Roger Connor Cover

Roger Connor: The First Giant

Roger Connor

An 18-year veteran, Roger Connor’s career batting average was .316 and he slugged a nineteenth century record 138 home runs. Connor also led the League in fielding percentage for first basemen 4 times. He is a member of Cooperstown.

Roger Connor was the best first baseman in baseball during his 18 year career. He set a record for career home runs that was not broken until Babe Ruth broke it in 1921, 24 years later. What made Connor a star was his combination of power and superb fielding–an amazing balance on both sides of the ball.

Connor was the third of eleven children born to Irish Catholic immigrants. His parents, Murtagh and Catharine Connor escaped the potato blight (which had devastated Ireland) in County Kerry and sailed to the United States in 1852. Roger was born on July 1st, 1857, in Waterbury, Connecticut, where Murtagh had found work in a brass factory. Connor grew up playing sandlot (and eventually semi-pro) baseball, and grew to 6′ 3″ and 220 pounds. He was left-handed, and was instinctively a good hitter. He also tried to bat right-handed, but it was not his preference. He also tried playing third base, but that move never quite worked out. After a time, he switched to first base, and his fielding began to improve. He was a hard worker, and quiet, and his teammates admired the manner in which he played the game. He was a natural leader–mostly by example–and he always seemed to possess a positive demeanor.

In 1874, Connor’s father died suddenly and he was forced to return home to help take care of the family. He also continued to play semi-pro baseball and he developed a reputation as an excellent player. He was a power hitter and that was a real premium in the 1870s.

In 1880, the National League’s Troy Trojans signed Connor to a contract. The owners were committed to putting a good product on the field, so Connor had some outstanding teammates… such as future Hall of Fame catcher Buck Ewing, shortstop Fred Pfeffer, and pitchers Tim Keefe and Mickey Welch, among others.

A Really Big Man

Roger Connor (1857–1931)

Roger Connor (1857–1931)

Connor was considered a “really big man” for his era, so when he signed with Troy none of the uniforms would fit him, so they sent him to the local tailor shop to be fitted for a uniform. And, that is where he met the young lady who would become his wife for 48 years. Her name was Angeline Mayer, a seamstress from a German Lutheran family–a family of baseball fans.

Roger and Angeline were soon married, and in a year they became the proud parents of a beautiful baby daughter. Shortly after this blessed event, tragedy struck. The infant daughter became ill, and died. Roger was inconsolate. He believed that it was his fault–that he had not insisted that Angeline become Catholic and, therefore, that he had not baptized his new daughter. Angeline subsequently became a Catholic, and they adopted a little girl from the local Catholic orphanage. They named her Cecilia, and she became the apple of her adoptive parents’ eye.

The Man Who “Named” the Giants

In 1883, the Troy franchise folded, and many of their players were folded into the National League’s New York Gothams team. They were to become one of the League’s top teams–and one of its most enduring franchises. They became quickly known as “the Giants”, mostly due to Connor’s “star status”–and his large, powerful physique. The name became so popular that it was officially adopted, and the team became the New York Giants. They are still in the National League, and since 1958 have been called the San Francisco Giants.

Among Connor’s teammates in his total of 10 seasons with the Giants were star catcher Buck Ewing, top pitchers Tim Keefe, Mickey Welch and Amos Rusie, shortstops Monte Ward and Jack Glasscock, and outfielders Jim O’Rourke, George Gore and Mike Tiernan. It’s no wonder that they were consistently a top National League team. For example, in 1888, the Giants defeated the St. Louis Browns, champions of the rival American Association, for professional baseball’s championship trophy. And, in 1889, the Giants were victorious over Brooklyn for the same prize.

A One Man Wrecking Crew

1884 New York Gothams

New York Gothams, 1884. Top Row, L-R: Monte Ward (CF/2B/P), unidentified, Frank Hankinson (3B), Roger Connor (2B), unidentified, unidentified, unidentified, Mike Dorgan (RF/P), Buck Ewing (C). Bottom Row, L-R: Danny Richardson (OF/SS), Mickey Welch (P), unidentified, unidentified.

Connor’s consistent body of work over the course of his career shows relentless excellence, with iconic highlights such as hitting the first walk-off grand slam in history–2 outs, bottom of the ninth, down 3 runs–unbelievable! Also, while still dabbling with hitting right-handed, 4 of his 11 home runs in 1893 were hit right-handed–hard to believe. Connor was never considered a switch-hitter, but he was obviously partially ambidextrous. In 1886, he hit the longest home run in baseball history (until Babe Ruth came along). At the “original” Polo grounds, he tagged future Hall of Famer Hoss Radbourn (then with Boston) with a gargantuan blast of a home run–which completely cleared the field and grandstand! Even at the end of his career, with the St. Louis Browns, he had a 6-hit day (in 6 plate appearances) on June 1st, 1895. Oh–and he also crushed 3 home runs in one game on May 9th, 1888, while still with the Giants.

Connor’s work ethic was legendary. He became one of the best defensive first basemen in the League, snagging 4 fielding percentage crowns. He also led the league in putouts and assists as a first sacker for 3 years apiece. His career putouts place him 22nd all time.

In addition to his home run crown in 1890, and his batting average title in 1885 (.371), he batted .316 for his career, with 138 home runs (a record that stood for 24 years). He was in the top 10 in home runs for a dozen years, RBIs for 10 years, and batted over .300 for 12 seasons. His 233 triples are in the top 10 totals for all time. He was also in the top 10 for doubles for 10 years, and the top 3 in triples for 7 years. In 1885, Connor only struck out a miniscule 8 times in 506 plate appearances! Connor won 3 WAR (Wins Against Replacement) titles, and is ranked 50th All Time in this category. His Adjusted On-Base-Plus-Slugging is 28th all time, and he also got 2,467 hits, 1,323 RBIs, and 1, 620 runs for his career. His stolen base totals would be much higher if records for this stat had been accurate prior to 1886. As it was, he was credited with 244.

Roger died at age 73 in 1931, preceded in death by his beloved wife Angeline in 1928.

Sam Crane wrote that Connor was every bit as good a fielder as he was a hitter, pointing out his superb ability to “dig the ball out of the dirt” on throws. George Vecsey of the New York Times, referring to Connor’s power and speed, called him “a complete ballplayer”. And, upon Connor’s passing, the New York Clipper stated, “Connor’s honorable and straightforward conduct and affable and courteous demeanor toward all with whom he (was in contact) won him popularity both on and off the ball field.” Connor was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1976.

Roger Connor: The First Giant!

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