Class of 2016
CRBL: Leif’s Conoco Oilers 1952-53
ECCBL: Eau Claire Tommy Millers 1960-62
With his induction in to the CRBL Hall of Fame, lefty Denny O’Melia should be remembered as one of the most overwhelmingly dominant and superbly talented amateur pitchers to ever toe the rubber in Northwest Wisconsin.
Denny’s rookie year of amateur baseball came in 1952 when he logged a modest 3.1 innings in Chippewa Valley League play for the Leif’s Conoco Oilers of Eau Claire. Denny’s incredible talent began to shine in 1953 when he led the CVL with 100 strikeouts in 66.1 innings pitched while tying for the circuit lead in the categories of wins (7), winning percentage (1.000), and shutouts (1). In compiling a 2.04 ERA that season, O’Melia was also part of the league’s 10th no-hitter as he and teammate Jim Rogneby combined to no-hit Fall Creek 11-2. The slender lefty’s sizzling fastball and big breaking curve quickly caught the attention of professional scouts. Before the summer of 1953 was over, Denny had signed and debuted with the hometown Eau Claire Bears, who at the time were affiliated with Milwaukee Braves.
After serving in the military from 1954 to 1956, Denny was signed by the Kansas City Athletics. Rising quickly through the A’s ranks, O’Melia received an invite to the Athletics major league spring camp in 1957. In playing for three organizations (Milwaukee Braves, Kansas City Athletics, Cincinnati Reds) across three levels (Single A, Double A, Triple A) within six seasons as a professional (1953, 1954, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960), O’Melia’s pro numbers include 114 appearances, 35 wins, 31 losses, a .530 winning percentage, 512 innings pitched, 506 strikeouts, and a 4.82 ERA. Denny is also on record as having multiple 20 strikeout games as a pro and also throwing a no-hitter for the Missoula Timberjacks (Double A, Cincinnati Reds) in 1960.
After throwing 3.1 innings for the Eau Claire Tommy Millers of the Eau Claire Classic League in 1960, Denny returned full-time to the amateur ranks in 1961 with terrific dominance. As player/pitcher/manager for the Millers, the smooth lefty posted a 1.96 ERA and led the ECCBL in innings pitched with 119.1, strikeouts with 186, wins with 12, a winning percentage of .800, and shutouts with 4. O’Melia’s overall totals from 1961 – ECCBL games and non-league games combined – were astounding. In 152.1 innings, he struck out 231 batters while posting a 16 and 3 record with 5 shutouts, a 1-hitter, and a no-hitter all while walking just 47 batters. Unofficially, the 231 K’s are an Eau Claire baseball record for a single-season of pitching.
Fueled by O’Melia’s dynamic left arm, the 1961 Tommy Millers went a ECCBL best 13 and 5 and swept the Eau Claire Twin City Sports 2 games to 0 in the ECCBL championship series. In the game one 6-0 victory, O’Melia threw a 5-inning, 1-hit shutout with 12 K’s. In the game two clincher, O’Melia mowed down 20 Sports in the nine-inning, 5-2 victory. The Millers would go on to win the 1961 WBA championship with a 5 and 1 tournament record, beating Pepin at New Richmond to clinch the title. True to form, O’Melia went 2 and 0 with two complete game WBA victories, striking out 24 in 18 innings while giving up 3 earned runs (1.50 ERA) and allowing 8 hits.
1962 was O’Melia’s last year playing baseball full-time in the Chippewa Valley, and he did nothing but fortify his place as one of the largest baseball giants to ever come out of this area. Again acting as player/pitcher/manager for the Tommy Millers, Denny continued to own the ECCBL. In 58.1 league innings, the standout southpaw had an ERA of 1.08, struck out 87, led the ECCBL with 7 wins and a .875 winning percentage (7 wind and 1 loss) while also tying for the lead in saves and shutouts with 1 apiece. In staking the outright ECCBL championship with a 9 and 2 record, O’Melia and the Millers rolled in to the WBA only to lose in the title game 6-5 to Pepin at Cushing. Despite being the losing pitcher in the championship, O’Melia was named to the 1962 All-WBA team after earlier hurling a 2-0 shutout, logging 18 tournament innings, striking out 31, and giving up 4 earned runs (2.00 ERA) while allowing 12 hits.
Denny would go on to pursue teaching and baseball coaching jobs at Winter (1962-65) and Chetek (1966-68) high schools before taking a position in Inver Heights, MN at Inver Hills Community College where he started the baseball program in 1970 and remained the head coach for the next nine seasons.
O’Melia’s playing days were far from over, however. Pitching for the Barron town team out of the Barron County League, Lefty propelled the Barron team to their lone WBA championship in 1965 when they captured the Class B crown. Denny was named the outstanding pitcher for Class B as he threw a no-hitter, had 2 complete game wins, made 3 appearances, pitched 21 innings, and gave up only 3 knocks.
The connection O’Melia made in the minors brought him back to the pro ranks in 1975 when Minnesota Twins manager Gene Mauch called upon him to act as a batting practice pitcher, specifically when the Twins were to face a left-handed hurler. For the next five years, Denny toed the rubber at old Met Stadium to fill the role of “Scout Team Lefty” for Minnesota.
In a strong testament to the type of enduring skill and devotion O’Melia possessed, the great lefty pitched in to his mid-60’s for the highly competitive Exeland Braves semi-pro squad, thus crafting a pitching career that qualitatively stretched across five decades, beginning in the 1950’s and finishing in the 1990’s.
In just two full-time seasons of play in the ECCBL, Denny stands as the league’s all-time leader in shutouts (5), winning percentage (.826, 19 wins vs. 4 losses), and K/9 IP (13.82).
Although his stop in CRBL history amounted to only five seasons, the brevity of his existence should not minimize the certainty that O’Melia was a super nova pitching talent rarely seen at any amateur baseball level. Upon induction, the Chippewa River Baseball League Hall of Fame officially acknowledges Denny O’Melia as one of the greatest baseball individuals the league will ever know.