Century, January 14, 1916
- Lawrence Baldassaro and Richard A. Johnson, eds., The American Game: Baseball and Ethnicity (S. Ill. Univ. Press 2002), pp.61–62