The Man Who Held the Home Run Record Before Babe Ruth

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“Connor is the King of Batters and the most impressive specimen in baseball today.” — Sporting Life, 1886

Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s career home run record. Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s record. The man who held the mark before the Babe was Roger Connor, the son of Irish immigrants, whose stature led the New York team in the National League to be called the “Giants.”

Giant he was: Connor was 6’3 and about 220 pounds when he stepped off a train to play for the Troy Trojans in 1880. With his broad shoulders, square jaw, and long arms, he looked like a monster compared to his normal-sized teammates. But he was far from a monster: Connor had a quiet, gentle nature, and he was a good teammate. He was so well respected that he was only once tossed from a game by an umpire, and when that happened, the umpire apologized to Roger the next day. 

In 1881, Connor hit the first grand slam in major league history, and it couldn’t have been more dramatic. He hit the blast with two outs and his team behind by three runs in the bottom of the ninth. It was the first of many historic achievements by Connor on a baseball field.

In 1886, playing for the Giants, Connor hit a baseball over the wall in deep right field at the original Polo Grounds and over the stands, onto 112th Street in Manhattan. The park was always a very difficult place to hit home runs, and the blast was notable in the 19th century when few players had the strength to belt a ball out of the playing field, let alone down the street.

At times in his career, Connor was a switch-hitter, though he usually batted left-handed. He was acclaimed for hitting the ball to all fields, and he was also a good runner for his size. He once stole five bases in one game.

When he finally retired as a player in 1897, Roger had 138 home runs to his credit (though records at the time gave him only 131). Not much was made of being the all-time home run king in those days, but when Ruth started to swat baseballs at a record pace, Connor’s name came back to the newspapers. On July 2, 1921, Ruth hit #132 against Boston at the Polo Grounds. About two weeks later in Detroit, Ruth hit #139, the homer that actually set the all-time record. Ten years later, Connor died at the age of 73, by which time his previous ownership of baseball’s most glamorous record was all but forgotten.  

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Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes is the author of three books about baseball, including Ty Cobb: A Biography. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and Major League Baseball Advanced Media. He lives in Michigan where he writes, runs, and enjoys a good orange soda now and again.
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