Conlan had a brief career as an AL outfielder but was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1974 as an umpire. His first stint of umpiring came by accident. When regular AL umpire Red Ormsby was overcome by heat during a 1935 Browns-White Sox game, Conlan, a Chicago reserve, filled in. The next year, he launched his new career as an ump.
He umpired in the NL for 25 years, starting in 1941. His trademarks were his quick grin, polka dot tie, and balloon chest protector. He was allowed to continue using the outside protector for five years after the NL adopted the inside protector for its umps because he was at risk from being hit in the throat by pitches.
The spunky Irishman had many run-ins with NL managers, particularly firebrands Leo Durocher and Frankie Frisch. In a 1955 game he was suffering from an attack of arthritis and found it difficult to bend to see low pitches. When he called a strike on Jackie Robinson on a pitch nearly in the dirt, “Robinson seemed so honestly shocked over the call,” Conlan said, “I figured I must have missed it. I didn’t want any more like that.” Rather than make another mistake, he left the field.