William “Duke” O’Neil is a name all Windsor Locks High School baseball players know. All future Raider baseball stars were compared to Bill O’Neil and his prowess on the baseball diamond.
When Bill was behind the plate, runners rarely attempted to steal bases. He was adept picking off runners on the bases. Amazingly during his 4 years as a starter in baseball, Bill NEVER had a passed ball.
His sophomore year, Bill helped lead the Locks squad to the Charter Oak Conference North Division Title (co-champions with St. Thomas Aquinas). With Bill’s help during his junior year, Locks baseball had a winning streak of 11 games and won the Charter Oak Conference North Division outright.
His senior year Bill was a key member of the 1966 State Championship Team.
During that magical season, the Locks squad was 14-4. Bill suffered an injury and missed four games.
To illustrate how key Bill was to his teammates consider this stat: with Bill O’Neil in the lineup behind the dish, Locks was 13-1; without him Locks were only 1-3.
With Bill back in the lineup for the state tournament, the 11th ranked Locks again won the Charter Oak Conference North Division championship. The Boston Red Sox would come and work Bill out during practices during his final high school campaign.
The Windsor Locks squad had a magical run to the Class B Title. Locks defeated Guilford, 7th ranked Norwich and 2nd ranked Farmington and St. Bernard’s before beating 6th ranked Middletown in the finals to capture the crown. All the teams they defeated in the state tournament were conference champions.
Bill was also a formidable hitter; batting .400 his last two high school seasons. One of his most memorable offensive feats was a monster home run against Norwich Tech in the state quarterfinals his junior year. Bill was co-captain and all conference each of his last three years of high school.
Not just a State Champion baseball player, Bill was a 3-year starter in soccer at WLHS, all conference his last two years and a member of state title soccer teams in 1963 and 1964.
Bill joins State Championship teammates David Farr (Class of 2009) and Bill Lash (Class of 2013) in the WLAHOF. Lash and O’Neil formed a superb battery team for Locks; both were drafted by major league ballclubs. Lash was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1966; O’Neil was drafted by The Boston Red Sox in 1966.
As a professional ballplayer, Bill O’Neil was a rival catcher coming up the Sox farm system with future Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk. Legendary Coach Daniel Sullivan, (WLAHOF Class of 2005) recalled stories of Sox pitchers in the minor league system preferring to pitch to Windsor Locks’ Bill O’Neil instead of Fisk. Unfortunately, an injury derailed Bill’s climb to the majors.
An extremely rare two sport, three-time state champion athlete at Windsor Locks High who also played professional baseball, Bill O’Neil is a true Hall of Famer.
Bill O’Neil passed away on November 24, 2019.