March 16, 1913|
Lima, New York
|Died: December 17, 1985
Lima, New York
|Batted: Left||Threw: Right|
|April 21, 1935 for the Chicago Cubs|
|Last MLB appearance|
|August 6, 1946 for the Boston Braves|
|Runs batted in||323|
|Career highlights and awards|
James Kenneth O'Dea (March 16, 1913 – December 17, 1985) was an American professional baseball player. He played as a catcher in Major League Baseball for the Chicago Cubs (1935–38), New York Giants (1940–41), St. Louis Cardinals (1943–46) and Boston Braves (1946). O'Dea had the misfortune of playing on the same teams alongside some of the best catchers in the National League, which limited his playing time. Although he played most of his career as a backup catcher, O'Dea was considered one of the best defensive catchers in Major League Baseball in the period prior to the Second World War.
A native of Lima, New York, O'Dea began his professional baseball career at the age of 18 in 1931 with the Greensboro Patriots of the Piedmont League. He produced a .333 batting average while playing for the Keokuk Indians in 1932. Although his hitting would taper off, it was his defensive abilities as a catcher that made him stand out. After playing in the minor leagues for four years, he made his major league debut with the Chicago Cubs on April 21, 1935, at the age of 22.
O'Dea performed respectably for the Cubs, serving as a backup catcher to future Baseball Hall of Fame member, Gabby Hartnett. When Hartnett was injured in 1936, O'Dea filled in with solid defensive play as well as hitting for a .307 batting average in 80 games. In 1937 he hit for a .301 average in 83 games. On December 6, 1938, the Cubs traded him along with Frank Demaree and Billy Jurges to the New York Giants for Dick Bartell, Hank Leiber and catcher Gus Mancuso. With the Giants, O'Dea would once again be forced into a substitute role, as he backed up four-time All-Star Harry Danning. After three seasons with the Giants, he was traded on December 11, 1941 along with Bill Lohrman and Johnny McCarthy to the St. Louis Cardinals for Johnny Mize.
The Cardinals also had an All-Star catcher in Walker Cooper, so O'Dea once again found himself in a back up role. When Cooper was inducted into the United States Navy in 1945, O'Dea was finally given the opportunity to be a starting catcher. He made the most of the opportunity, posting career-highs in games played (100), hits (78), runs (36), runs batted in (43) and extra-base hits (24). O'Dea's pitch calling skills helped the Cardinals pitching staff lead the league in shutouts as the team finished the season in second place, three games behind the Chicago Cubs. He also led National League catchers in fielding percentage and in base runners caught stealing, and finished second to Phil Masi in assists. He was selected to be a reserve catcher for the National League team in the 1945 All-Star Game however, the game was cancelled due to wartime travel restrictions. The following season, the 33-year-old O'Dea was traded to the Boston Braves to make room for young catcher, Joe Garagiola. With the Braves, he resumed the role of a backup catcher behind another All-Star, Phil Masi. O'Dea played in his final game on August 6, 1946 at the age of 33.
In a twelve-year major league career, O'Dea played in 832 games, accumulating 560 hits in 2,195 at bats for a .255 career batting average, along with 40 home runs, 323 runs batted in and an on-base percentage of .338. He ended his career with a .983 fielding percentage, which was 4 points higher than the league average during his playing career. O'Dea appeared in five World Series; (1935, 1938, 1942, 1943, 1944), batting .462 (6-for-13) with one home run in post-season play. He was also valuable as a left-handed pinch hitter, leading the National League with 42 pinch-hitting appearances in 1942. Over the span of five World Series appearances, he set a since-broken record of three pinch hits in series competitions.
- "Ken O'Dea statistics". Baseball-reference.com. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
- William, McNeil (2006), Backstop: a history of the catcher and a sabermetric ranking of 50 all-time greats, McFarland Publishing, ISBN 978-0-7864-2177-0
- "Ken O'Dea minor league statistics". Baseball-reference.com. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
- "Cards Trade Johnny Mize To Giants". The St. Petersburg Times. INS. 12 December 1941. p. 15. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
- "Walker Cooper's Induction to Give Ken O'Day Chance". The Milwaukee Journal. Associated Press. 24 April 1945. p. 2. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
- "1945 National League Pitching Statistics". Baseball-reference.com. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
- "1945 National League Fielding Leaders". Baseball-reference.com. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
- "1945 All-Star Game". Baseball Almanac. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
- "Ken O'Dea post-season statistics". Baseball-reference.com. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
- "Sports Roundup". The Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Associated Press. 9 October 1944. p. 6. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
- "Ken O'Dea, played in major leagues 12 years". The Evening Independent. Associated Press. 19 December 1985. p. 20. Retrieved 12 January 2012.