Dick O'Connell was born on September 19, 1914 in Winthrop, Mass. He starred in both baseball and football at Winthrop High School, and went on to play both sports at Boston College. After breaking his leg while playing for the football team, there was little reason to believe a career in professional sports lay ahead. He graduated from B.C. in 1937, where he continued on to earn his master’s degree in Economics the following year.
Dick then took a position at the Sanborn School in Kingston, New Hampshire, serving as the school’s athletic director until America became involved in World War II, which prompted him to join the Navy.
As an officer, Dick worked in Naval Intelligence, serving on the staffs of Admirals Chester Nimitz and Kelly Turner. Between 1943 and 1945, he was involved in the planning of all Pacific invasions, for which he was later awarded the Bronze Star.
Dick held various positions at Fenway over the following decade after the war, including director of park operations, and actually played a role in the Jimmy Fund becoming a Red Sox charity after the Boston Braves moved away. Away from the park he had also become a well-respected college football referee by the late 1950’s, but it was in September 1960, the day before Ted Williams hit his historic final home run, that he received his first major promotion amongst the hierarchy of the Red Sox organization. On that day, Tom Yawkey fired general manager Bucky Harris, officially eliminating the position, and elevated Dick to the title of executive vice-president.
In 1965, Dick became the general manager and had complete control of the makeup of the team. He was ready to put his indelible stamp on the Boston Red Sox. One significant executive hiring that occurred in November of 1965 was to bring in former Red Sox backup catcher Haywood Sullivan as director of player personnel.
Dick had a philosophy of acquiring players that led to a noticeable change in the complexion of the team. In 1966, he was instrumental in promoting several black players up to the major league team, that would help to form the nucleus of the fabled 1967 team, including George Scott, Reggie Smith, and Joe Foy.
It was apparent to Dick that Billy Herman was not a part of the solution. He had met Dick Williams and liked what he heard from him, and spontaneously offered the 37-year-old the Red Sox managerial job, which he accepted. The winds of change were about to blow strongly at Fenway Park.
With the help of farm director Neil Mahoney, Dick started off 1967 by doing a tremendous service to the team’s future by selecting high school catcher Carlton Fisk in the first round of that January’s amateur draft.
One very important veteran presence Dick was able to add, was catcher Elston Howard, acquired from the Yankees in August. Howard brought a wealth of World Series experience and was just what a young pitching staff needed. And one final stroke in the wake of the terrible injury to Tony Conigliaro, was to virtually steal recently-declared free agent outfielder Ken Harrelson.
Dick had overseen an incredible metamorphosis in the Fenway. He had assembled a collection of mostly younger players who added more than just a dash of color and excitement; handed the reins over to a fiery, young, hungry, no-nonsense manager, and watched a team-record 1.7 million faithful fans march through the turnstiles. Dick, who was named by The Sporting News as the Major League Executive of the Year for 1967, does not do justice to the impact he had on a dying baseball franchise.
From late 1967 through late 1969, Dick engineered rather lopsided trades that brought the Sox such quality starting pitchers as Ray Culp, Sonny Siebert, and Gary Peters. He also oversaw the drafting of such amateur stars as Cecil Cooper, Ben Oglivie, Bill Lee, Rick Burleson, and Jim Rice between June of 1968 and June of 1971.
In May of 1971, he took a chance on 30-year-old pitcher Luis Tiant, who had been released by Minnesota after experiencing severe shoulder problems. The 1973 amateur draft yielded Fred Lynn and Butch Hobson, and a trade after the season with St. Louis, added veteran National League hurler Rick Wise and outfielder Bernie Carbo. In January of 1974, the Red Sox selected pitcher Bob Stanley in the amateur draft. Heading into his 10th season as Red Sox G.M in 1975, hel had assembled a team with few weaknesses.
The following season, 1976, Dick made a significant move at the trading deadline in mid-June, in an attempt to catch the Yankees in the A.L East. He took advantage of Athletics’ owner Charles O. Finley’s attempt to sell off star players for cash. Dick purchased ace reliever Rollie Fingers and outfielder/first baseman Joe Rudi for two million dollars. Before the pair could see action with the Red Sox, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn nullified the deal.
Three weeks later, the Red Sox franchise was dealt a tragic blow with the death of longtime owner Tom Yawkey. His will called for the team to be left to a trust, controlled in part by his widow Jean. Though Dick and Mr. Yawkey had always gotten along fine, the same could not be said of the general manager and Mrs. Yawkey.
But Dick had continued making acquisitions in 1976 that would be beneficial to the Red Sox’ future. The team drafted 18-year-old Wade Boggs in the June amateur draft, and made the team’s first major acquisition via the new free agency system with the signing of relief pitcher Bill Campbell. A powerful Red Sox team that had been assembled for 1977 that would lead the American League with an impressive 213 home runs.
In September, with just three games left in the season, it was announced by the trust, owning the team, that the group headed by the trio of Mrs. Yawkey, Haywood Sullivan, and former team trainer Buddy LeRoux was selected as the new team owners. The situation deteriorated between the two because Dick had come to be strongly disliked by Mrs. Yawkey while Sullivan remained very close with her. Less than a month later, in October, Dick was handed a letter by an attorney representing the group informing him that he and two of his top aides were through, effective immediately. Sullivan was named at that time to replace him as the new Red Sox general manager.
At 63 years old, Dick was not yet ready to simply sit at home and collect his severance pay. He engaged in various private business ventures and later went to work for his old friend Red Auerbach as a consultant for the Boston Celtics.
More than a decade would pass, and the Red Sox announced the creation of the team’s own Hall of Fame in 1995. Two years later, when the second class of inductees was named, Dick O’Connell was among them. He was formally inducted in September 1997 at a ceremony that he was pleased to attend.
Dick O'Connell, who had contracted Alzheimer's Disease, passed away in Lexington, Mass, on August 18, 2002 at age 87.