Born in England, Tom Connolly didn’t want to play baseball; when his family settled in Natick, MA, and he learned about the game, Connolly wanted to be an umpire. The 5’7″ 135-lb Connolly worked local games until he was spotted by Tim Hurst, a legendary National League umpire. Hurst recommended Connolly to sportswriter Tim Murnane, who was running the Class B New England League. Murnane hired Connolly in 1894, and in 1898 Connolly moved up to the National League. When the NL failed to support him in a showdown with a player, Connolly resigned midway through the 1900 campaign. Although Connie Mack had never seen Connolly umpire, he had heard enough about him to recommend Ban Johnson hire him for the new American League. Three of the inaugural 1901 season’s openers were rained out, so when the lone game was played between Chicago and Cleveland, with Connolly its sole umpire, he could claim the distinction of having umpired the first AL game. He also umpired the first World Series in 1903.
Connolly earned a reputation for fearlessly ejecting hometown heroes when circumstances required. In his first AL season, he was challenged by Baltimore pitcher Joe McGinnity, who spit in his face. The league backed Connolly and suspended McGinnity. However, when Connolly failed to respond sufficiently after St. Louis outfielder Jesse Burkett punched a rival manager in the nose, he was reprimanded by Ban Johnson. Taking the hint, Connolly bounced ten players in his maiden season. After that, his reputation was enough to quell disturbances before they got out of hand. Ty Cobb said later that he learned to stop arguing when Tom’s neck turned red. The last player Connolly tossed was Babe Ruth, in 1922. It was the last time Ruth was ejected. Ruth grew incensed by the taunts of a spectator, and started to climb into the stands. Connolly, nearly 100 pounds lighter and seven inches shorter than Ruth, blocked the Babe’s path and scolded, “You should be ashamed of yourself,” while escorting him off the field.
Connolly continued as an active umpire until 1931 when, at age 60, he became the chief of staff of American League umpires. He traveled the circuit evaluating and advising arbiters until he was 83. After retiring as Umpire-in-Chief, he served for many years on the Rules Committee. In 1953 Connolly and Bill Klem, his counterpart in the NL, became the first umpires named to the Hall of Fame.