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Roger Connor

Roger Connor

Position(s):
3B, 1B, OF, 2B
Born:
July 1, 1857
Bats:
Left
Throws:
Left
Height:
6' 3"
Weight:
220 lbs
Major League Debut:
5-01-1880 with TRN
Hall of Fame:
1976

The greatest home run hitter of the Deadball Era, Roger Connor rivaled fellow Hall of Famer Sam Thompson as baseball's premier slugger of the 19th century.  The strapping first baseman's 138 career home runs stood as the major league record for 23 years after his retirement in 1897, until it was eventually surpassed by Babe Ruth.  More than just a great home run hitter, Connor also accumulated 233 triples during his career, a figure that places him fifth on the all-time list, behind only Sam Crawford, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, and Jake Beckley.

Early Life:

Roger Connor was born on July 1, 1857 in Waterbury, Connecticut to Irish immigrants who held a grim view towards baseball.  Reflecting the thinking of the times, Connor's parents believed only in hard work and didn't consider baseball to be a respectable trade.  As a result, Connor, who had seven siblings, began to sneak off from doing his family chores when he was eight years of age to play the game he loved.

Connor eventually left home at the age of 14 to pursue a career in baseball in New York.  He later returned to Waterbury to discover that his father had passed away, prompting him to take a job in a local factory to help support his family.  However, Connor continued to hone his skills in neighborhood games, and he finally received permission from his mother to play with the New Bedford team in Massachusetts in 1878.

Major League Career:

Connor was ready for the major leagues by 1880, and he began his big league career by batting .332 for the National League's Troy Trojans as a rookie third baseman.  A dislocated shoulder that affected his throwing caused Connor to move to first base the following year, and the massive 6' 3", 220-pounder adapted quicky to his new position, showing surprising quickness and agility for a man of his proportions.  Connor continued to hit well for the Trojans in his second year with the team, batting .292 and becoming the first player in the annals of the major leagues to hit a grand slam home run.  Connor spent one more year in Troy before the team moved to New York and re-named itself the Gothams, batting .330 and leading the National League with 18 triples in 1882.

Connor performed exceptionally well his first year in New York, finishing among the league leaders with a .357 batting average, 15 triples, a .394 on-base percentage, and a .506 slugging percentage.  After another solid season in 1884, the lefty-swinging first baseman had his best year to-date in 1885, leading the league with a .371 batting average, a .435 on-base percentage, and 169 hits, and placing among the leaders with 65 runs batted in, 102 runs scored, and 15 triples.  It wasn't until the following year, though, that Connor began to gain recognition as perhaps the game's greatest slugger.

Development of Reputation as a Great Slugger:

Connor compiled a total of only 15 home runs through his first six seasons.  Although he frequently finished near the top of the league rankings in triples, the first baseman never placed among the leaders in home runs.  Connor added only seven more homers to his career total in 1886, but he led the league with 20 triples, batted .355, and scored 105 runs.  His power became a serious topic of conversation on September 11th of that year, when he became the first player to hit a ball out of the original Polo Grounds (located on 110th Street and Fifth Avenue).  The blow, which was struck against Hall of Fame pitcher Charley Radbourn, sent the ball soaring well beyond the right field fence, onto 112th  Street. 

Bernard C. Crowley later wrote in Baseball's First Stars, "Radbourn gaped at Connor in wonderment as the ball sped upward with the speed of a carrier pigeon and disappeared over the right field fence."

According to The Sporting News, "several members of the New York Stock Exchange, occupying box seats, were so smitten by the Herculean clout that they took a collection for the slugger...When the contributions were totaled, the fans were able to present a $500 gold watch to their hero."

Connor truly began to develop his home run stroke as he approached his 30th birthday.  Although he batted just .285 for New York in 1887, he hit 17 home runs, drove in 104 runs, and scored 113 others.  Connor hit another 14 homers in 1888, including three in one game.  He had his most productive season the following year, batting .317, hitting 13 long balls, scoring 117 runs, and driving in a league-leading 130 runs.  The combination of Connor's physical stature and offensive productivity gradually led to the Gothams being re-named the Giants.

Later Years:

Connor left the Giants for one year to join the ill-fated Players League, which he topped with 14 homers, while batting .349, knocking in 103 runs, and scoring 133 others.  After returning to the Giants in 1891, Connor had five more extremely productive years before his skills began to diminish.  He spent his final 3 ½ years with the original St. Louis Browns of the National League, before retiring at the conclusion of the 1897 campaign.  Connor ended his career with a then-record 138 home runs, 233 triples, and 1,002 walks.  He also compiled 1,323 runs batted in, 1,620 runs scored, 2,467 hits, a lifetime .317 batting average, and an outstanding .397 on-base percentage.  Connor finished in double-digits in home runs seven times, accumulated at least 20 triples three times, knocked in more than 100 runs four times, scored more than 100 runs eight times, and batted over .300 on 11 separate occasions.  Possessing surprising speed for a man his size, Connor also surpassed 20 stolen bases seven times, swiping as many as 43 bags in 1887.  He led his league in home runs, runs batted in, batting average, hits, doubles and on-base percentage once each, and he topped his circuit in triples and slugging percentage two times each.  Connor was the only player before 1900 to collect more than 1,000 walks.  An extremely durable player as well, Connor played in 1,083 of a possible 1,100 games between 1880 and 1889.

Following his retirement from the game, Connor returned home to purchase the Waterbury club of the Connecticut League.  In addition to owning the team, Connor served as its field manager and first baseman, even posting a league-leading batting average of .392 in 1899 at the age of 42.  Connor eventually passed away from throat cancer on January 4, 1931, without ever knowing that he was baseball's home run king for roughly a quarter of a century.  He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1976.

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Tagged:
1976 Hall of Fame, Baseball History, New York Giants, New York Gothams, Polo Grounds, Roger Connor, Sam Thompson, Troy Trojans

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