Ridgetown’s Harry O’Neill Was The Inventor Of Baseball’s ‘Slider’ Pitch
When you wade back through Chatham-Kent’s sports history, there are many stories that will surprise you.
One of those, has to do with the “slider.”
No, not a delicious miniature burger, we’re talking about the hard-to-hit baseball pitch.
Several pitchers in Major League Baseball history have been well known for their slider including David Cone, CC Sabathia, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Rollie Fingers, and Steve Carlton.
The pitch however, is said to have originated in Ridgetown, Ontario, invented by a man named Harry O’Neill.
Now this fact is debated. Some will attribute the pitch to Charles “Chief” Bender, others will credit George Uhle, still others will credit George Blaeholder; but in the middle of this discussion, is always Ridgetown’s Harry O’Neill.
Following high school, Harry O’Neill attended the University of Toronto, and soon found himself in the Canadian Army. In 1919, O’Neill helped the Canadian Expeditionary Force team win a team championship while playing in London, England.
After World War I, O’Neill returned to Canada and travelled to Alberta, where he won another title, this time pitching for the Medicine Hat Monarchs. His big break however came in 1921 when he was scouted while playing for the Windsor Chicks.
In 1922, O’Neill was signed by Connie Mack to play for the Philadelphia Athletics. He made his Major League Baseball debut that year, and also suited up for the Athletics in 1923.
It was while pitching with the Athletics, that O’Neill is said to have discovered the “slider.” While throwing for batting practice, his teammates asked O’Neill to some easy pitches over the plate. Trying to take some speed off his fastball, O’Neill adjusted his grip, and his pitches, although slightly slower, started cutting across the plate. When Hall of Fame manager Connie Mack came out to investigate, he told O’Neill to “find out what it is and don’t stop doing it.”
The bulk of his professional career however, was spent in the minor leagues, where he flashed his patented slider pitch in cities including Augusta, Salt Lake City, Shreveport, Dallas, Hollywood, and Boise. In Augusta, O’Neill famously threw a no hitter.
Had it not been for a car accident, where his hip was injured during his second season with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1923, O’Neill and his pioneering pitch may have had a much longer Major League career.
At the tail end of his playing days, O’Neill spent two seasons as a minor league manager for the Salt Lake Bees in 1927 and Boise Senators in 1928. During those years, O’Neill was known to insert himself into the lineup when needed.
Upon his retirement, Harry O’Neill returned to Chatham-Kent, where he worked for Howard Township. O’Neill passed away in 1969 at age 76, but his slider still lives in the Major Leagues.
By Ian Kennedy