Thomas Patrick O’Malley was born in Orange, New Jersey on December 25, 1960. He attended Montoursville High School (Pennsylvania) and was drafted straight out of high school by the San Francisco Giants (Round 16, 1979 draft). He spent three years working his way through the minors before getting his first call-up to the big team in 1982. That first stint consisted of 92 games played and just two home runs (27 RBIs), but his .275 average and solid bat control (just 39 strikeouts in 291 at bats) earned him even more playing time in 1983. Easily his most productive season in MLB, O’Malley played in 135 games and hit 5 home runs (45 RBIs) with more walks than strikeouts and a .259 average. Unfortunately, his subsequent years in American baseball were spent primarily in the minors, as he totaled just 239 games of action at the highest level over 7 seasons. He had stints with the Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers, Montreal Expos and New York Mets. Highlighting his time with the Mets was a walk-off extra innings home run on his manager’s birthday (June 6, 1990).
It was while on this last team that he first considered the possibility of playing in Japan. Though he ultimately hoped to be a regular player in the majors, he was open to the idea of moving overseas if it meant getting more playing time. He was quite confident that he would be able to succeed if given a chance, though he admits he did not know too much about the Hanshin Tigers before signing with the team in the 1990 offseason.
He arrived on time for spring training in 1991, and received instant praise from a very important figure in Japanese baseball. Tetsuharu Kawakami, legendary Giants player and manager, said “he’ll be the best foreigner in the league this year.” O’Malley made an immediate impact with his bat, too, hitting a grand slam home run in the second exhibition game. This took a lot of pressure off him and gave the media the sense that he would be a reliable hitter in the organization. He retained some of his American ways, though, wearing his hat backwards on the bench as a way to rally the team (this caught on with his teammates soon thereafter). He also learned some key Japanese words and the team song early in his time with Hanshin, becoming a sensation with the fans during his hero interviews.
In 1992, with the addition of Jim Paciorek from Taiyo (Yokohama) and the continued development of youngsters Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Tsutomu Kameyama, etc. the O’Malley-led Tigers pulled out of the team’s dark ages period, if only for a year. They were in contention for the pennant for much of the season, but would finish in second place. O’Malley would never come close to a pennant as a player for the Tigers as he did in 1992. He picked up his first (and only) Golden Glove in his sophomore season, too, despite having to make the change from first base to third.
Individually, the following season was probably his most successful as a Tiger, as he was chosen to the All-Star Team (winning MVP of Game 2), winning his first (and only) batting title, and even contributing to a league-wide controversy (through no fault of his own). Because of his excellent play and the emergence of Paciorek and pitcher Kuo Lee Chien-Fu (Taiwan), the Tigers were forced to make strategic decisions, as league rules restricted the number of foreigners on the active roster to two at the time. For the record, the battle for top average in the league came down to the final days of the season. Knowing he needed to bump up his average ever-so-slightly (his .3264 was marginally lower than Robert Rose’s .3271) in Hanshin’s final game of the year, and knowing that Rose had two more games to go, O’Malley cranked out a hit in his first at bat to take the lead. Not satisfied, he put in one more plate appearance and recorded another hit (on a drag bunt), boosting his average up to .3294. Rose would pick up one hit in his first game and then go hitless in his first two at bats of the second, mathematically eliminating his chances at the title.
Despite thrilling Hanshin fans by saying “Hanshin fans are the best” (阪神ファンは一番や！）during his hero interview at the all-star game in 1993, it is reported that by 1994 the club was looking for someone who could hit more long balls. With the writing on the wall, O’Malley apparently said to Giants’ manager Shigeo Nagashima, “Next year I’ll join Kyojin” (来年、巨人.) Though his time with the Tigers came to an end after four seasons, the best was yet to come for the most famous Rokko Oroshi singer of the late 20th century.
Though sought after by Orix Blue Wave as well, O’Malley reached an agreement with the Yakult Swallows, and hit a career high 31 home runs to go with 87 RBIs and a .302 average. The Tokyo Birds would win the Central League pennant and proceed to win the Nippon Series as well. O’Malley was named Series MVP to go along with his CL MVP that season as well. The most famous scene of his career, perhaps, was a hard fought 14-pitch battle against Orix pitcher Hiroshi Kobayashi.
O’Malley once again reached a new plateau in 1996, besting his personal record for RBIs with 97. He became the first (and currently only) foreign-born player to record six consecutive seasons with an average of over .300. The Swallows, though, ran into contractual issues with O’Malley and did not renew his deal after the season. Despite rumors of an offer on the table from the Seibu Lions, O’Malley returned to the States and attempted to resurrect his MLB career with the Texas Rangers. It did not work out.
For four seasons, O’Malley managed the Newark Bears, an independent league ball club in New Jersey. O’Malley attended Hanshin’s spring camp in 2001 and gave advice to import players under manager Katsuya Nomura. He also caught the eye of Nomura’s successor, Senichi Hoshino, who asked him to join the team as hitting coach in 2002. He stayed on and helped players like George Arias, Trey Moore, Jeff Williams and Jerrod Riggan make the adjustment to life in Japan. In 2004, O’Malley returned to America and became one of the Tigers’ scouts there. Unfortunately, many of the players he recommended (including Kevin Mench and Lew Ford) did not pan out, and his contract was terminated in November 2009.