Roger Connor, Home Run King

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Although I can't say I've been following all that closely, Barry Bonds just broke Hank Aaron's all-time home run record. The only story I'm less interested in is whether or not Commissioner Bud Selig would be there to witness number 756 (he wasn't). Before Hank was king, Babe Ruth's 714 homers topped the charts. But from whom did Ruth inherit the crown?

I consider myself a somewhat serious baseball fan. I was at Yankee Stadium for Phil Rizzuto Day in 1985, when Chicago White Sox pitcher Tom Seaver upstaged Scooter by winning his 300th game. (Also, the Yankees gave Rizzuto a cow, which stepped on his foot and knocked him over.) I've done the Tomahawk Chop in Atlanta. And I was in attendance for Roberto Kelly's Major League debut. (OK, I don't have a lot of evidence to support my "somewhat serious fan" claim. But I am anxiously awaiting Mint, the book about the rise and fall of baseball cards by my good friend Dave Jamieson, who previously wrote "Requiem for a Rookie Card" for Slate.)

Anyway, I had never heard of Ruth's record book predecessor. A former member of the Troy Trojans, New York Gothams/Giants, Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Browns, Roger Connor's record of 138 home runs stood until Ruth surpassed him in 1921. Connor's career ended in 1897. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976. Maybe real baseball fans knew this. Here are three other things I didn't know about Connor:

  • Connor is said to have hit the first-ever grand slam, in 1881.
  • According to George Vecsey of The New York Times, "In 1883, Connor was lured to New York, where he, Buck Ewing and John Montgomery Ward were so good that in 1885, their manager, Jim Mutrie, waxed rhapsodic about "my giants!" And that is how Barry Bonds's current team got its nickname."
  • "In 1883, he hit a magnificent shot in his first game with the Giants that caused jubilant patrons to pass the hat and buy him a $500 gold watch in appreciation." (BaseballLibrary.com)

On Monday, I promised a week's worth of questions, to start discussions that would help get us through the hot summer afternoons. We'd still love to get your nomination for our "_flossiest Places to Live" list. But today, inspired by Connor's overlooked greatness, let me ask about unsung historical figures. Who's been unfairly forgotten?

August 8, 2007 - 2:05am
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