We all had a long look at the all-time career home run rankings a few years ago, when Barry Bonds was doing his thing. Whether we were for him or against him, Bonds certainly made us think. Most folks didn’t want him to pass Henry Aaron’s then-record total of 755. Then, there were those who still felt that Babe Ruth’s 714 was the most impressive standard in view of the era in which he played.
Barry, of course, ultimately set the new record by recording 762 home runs. Since that scenario did not eventuate in a vacuum, there was a considerable amount of controversy. Many observers felt that Bonds had cheated to hit many of his four-baggers, thereby thrusting us deeper into the so-called Steroid Era. Obviously, other players were similarly involved. The career totals of Sammy Sosa (609), Alex Rodriguez (613 and counting), Mark McGwire (583) and Rafael Palmeiro (569) are also looked upon with suspicion.
In fact, about the only three guys with elevated homer totals, who seem to have escaped the cynicism, are Ken Griffey, Jr. (630), Jim Thome (still counting at 589) and Frank Thomas (521). None of them ever displayed sudden changes in their physiques or, unaccountably, improved their power output at a time when such improvement invited skepticism. Plus, they were nice guys who almost everybody wanted to like. Either way, we became increasingly familiar with the all-time leaders.
In so doing, one thing, at least to me, kept jumping out. There are absolutely no players on that list who played prior to Babe Ruth. Even though professional baseball had been played for SEVEN DECADES prior to when Babe belted his final homer, there are no guys ranked anywhere in the top 475 home run hitters. Zero!
Why is that? What reason or reasons can there be for such an apparently odd quirk in baseball history? Many so-called modernists feel that they know the answer. To them, there were no great home run hitters in the Nineteenth and early-Twentieth Centuries because the players of that era were comparatively small and weak. Such assumptions are erroneous.
In simple terms, there were no lofty home run totals in those days because homers were much harder to hit. In the earliest days, from 1869 through 1890, many fields had no standardized fences. The schedules were significantly shorter with significantly fewer games. Perhaps most importantly, until 1911 (excepting a few years in the early 1870s), the balls were relative lumps of soft mush which just didn’t fly nearly as far as today’s rockets.
The years from 1901 through 1919 have retrospectively been dubbed “The Dead Ball Era.” In truth, the ball was not suddenly rendered less-lively in 1901. Several rule changes were put into effect which made offensive production more difficult to achieve. Among other alterations, home plate was functionally enlarged by establishing its current shape, and foul balls were then counted for strikes one and two. The combined effect was that scoring nosedived. As a result, teams changed offensive strategy, playing for single runs. The home run was disdained for the stolen base and hit-and-run.
Things stayed that way until Babe Ruth came along, and, essentially, laughed at what he perceived as this sissy way of doing things. He swung as hard as could all the time, and was immensely successful in his daring venture. When World War One concluded, thereby making high quality Australian wool readily available, baseball magnates took action. They saw how fans were flocking in record numbers to see Ruth swing from his heals. The order went out: make the ball livelier and, in so doing, make more money. With that, “The Dead Ball Era” abruptly ended.
So, if it were the conditions and not the men that caused the lack of early home run production, who have we missed? Who are the guys who deserve to be in the home run record book, and how do they compare to those who already are?
In order to answer this intriguing question, I have selected twelve men who I believe to best represent baseball’s pre-Ruthian crop of sluggers. I wanted to establish a timeline for inclusion, and, accordingly, decided to make 1900 the demarcation point. Specifically, I include only players who recorded their first home runs in the Nineteenth Century. Some played their entire careers in the 1800s, while a few began in the Nineteenth Century before competing well into the 1900s.
Here is the list of names along with some basic information about their corresponding slugging records:
Lipman Pike:1871-77, 21 Home Runs, .480SP, 425 Games, 1,979 At-Bats, 0.7%
Cap Anson:1871-97, 97 Home Runs, .448SP, 2,277 Games, 9, 104 At-Bats, 1.1%
Dan Brouthers:1879-96, 106 Home Runs, .519SP, 1,673 Games, 6, 711 At-Bats, 1.6%
Roger Connor:1880-97, 138 Home Runs, .486SP, 1,998 Games, 7,797 At-Bats, 1.7%
Harry Stovey:1880-93, 122 Home Runs, .461SP, 1,486 Games, 6,138 At-Bats, 2.0%
Buck Ewing:1880-97, 71 Home Runs, .456SP, 1,315 Games, 5,363 At-Bats, 1.3%
Sam Thompson:1885-98, 126 Home Runs, .505SP, 1,410 Games, 5,998 At-Bats, 2.1%
Ed Delahanty:1888-1903, 101 Home Runs, .505SP, 1,837 Games, 7,511 At-Bats, 1.3%
Nap Lajoie:1896-1916, 83 Home Runs, .466SP, 2,480 Games, 9,589 At-Bats, 0.9%
Hans Wagner:1897-1916, 101 Home Runs, .467SP, 2,794 Games, 10,439 At-Bats, 1.0%
Buck Freeman:1898-1907, 82 Home Runs, .462SP, 1,126 Games, 4,208 At-Bats, 1.9%
Sam Crawford:1899-1917, 97 Home Runs, .452SP, 2,517 Games, 9,570 At-Bats, 1.0%
N.B.-SP designates slugging-percentage.
The percentage (%) figures represent the number of home runs per 100 at-bats.
Proceeding chronologically, each slugger has his own brief bio, followed by a projection of how many home runs he would have hit in the modern era. But, first, an explanation of methodology is warranted. Although I will rely heavily on statistics, those numbers will not be the primary basis for the projections. Frankly, I don’t trust them as much as some historians do. To me, without accurate context, statistical analysis in baseball is overrated. I regularly see folks take a base set of numbers, and then extrapolate them to a second set. Next, they extrapolate again, and so forth. By the time they are finished, I perceive a contrived conclusion that rarely makes sense to me. In many cases, I also sense that the author had a pre-set conclusion that he or she sought to achieve by moving numbers around until he or she got what was wanted.
Let me be clear on this point: not all statisticians do this. I have seen many statistical analyses that have been insightful and illuminating. It is just not my way. I prefer to take a base set of numbers, and then build on them with what I have already referred to as “context.” Establishing such context can be difficult, but it is do-able. It requires careful and patient research. In my judgment, however, the best historians always seek such contextual support before speaking definitely. Let’s put it this way: it’s true that numbers don’t lie. However, when cleverly manipulated, numbers can function in the same way as a lie.
And consider this: the earlier that a player was born, the less context is available. It is admittedly much more difficult to achieve an accurate understanding of the totality of a Nineteenth Century ball player than a fellow playing in the Twenty-First Century. I have studied each of the twelve subject players in as much detail as possible, but acknowledge that I am not an expert on any of them. Based on what I know, by way of statistics and context, I will offer my judgment about how they would perform in contemporary times.
Three more points need to be addressed before the individual discussions. First, when projecting Twenty-first Century performance onto Nineteenth Century ballplayers, I place those older players into the totality of the current game. Specifically, I project how they would do if they enjoyed the benefits of modern strength training, diet, medicine, equipment, et cetera. Of course, they would start with their original bodies and personal work ethics, and then implement all the newer advantages (as well as any corresponding disadvantages).
Second, when projecting home run totals, we must establish exact field dimensions. While engaging in the same function during the writing of my 2007 book about Babe Ruth, I made an effort to create boundaries which fairly and accurately reflected modern norms. Accordingly, I used 330 foot foul lines along with 375 foot power alleys. The center field fence was situated 410 feet away, and the entire outfield was surrounded with an eight foot fence. Frankly, the average Major League field has shrunken somewhat in just the last few years, but I will still use the aforementioned dimensions for the purpose of this article.
Third, the treatment afforded to declining Nineteenth Century star players was vastly different than to today’s aging icons. Modern players of distinction are almost always afforded various honorariums. Even when they pass their peak years, they rarely take pay cuts, and, depending on team seniority, are usually permitted to fade away on their own terms. Not so for the older guys. Of course, the central issue was finance.
Total revenues were only a fraction of what they are now, even allowing for inflation. As soon as owners perceived that their aging stars were no longer earning every penny of their meager salaries, they were sent packing. Cap Anson was a rare exception. Yet, legends such as Dan Brouthers and Roger Connor were shown the door with no deference or ceremony of any sort. Many Hall of Fame players of the 1800s never finished their final seasons in the Big Leagues. Accordingly, most of those pioneers were denied the opportunity to enhance their statistical legacies.
Now, it’s time for the individual evaluations:
Lip Pike (1871-1877)-It is both fascinating and problematic to try to quantify this man. Lipman Pike was born in 1845, his name first appearing in box scores in 1865 (the same year that the Civil War ended). We know that he was a feared slugger throughout the late-1860s, but statistical records prior to 1871 (the year in which the National Association was founded) are unreliable. Even from 1871 through 1877 (
Yet, there is plenty of anecdotal information to support the conclusion that Lip was an athletic marvel: a player of vast power and extraordinary speed. Standing five-feet-nine-inches and weighing only about 160 pounds, Pike still seems to have been both the strongest and fastest player in the early history of his sport. Although his home run totals were comparatively miniscule, he still led his league four times. Many of his drives were regarded as the longest ever witnessed in their various venues. In his prime, Lip Pike was, unquestionably, a great slugger.
Still, there is a major caveat. For whatever reasons, Lip didn’t enjoy athletic longevity. By 1878, in his thirty-third year, Pike was clearly on the decline. By then, he was an outfielder, so he was positioned properly for long-term offensive production. But it just didn’t happen. There were no known major injuries, and he was not a heavy drinker. Essentially, therefore, we are left to conclude that he simply aged more rapidly in athletic terms than the average player. That does happen occasionally.
All in all, it seems likely that Lip Pike would have been a big star in today’s game at a young age, perhaps twenty-one, and would have produced impressive, although not Ruthian, numbers for about a dozen years. I project that, if he were alive today, Pike would hit 345 home runs.
Cap Anson (1871-1897)-This guy definitely did not share the same “Achilles Heal” as Lip Pike. Adrian Constantine Anson was born in 1852, and was ready to play in the National Association when it was formed in 1871. When the National League was founded in 1876, Anson was recruited by the Chicago White Stockings, becoming player/manager in 1878. Cap remained in that capacity through 1897. In the simplest terms, Cap played full seasons of Big League baseball for twenty-seven straight years.
In any era, Cap Anson would be regarded as large and powerful. Batting from the right side, he stood six-feet tall, and weighed 227 pounds. He had an iron will, and led his team for two decades with great on-field performance that was occasionally enhanced by his fearsome fists. Although primarily a line drive hitter, Anson hit the ball savagely, often setting records for distance. That was the case with his first career home run on August 26, 1876 in
Along with his 97 homers, Cap also logged 529 doubles and 124 triples, many of which were blows of exceptional power. So it was on September 7, 1880 when Anson’s three-bagger in
Cap Anson played most of his career as a first baseman which helped him to achieve his exceptional longevity. Regardless of position, it is clear that he would have hit the ball with consistent power over the course of a lengthy career during any stage of baseball history. His projected home run total is 440.
Dan Brouthers (1879-1896)-This guy was a hitting machine. In fact, Dennis Joseph Brouthers, born in 1858, was a tremendous all-around offensive juggernaut. Despite his unusual size at six-feet-two-inches and 225 pounds in his prime (as opposed to the traditional reports of 207 pounds), Big Dan was a fast runner for most of his career. Yes, he slowed down as he aged, but, even at age forty, when playing in the Eastern League, Brouthers was still stealing bases.
There are really no weaknesses in his resume that a historian can identify. Dan progressed early, making his Big League debut just after his twenty-first birthday in 1879. Playing first base, while batting and throwing left-handed, Brouthers defied serious injury, and played regularly until the middle of the 1896 season. He then followed the custom of his times, and returned to the Minor Leagues where he competed, off and on, until he was fifty-three years old.
During his eighteen year Big League odyssey, Dan Brouthers missed significant playing time only in 1893 when he suffered from “the grip” for much of the early season. It was probably just a bad case of influenza, which certainly wouldn’t be nearly as debilitating today. The rest of the time, Big Dan roamed the various Major League circuits of his era, pounding the ball wherever he went. Brouthers set distance records in, at least, ten different cities, and justifiably earned the reputation as the best hitter of the Nineteenth Century.
Arguably, Big Dan’s two longest homers were hit during his thirty-seventh year. On June 16, 1894 at
For his career, Dan Brouthers batted .342 and slugged at the Nineteenth Century record rate of .519. Among his 2,296 hits were 460 doubles and 205 triples, many of which would have been home runs under modern conditions. He led his Major League in batting average five times and slugging percentage on seven occasions, while never striking out more than thirty times in a season. He was the real deal; I estimate that he would record 530 home runs if he had been born a century later.
Roger Connor (1880-1897)-It is interesting that these two fellows would follow each other in the chronological order of this article. Almost everything that was said about Dan Brouthers can also be expressed about Roger Connor. Standing six-foot-three-inches and weighing about 230 pounds, Roger was large, powerful man who could run, throw and hit. He batted and threw left-handed, and, if Brouthers was the best batsman of the 19th Century, Connor was just a shade behind him.
Born in 1857 to a large Irish immigrant family, Roger’s parents initially regarded baseball as a frivolous activity. He actually had to leave home at an early age before his mother finally relented. When allowed to pursue his dream unencumbered, Roger’s career developed rapidly. By 1880 at age twenty-three, Connor was the regular third baseman for the Troy Trojans where he recorded his first three Major League homers.
Switching to first base, Roger soon became a symbol of offensive efficiency which was highlighted by his impressive consistency and tremendous power. He led his league in home runs and batting average just once each, and set the pace in slugging percentage only twice. Yet, almost every year, he was among the leaders in just about every important offensive category. Underlying everything that he did on the field, Roger Connor’s durability bordered on the incredible.
Playing most of his career with the New York Giants, Roger is often credited with inventing the “pop-up slide.” When you consider that Connor stole 244 bases after 1886 (those statistics were not kept before then), it means that this immense man hurled his body into the action with, essentially, no limitations. Yet, he still led the National League in games played four times, including both 1892 and 1893 when he was thirty-five and thirty-six years of age respectively. Roger Connor missed baseball games almost as infrequently as Haley’s Comet visited planet earth.
When you combine all this along with his 138 official home runs (the record until Babe Ruth), I believe that Connor would have hit more homers than any other 19th Century player transposed into the 21st Century. Dan Brouthers was a great slugger, and certainly was exceptionally durable. But Roger was his equal as a home run hitter, and able to stay in the line-up even more reliably than Big Dan. Accordingly, I suggest that Roger Connor would total 550 home runs if playing today.
Harry Stovey (1880-1893)-Sadly, this extraordinary ballplayer is virtually unknown to modern fans. Born on 1856, Harry Stowe changed his last name so that his family would not know that he had chosen the rowdy sport of baseball as his profession. He was gentlemanly and well-educated, rare traits in the early years of the National Pastime. Yet, he was also marvelously gifted as an athlete.
Stovey could hit, run and throw with remarkable power. He aptly demonstrated his batting strength by becoming the first Major Leaguer to reach 100 career home runs, ultimately totaling 122. Harry also stole over 500 bases, reaching his
After playing his first three Big League seasons with the Worchester Ruby Legs, Harry Stovey switched to his hometown Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association from 1883 through 1889. It was there, playing his home games at the Jefferson Street Grounds, that Stovey became a star. Batting and throwing right-handed, the six-foot, 180 pound outfielder routinely sent balls flying over the left field wall. Many of them were described as traveling for record distances.
Perhaps, the biggest caveat in Harry Stovey’s resume is that the American Association was reportedly not quite up to the competitive standards of the rival National League. That may be true, but Stovey still starred in the Player’s League (1890) and National League (1891). In those two seasons near the end of his career, Harry compiled the highly impressive totals of twenty-eight home runs and thirty-one triples.
It is a fact, however, that Harry’s longevity was not as noteworthy as some of the other great sluggers on this list. After the two seasons just referenced (1890-1891), Stovey’s production declined appreciably. Essentially, by age thirty-five, Harry Stovey was no longer a superior player. Accordingly, although great in his hey-day, Stovey can not be projected to have hit as many homers as those who played effectively to a later age. Harry’s home run projection is placed at 380.
Buck Ewing (1880-1897)-If there is a consensus regarding the identity of baseball’s greatest 19th Century player, it would be in the person of William “Buck” Ewing. Born in 1859, Buck evolved into a baseball playing machine who, according to his contemporaries, had no equal as an all-around performer.
Although skilled at playing every position, Buck’s primary defensive spot was behind the plate in the form of the best defensive catcher of the 1800s. Yet, Buck Ewing could also run, throw, and hit with prodigious power. Plus, he was a man of sterling character, being recognized as one of the best on-field leaders of his generation. Starting his Big League career with the Troy Trojans in 1880, Buck not only played in 1,315 games, he also managed 884 contests at the Major League level (many as a player/manager).
As a hitter,
On June 22, 1889 at
In fact, Buck left a trail of “longest ever” homers during his legendary career. The only factor weighing against his home run projection is his primary position. Catching does not lend itself to longevity, but his virtuosity, almost certainly, would allow him to do the same thing today as he did in his era. Specifically, he would play other positions, thereby permitting Buck to play for a reasonable number of years. All in all, I believe that Buck Ewing would hit 390 home runs in today’s game.
Sam Thompson (1885-1898)-What Major League player drove in more runs per game than any other hitter? Yes, Big Sam Thompson batted in .923 runs for every Big League game in which he ever played. That’s better than Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Barry Bonds or anybody else. Not bad for a guy who didn’t even play baseball until age twenty, or start playing professionally until age twenty-four.
Born in 1860, Sam Thompson was working as a carpenter in early 1884 when friends convinced him to try out for the
Sam Thompson stood six-feet-two-inches, and weighed 210 pounds. He batted and threw left-handed, and played all but one game as an outfielder (usually right field). As a defender, he was agile and fearless, once climbing the stone wall in
It is true that Thompson played much of his career at Philadelphia’s Baker Bowl where the right field wall was particularly inviting, ranging between 272 and 310 feet from home plate (depending on the year). Sixty-two of Sam’s 126 career homers were struck there. However, many of those drives also cleared
What about durability and longevity? Sam suffered an arm injury in 1888 and a back problem in 1897, which he cited as the reason for his retirement in early 1898. Yet, there were other reports that Sam simply went home because he missed his family and was tired of Philly’s losing ways. After playing semi-pro ball in his native
Ed Delahanty (1888-1903)-One of five brothers to play Major League Baseball, Ed was the proto-typical, 19th Century, hard-drinking, Irish ballplayer. Born in 1867, Delahanty actually started slowly, performing in only mediocre fashion during his first four Big League seasons (1888-1891). However, once he got it going for
Any historian researching Ed Delahanty’s career encounters endless testimonials regarding the savage manner in which he consistently hit a baseball. Batting right-handed, the six-foot-one-inch, 190-pounder tended to strike the ball on a lower trajectory than the typical power hitter. That may have slightly lowered his home run totals, but it certainly enhanced the fear factor for defenders playing against him.
Despite his proclivity for smashing torrid line drives, Ed still managed to record many “longest-ever” home runs. Famous for blasting four impressive homers on July 13, 1896 in
That is when he died suddenly at age thirty-five after falling off a bridge and drowning as he was swept over
Nap Lajoie (1896-1916)-Napoleon Lajoie, born in 1874, was just a natural born baseball player. Standing six-feet-one-inch, Nap was a muscular, barrel-chested 200-pounder who batted and threw from the right side. Always intense and determined, Lajoie became the symbol of the
Starting with the National League Phillies in 1896, “Larry” switched to the Philadelphia Athletics of the newly formed American League in 1901 where he enjoyed one of the greatest seasons in the annals of baseball. Playing second base, Lajoie batted .426, and slugged .643, while totaling fourteen home runs, fourteen triples and forty-eight doubles. According to his contemporaries, most of his 232 hits that year were struck with rocket force.
Playing almost his entire career during the “Dead Ball Era,” Nap Lajoie generated consistently great offensive production for two decades. Neither his longevity nor his power can be challenged. He proved the latter over and over again, including a mighty triple to the flagpole at
Nap Lajoie was not immune to injury and illness. He did suffer various afflictions that kept him out of the lineup. Yet, he was remarkably resilient, always returning with vigor until, at age forty, he finally hit the wall. His total of 2,480 games-played at the Big League level attests to his endurance. Lajoie’s home run projection is set at 420.
Honus Wagner (1897-1916)-If you remove Babe Ruth from the discussion, the Flying Dutchman is right there in any debate about the greatest baseball player who ever lived.
He hit with consistency, hit with vast power, he ran with speed and appropriate daring, he fielded wondrously, and he threw with astonishing force and accuracy. Hans also embodied superb leadership, mental and physical toughness, keen intelligence, competitive intensity, and the ability to thrive under pressure. He was a baseball deity.
Born in 1874, Johannes Peter Wagner grew into an angular five-foot-eleven, 205 pound powerhouse who oozed strength and vitality in his every step. Starting his professional baseball career relatively late, Hans was not always graceful, but his functional athleticism was immediately apparent to all who saw him play. When he hit his first Major League home run on August 27, 1897, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that Wagner: “has a pair of shoulders that should send the ball a mile every time he hits it.”
Over the next twenty seasons, similar sentiments were expressed repeatedly. Playing shortstop most of the time, Hans batted right-handed. He endured the hardship of playing almost his entire career in two
“The Big Teuton” also blasted longest-ever shots in
Buck Freeman (1898-1907)-It’s too bad that handsome John Freeman didn’t play longer in the Major Leagues. Born in 1871, he was sidetracked by an unsuccessful pitching venture, and didn’t start playing regular Big League baseball until just shy of his 27th birthday. One of the first players to embrace scientific exercise physiology, “Buck” stood only five-feet-nine-inches, and weighed just 170 pounds in his prime.
Yet, his hard work and conditioning created remarkable results. The left-handed slugger generated immense power, and ruled briefly as baseball’s greatest power hitter. At only age nineteen in 1891, Freeman was signed as a pitcher by the American Association
Buck tore up Eastern League pitching for four seasons (1895-1898) until finally getting his second chance in late 1898 with the National League Washington Senators. He made up for lost time, and started banging long home runs at a frightening pace. In 1899, he turned the baseball world upside-down by clubbing the astounding total of twenty-five homers. He never performed so amazingly well again, but proved that he was not a one-season-wonder by leading the American League with thirteen circuits for
Buck Freeman amassed eighty-two home runs in his relatively brief Big League career. By 1905, at only age thirty-three, he seemed to have lost his edge. He hung on with
Sam Crawford (1899-1917)-Best known for his all-time Major League record of 310 triples, Sam “Wahoo” Crawford was a terrific hitter who would have excelled in any age. Born in 1880 in Wahoo,
Crawford stood six-feet and weighed190 pounds. Batting and throwing left-handed, Sam played solid defense in the outfield, and ran the bases with speed and aggressiveness. Beginning his Major League tenure with the Cincinnati Reds, Sam bashed sixteen league-leading homers in his second full season in 1901. He switched to the American League Detroit Tigers in 1903, and remained there, teaming with Ty Cobb for thirteen years, until he retired from the Big Show after the 1917 season.
When Crawford led the Junior Circuit in homers in 1908 with seven, he joined Buck Freeman as the only men to ever capture the home run crown in both Major Leagues. By that time, he was one of the most feared sluggers in baseball. Many modern fans don’t appreciate Wahoo Sam due to his linkage with the even more notable Ty Cobb. Yet, like everyone in this discussion, Crawford left a legacy of tremendously potent drives in every park in which he played.
A specific example occurred on April 27, 1901 when Sam slammed one of his patented triples to the clubhouse at
Here are the final projected home run rankings:
1-Roger Connor-550 Home Runs
2-Dan Brouthers-530 Home Runs
3-Honus Wagner-480 Home Runs
4-Sam Thompson-455 Home Runs
5-Cap Anson-440 Home Runs
6-Nap Lajoie-420 Home Runs
7-Ed Delahanty-410 Home Runs
8-Buck Ewing-390 Home Runs
9-Harry Stovey-380 Home Runs
10-Sam Crawford-375 Home Runs
11-Buck Freeman-365 Home Runs
12-Lip Pike-345 Home Runs
Discussion of Projections:
These so-called projections are the results of one man’s research and opinions. There are so many variables in each projection that I acknowledge the possibility of overlooking something along the way. Comments and suggestions from anyone interested in this process are invited. I feel reasonably comfortable with most of the guesswork, but there are some puzzle pieces that require elaboration.
For me, the most difficult component of this endeavor is the estimation of how long each player would remain active and productive in modern times. Either rightly or wrongly, I feel comfortable in gauging how well each of the older fellows would perform during their athletically optimum years. But how long would they be able to hit Major League pitching if they were taking the field in the 21st Century? That’s tough.
Since I ranked Dan Brouthers and Roger Connor at the top of my list, they will be addressed last in this part of the discussion. Proceeding in reverse order, I rank Lip Pike at the bottom because his actual career suggests the likelihood of the least longevity. Yes, he was the best of his time, but that time didn’t last very long. Of course, by increasing his total from twenty-one real-life homers to 345 projected home runs, I don’t feel any need to apologize to fans of Lipman Pike.
In the case of Buck Freeman, estimating modern longevity is particularly problematic. Young “Bucky” must have been a whale of an athlete since he pitched his first Major League game at age nineteen, striking out nine opponents and walking six before losing in the 10th inning. The management of the Washington Statesmen acknowledged that he had vast talent and potential, but, within a few weeks, lost interest due to his poor control. If the Brooklyn Dodgers had shown the same impatience some six decades later, we would never have heard of Sandy Koufax.
Freeman went home and regrouped, but didn’t return to the Majors, as a slugging outfielder, for seven more seasons. Looking backward at his exceptional production in the highly competitive Eastern League from 1895 through 1898, it seems likely that he was ready for the Majors long before he actually returned. It is a fact that, when he finally did resume Big League competition, he immediately dominated the game. What would happen if he were around today? Who knows? We still see guys change positions even after they make it to the Big Show. Buck might experience the same career delays now as he did in the 19th Century. Yet, to me, that seems unlikely. I think that he deserves the benefit of some of the doubt.
As I suggested at the outset, I believe that some 19th Century stars were prematurely forced out of the Majors, getting the boot for monetary reasons rather than competitive considerations. Accordingly, I am willing to project extra time onto the careers of a few early stars. It is difficult to know if that largess should be applied to Sam Crawford. Even though Wahoo Sam enjoyed four productive seasons in the Pacific Coast League after leaving Major League competition, he may have been spent at the Big League level.
In his final year with the Detroit Tigers in 1917, Crawford played in sixty-one games. During that time, he batted only .173 and slugged just .269. Those numbers represent the final stage of a three year decline. At first glance, Crawford seemingly demonstrated that, after a long and distinguished Big League career, at age thirty-seven, he had slipped enough athletically that he could no longer hit Major League pitching. Still, there is a caveat.
If Sam was truly on an irreversible age-related tailspin, it is logical to assume that the first season of his return to Minor League competition would have been his best. The older he got, the worse he would play. Right? But that’s not what happened. In 1918, when Crawford first played for the Los Angeles Angels, he experienced mediocre results. He batted .292, recorded one home run, and slugged at the rate of .379. Yet, during the following three seasons (1919-1921) in the same Pacific Coast League, Crawford batted .337, belted thirty-five homers, and slugged over .500.
What happened in 1919 that suddenly catapulted Sam Crawford, at age thirty-nine, to an athletic Renaissance? This is where “context” is needed, but, in this case, I have none. Was a medical issue resolved or an eyesight problem rectified? Did Sam discover a new training technique? Despite efforts to unravel the mystery, I just don’t know. Perhaps Sam’s apparent revitalization was merely coincidence, although that doesn’t seem plausible to me. However, since I don’t have an answer and would prefer not to guess, I am reluctant to arbitrarily extend Sam’s Major League projections.
On the matter of Harry Stovey, I tend to be somewhat conservative because of my skepticism about the quality of competition in the American Association during the 1880s. This fellow was a true athletic stud; there is no mistaking that point. I just wonder if he would have enjoyed the same success in the National League. Even more to the point, Harry just didn’t play that long. When he was at his peak, Stovey played the game as well as anyone. Still, it seems unlikely to me that he would have been able to accrue truly historic career numbers.
Except for the physical demands of playing the position of catcher, I see no limitations to Buck Ewing’s game. As discussed, Buck could do everything that anyone else could do on the ball field. He had the physical attributes along with the behavioral temperament to excel at the Major League level for many years. If permitted to switch to first base or designated-hitter, when bodily attrition sets in at about age thirty-two,
If there is such a thing as a natural born hitter, we generally think first of Ted Williams. And rightly so. But, right up there with “Teddy Ballgame” should be the image of Big Ed Delahanty. It’s true that Delahanty took a few seasons to hit his stride, and his odd behavior certainly contributed to his early demise. But, in between, he was an unstoppable offensive force. The only contemporary peer-group testimonials that rivaled those directed at Babe Ruth were those intended for Big Ed. That’s saying something!
In assessing the great Nap Lajoie, I can’t help thinking about how much he and Honus Wagner remind me of one another. In fact, I feel the same way about Dan Brouthers and Roger Connor. But that is a different comparison, and I will discuss that issue shortly. On the matter of Nap and Hans, they were both middle infielders who took the field at around six-feet in height, weighing about 200 muscular pounds with thick chests and shoulders. They both batted right-handed, and played with similar styles. Although they were both gentlemen, they competed with unbridled intensity, neither asking nor giving any quarter.
Adding to this, Lajoie and Wagner were almost literal contemporaries. Larry played from 1896 through 1916 (mostly in the American League) while Honus ruled the National League from 1897 through 1917. Lajoie became the symbol of the Cleveland Indians, who were usually referred to as the “Naps,” while Wagner became the essence of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Regarding Napoleon’s homerun projection, he hit the ball so consistently hard for so long that I can’t think of a scenario where he would not hit, at least, 400 home runs in modern times.
Cap Anson is the best exception to the general 19th Century practice of jettisoning older star players at their first sign of depreciation. Beginning all the way back in 1871, baseball’s first professional season, Cap made his considerable mark from the inception of the pro game. Moving to the Chicago White Stockings when the National League was formed in 1876, and taking over as player/manager three years later, Anson became a fixture in
Of course, it helped that “Anse” stayed so good for so long. In 1892, when he turned forty, Cap suffered his worst season, batting .272 and slugging .354. Most star-caliber players of that time would have been sent packing, but not Cap Anson. Remarkably, two years later, he stormed back, while batting .388 and slugging .539. As late as 1896, at age forty-four, Anson’s bating average was .331 while he was stealing twenty-four bases.
Here’s the point: Adrian Anson certainly made it easier for
Anson was the epitome of baseball longevity. He amassed 10,281 at-bats during 2,524 games even though he played pro ball for thirteen years before competing in 100 official games in a season. What if this guy had always played in 154 or 162 game schedules? His numbers might be astronomical. We know that he always struck the ball with savage force. So, even if Cap wasn’t a typical home run hitter, I find it difficult to believe that he wouldn’t have accumulated well over 400 homers in the 21st Century.
The central points relating to Sam Thompson have already been provided in his brief bio. He was one tough son-of-a-gun. Early in the 1894 season, surgeons wanted to amputate his left pinky finger due to a recurring injury. Sam was facing an early end to his thriving career, and stubbornly insisted that only half his faulty digit be removed. After missing a few weeks of play, Thompson completed the remainder of the schedule (ninety-seven games) while batting over .400.
With information so readily communicated in today’s world, I doubt that ability like Big Sam’s would go unnoticed by professional talent-seekers for so long. Accordingly, I believe that he would start his professional career much earlier today than back in the 1880s. As stated, Sam’s so-called home and away splits suggest that he enjoyed a rather benign home field advantage during his career. Even so, his overall performance strongly suggests that he could record a homer total in the mid-400s in modern times.
Apparently, nothing could stop Honus Wagner on the ball field. Ty Cobb tried to do it in the 1909 World Series, and got knocked silly in the process. About the only thing that stood in his way were business concerns which, by all accounts, the “Dutchman” just didn’t like. Fortunately, the original way of handling player relations had changed slightly between Wagner’s time and the generation immediately before him. Be sure to note the accent on the “slightly” part.
When Hans demonstrated his on-field greatness and community loyalty after several seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, they showed some modicum of deference and respect. As Wagner passed his primacy at age thirty-nine in 1913, he was permitted to fade into his athletic sunset. Despite no longer being a dominant player, he was allowed, even encouraged, to remain on the Pirate roster while still earning nearly top dollar. Nap Lajoie was afforded basically the same honorarium, although he did switch teams for his last two seasons. That had not been the case with earlier sluggers like Dan Brouthers and Roger Connor.
As a result, Hans “
It is amazing to me that a pair of such extraordinarily similar talents as Dan Brouthers and Roger Connor could have played at the same time. They are two of the genuine giants of Major League history. They occupied the same defensive position (first base), ran the bases in comparable style, and hit the ball with similar power and consistency. If that is not enough, they had physiques and visages of like kind. Dan stood six-feet-two and weighed about 225, while Roger stood six-feet-three and weighed 230 pounds. They both sported handle-bar moustaches, and they were both left-handed. Remarkably, they also comported themselves with similar demeanors of behavioral restraint, masculine dignity and Victorian honor. They were naturally kind-hearted souls, but nobody dared to provoke either of them.
Big Dan Brouthers started his Big League career in 1879, and stayed until 1896. “Old Reliable” Roger Connor started one year later (1880), and finished one year later (1897). In other words, the two men played the same number of years, and overlapped each other in all but the first and last seasons of their combined Major League tenures. It is difficult to make a strong case that either man would have started their careers earlier if playing in our time. In the case of Roger Connor, when his family wouldn’t support his aspirations to become a ballplayer, he ran away from home for a few years. His supporters, at least, could make a plausible argument that he was unnecessarily sidetracked along the way.
Even if neither Dan nor Roger could mount a compelling argument about starting late, I am convinced that both could make a convincing case that they were forced to retire early. When I study these two remarkable careers, I come away with the belief that Brouthers was a slightly better hitter, whereas Connor had an edge in fielding and base-running. I have projected that Roger would record more homers than Dan because of his marginally better durability.
I believe that both players would surpass the magical 500 home run plateau today due to their combinations of great batting skill and exceptional longevity. The argument regarding the length of their respective careers is largely based upon my personal conviction that they could have played longer if treated fairly.
During his eighteen year Big League career, Dan Brouthers played for ten different teams. Frankly, I don’t know why. When you read primary source accounts from throughout his Major League tenure, it is apparent that he was always well liked and respected. Like all players of his era, he was a tough negotiator, always trying to earn the biggest possible paycheck. But that wouldn’t explain all those team changes. Perhaps it was just coincidence. I do know why Dan left the Baltimore Orioles after only one season in 1894, and that tale may be illuminating.
Brouthers was a key element in the Orioles’ championship ’94 season. All through spring training in 1895, team management heaped praise on him for working so diligently to lose weight. Dan was always a large man, and, as he aged, it became tougher and tougher to control his girth. Besides practicing and playing exhibition games, Brouthers ran an extra three to four miles each morning until opening day. Yet, when the team started slowly, Dan (batting .261) was benched after just five games. Understandably, he was humiliated, and went home to
Brouthers liked playing in
Naturally, Big Dan was on the downside at this point, but he could still play competent and productive Major League Baseball. After going 4 for 9 in a Fourth of July double-header in Philadelphia, Brouthers was batting .344 and slugging .445, both superior numbers. His fielding by that time had slipped somewhat, but it wasn’t awful either. Yet, after the Independence Day twin-bill, the great Dan Brouthers was unceremoniously released by the lowly Phillies. There was neither an expression of regret nor acknowledgement of his vast contributions to the game. In fact, it is almost impossible to find any newspaper coverage regarding the sad event. He was just fired.
Looking first to the Western League (soon to be the American League) for employment, Brouthers quickly found a home with the Springfield Ponies in the talent rich Eastern League. There wouldn’t be much point to this story if Dan had merely performed well. But that’s not what happened. In the fifty-one remaining games on the Ponies’ schedule, thirty-eight year old Dan Brouthers tore the league apart, batting .400 and setting distance records all around the circuit. Big Dan actually launched a couple of balls into the Connecticut River at
It is also a fact that Eastern League newspapers heaped as much praise on the “
“He is, as far as his record with us is concerned, a perfect man on the initial bag. It must needs be a ball heavenward bound that gets by him, and not only does he do his duty completely, but by his solidity of presence and his cool deliberation and accuracy, he steadies the rest of the team.”
The Republican followed up on this point in their August 14, 1896 issue: “That big fellow, Dan, controls much acreage around the initial bag, and captures all invading spheres.”
In 1897, “
As late as 1904, when he was forty-six years of age, Dan Brouthers hit .373 for
The striking comparison between Dan Brouthers and Roger Connor continues with the comparable tale of Roger’s latter-day baseball odyssey. As Connor proceeded through his career, a few elements of his athletic persona became obvious. First and foremost, he was a great player. Roger was one of the finest batsmen of the 19th Century as well as an accomplished fielder, thrower and base-runner. Second, Connor was a man of superior honor and integrity. Third, Roger possessed nearly superhuman durability and endurance.
Like almost everyone else of his time, Roger Connor played for more than just one team. But, by 1894, with the exception of one year in
On June I, 1894, Roger Connor was shipped off to the St. Louis Browns where he spent the remainder of his Big League career. Poignantly, on a return visit to the Polo Grounds the following year (June I, 1895), Roger went 6 for 6 against his former team during a 23-2 massacre. That must have felt good. Yet, the Browns were an unstable franchise, and Connor was never really happy there. Plus, it didn’t help that they were farther away from Roger’s home in
Connor spent three years in
Roger quickly joined a local
Yet, there is a different factor in advocating Roger Connor’s longevity. Two years after resuming Minor League ball, in 1899, Roger reportedly wore eye glasses for the first time, and experienced an unexpected rebirth. I have not been able to confirm the eye glass assertion, but it is a fact that forty-two year old Roger Connor led the Connecticut League in hitting (.392) and slugging (.527). I have also established that Roger had been acknowledging his failing eyesight for several years.
In today’s game, that would not happen. Absent some incurable disease, which was not the case with Connor, modern players, almost universally, have eye sight issues remedied. So, I ask: what if Roger Connor was playing now, and simply got a pair of glasses when he started having vision problems? The guy’s toughness and durability were legendary. He almost never missed a ballgame. At age fifty-three, he was still playing semi-pro ball, and stealing bases. How long would he have effectively played Major League Baseball if he had been born in 1977 instead of 1857? I think that it would have been for a very long time, and that is one of the reasons why I think that Roger Connor would hit around 550 home runs if he were with us now.
I have concluded this discussion with extra specificity about Dan Brouthers and Roger Connor because I believe that it is warranted. I have projected more homers for them than any of the other older players, and feel that their stories needed more elaboration. By the way, we could have analyzed even more old-timers, but the reality of space precluded that prospect. For example, I believe that 19th Century sluggers Charley Jones and Dave Orr, along with early-20th Century super-stars Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker (and possibly others), would likely exceed 300 career homers if playing now. I truly wish that I could have seen all of them swing the bat.
Personal Notes: When I expressed my reservations about the exclusive use of statistics in baseball analysis, I acknowledged that there are some trustworthy practitioners of baseball-by-the-numbers. I wish to identify the two best that I know. My brother, Joe Jenkinson, is a senior insurance executive with
On the matter of trust, I also wish to recognize Roy Kerr. I have known
Baseball Historian (Copyright-2010)
During the earliest days of professional baseball in the 1860s and 1870s, a consensus arose about the identity of the sport’s mightiest hitter. That man was Lipman Pike. There were other powerful batsmen even before Pike, but they never achieved the distinction of being so singularly acclaimed. Considering both the hard factual data and the seemingly countless legends, Lipman Pike was clearly the king of baseball’s early sluggers.
Lipman Emanuel Pike was born in New York City on May 25, 1845. Pike was of Jewish ancestry: his father emigrated from Holland while his mother originated in New York. By 1860, his large family, including nine siblings, had moved to Brooklyn. Little else is known about Lip’s origins or early life. It has been established, however, that, by the mid-1860s, Pike was playing a lot of baseball.
Shortly after the conclusion of the Civil War, in July 1865, Lip’s name began to appear (usually as a replacement) in the primitive box scores of the highly-regarded Brooklyn Atlantic team. On a few occasions, he even teamed with his brother, Boaz Lipman, also noted for his batting strength.
Lip was never a large man, reportedly standing only 5 feet-8 inches and weighing about 160 pounds in his athletic prime. Yet, he still evolved into the most powerful hitter of his era. Lipman Pike was a quintessential power athlete, combining extraordinary batting strength with a strong throwing arm and blazing speed. In other words, he was the Nineteenth Century precursor of Mickey Mantle and Bo Jackson.
Late in 1865 (October 30 & November 6), Brooklyn Atlantic played the Philadelphia Athletics in a two-game, home and home series. Although Philadelphia had been baseball’s preeminent team throughout most of the season, once defeating the Jersey City Nationals 114 to 2, Brooklyn won both games before huge crowds (15, 000 at both sites). Pike did not appear in either game, but, apparently, the Athletics took notice of him. When the 1866 season started, Lipman Pike was one of their regulars.
It has often been reported that, while playing for those original Philadelphia Athletics on July 16, 1866, Lip Pike hit six home runs during a single game against the Philadelphia Alerts. Although The Philadelphia Inquirer confirmed that the Athletics and Alerts were scheduled to play that day in Philly (in 100° temps), no primary sources have been found to confirm the six homer outburst. For the record, the New York Times (edition of July 19) confirmed that Pike hit a home run against the Irvington Club of New Jersey on July 17, 1866 in Philadelphia. That was the day after the alleged six-homer assault.
The lack of corroboration does not mean that the home run barrage didn’t happen. There are references to other sluggers from the 1860s, such as Harry Wright, similarly recording several home runs during a single contest. Some context is necessary. Although unknown to most modern fans, the baseball in use in the 1860s was much livelier than the ball subsequently used in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In fact, the founders of Major League Baseball regarded it as too lively, and decided to significantly deaden it. It is amusing to read accounts from the late 1870s harkening back to the good old days of the so-called live ball.
Also, in 1866, neither pitching nor defense had developed much competitive sophistication. Pitchers threw underhanded with no wrist snap until 1873, and fielders played barehanded. Most importantly, before the inception of league play, the quality of competition fluctuated significantly. Accordingly, lots of runs were scored along with lots of home runs. By the time the National Association (baseball’s first professional league) was formed in 1871, home runs were hard to hit, but, when Lip Pike began his career, they occurred more frequently than at any other time in baseball history.
From 1867 through 1870, Lip stayed closer to home, playing first for Irvington, and, then, the New York Mutuals and, finally, his hometown Brooklyn Atlantic.
Often feasting on weaker competition, Pike is known to have accrued some remarkably lofty statistics, such as a .497 batting average in 1868. That all ended in 1871 with the founding of the National Association. Lip’s official numbers, as well as everyone else’s, were then established against only professional caliber athletes. Yet, playing for the Troy Haymakers in ‘71, Lipman Pike was still the man. In twenty-eight games, he batted .377, slugged .654, and belted four, league-leading, home runs.
Moving on to the Lord Baltimores (aka Canaries) in 1872 and 1873, Pike’s average slipped (.298 & .316), but he maintained his long ball supremacy, leading the Association with seven and four homers respectively. Some of them, of course, flew for legendary distances. But, batting was only one of the ways by which Lip demonstrated his great athletic prowess. Pike played several different defensive positions where he was regarded as a sometimes spectacular, sometimes unreliable performer. He threw with superior force although the ball often didn’t arrive where it was intended. On the bases, Lip was a genuine speedster.
In fact, Lipman Pike often supplemented his baseball salary by competing in 100-yard match races. Probably his most famous contest occurred on August 16, 1873 at Baltimore’s Newington Park. Running against a trotting horse, named Clarence, Lip roared out to an early lead, and then held on for a narrow victory. Timed at ten seconds flat (10.0 seconds), Pike earned the princely sum of $250 for his exertions. This was not a rare event. Lip was known to have raced against most of the fastest players of his era, usually wining by wide margins.
Lip Pike never stayed long with any one team, but that was not unusual in Nineteenth Century baseball. Lip’s transitions, however (never more than two years with one team), were particularly frequent. This, of course, invites consideration of Pike’s personality. Seemingly, it was rather complex. Lip Pike was an intelligent man; he was offered the captaincy of several different teams. In those days, team captains were actually the player/managers, while the so-called managers functioned as combinations of today’s general managers and business managers.
In his various tenures as captain, Pike received mixed reactions. Some folks liked him while others found him too egocentric and confrontational. The truth probably lies in the middle ground. Lip’s ethnicity should also be considered in this part of the story. Although unpleasant to acknowledge, anti-Semitism was part of the fabric of American culture in the 1870s. According to Jackson Lears (Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920), Joseph Seligman, a prominent Jewish banker, was denied registration at the United States Hotel in Saratoga, New York in July 1877.
Moving to the Hartford Dark Blues in 1874, Lip enjoyed one of his best seasons. He recorded only one official home run, but led the National Association with a .504 slugging percentage. Playing a then-normal fifty-two games, he also amassed twenty-two doubles and five triples along with a .355 batting average. His triples to distant center field at the Hartford Grounds on May 5 and August 1 were regarded as the longest drives in stadium history. On the defensive side, Pike started the season at second base, but his erratic play led to many errors. Switching back to center field, where he seemed to play both best and most often, Lip was much more effective.
During an extended series of games against the New York Mutuals at the famous Union Grounds in Brooklyn, Pike made one of the most sensational catches of the year on July 26, 1874. Sprinting into right centerfield, as only he could, Lip lunged at the last moment to snag a whistling line drive with his left hand. That seems odd considering that Pike threw with his left hand, but gloves were not in regular use for another decade. It is also interesting to recall the logistics involved in the scheduling of frequent games at those historic Union Grounds. The Brooklyn Bridge was not completed until 1883, which means traveling to Brooklyn in those days was no easy task.
Typically, Lip Pike found a new home for the 1875 season, this time hooking up with the St. Louis Brown Stockings. Playing more official games than ever before (seventy), Lip enjoyed another stellar campaign. As discussed, home runs were rare events in those days, mostly due to the lack of standardized home run barriers. As a result, Pike hit no homers in 1875, but collected twenty-two doubles and twelve triples. Do not allow Lip’s meager home run totals to detract from the aura of his legendary power. It was about this time that he was earning the nickname: “The Iron Batter.”
The National Association proved to be too poorly organized to endure beyond 1875. It was replaced by the National League which demonstrated its viability by remaining in operation until today. In fact, most historians view 1876 as the start of legitimate Major League Baseball. Since the Brown Stockings were a solid franchise, they simply applied for membership in the new league, and were accepted. Pike remained in St. Louis in 1876 where he again played in outstanding fashion (batting .323 & slugging .472).
Next, when offered the captaincy of the iconic Cincinnati Reds in 1877, Lip Pike couldn’t say no. Back in 1869, the Reds had become America’s first professional baseball team, and were still regarded as a preeminent organization. As usual, Lip’s leadership style quickly became an issue, and he lasted as captain until only June 10. After fourteen league games, he resigned, but finished the year as the Reds’ star center fielder. At age thirty –three, Pike led the National League with four home runs, each a leviathan shot.
Playing at Cincy’s Stockyard Grounds on July 7, Lipman Pike recorded what may have been the longest drive produced up to that moment in baseball annals. Batting leadoff to start the game against Boston’s Tommy Bond (MLB’s only three time, forty game winner), Lip did the seemingly impossible. Beyond the right field fence was a brick kiln. It was situated about 100 feet past the outer stadium barrier, and had rarely been approached by a batted ball. Yet, on this historic occasion, Lip Pike actually cleared it on the fly!
Decades later, the men who witnessed this event were still awe-struck by its magnitude. Contemporary newspaper accounts described the blow as a line drive that landed in some high weeds in front of Mill Creek. One of the witnesses was Tim Murnane who later became a legendary chronicler of baseball for the Boston Globe. Murnane was playing center field for Boston that day, and was identified as the man who retrieved the ball.
Also in 1877, the financially troubled Hartford Dark Blues had switched to Brooklyn’s Union Grounds as their home site. On August 28, 1977, Lip and the Reds visited that venerable ballpark where Pike faced right-hander Terry Larkin. In the fifth inning, Lip pounded the ball with all his formidable strength to right field. The ball completely cleared the ladies seating section (yes, women were segregated back then), and reportedly struck a metal rod atop the roof. It was instantly declared the longest drive ever struck in the New York area.
Returning to Cincinnati in 1878, Lip Pike’s overall caliber of play finally began to slip. Yet, his power was undiminished. At home on May 7, Lip led off the game by blasting a tremendous shot that again cleared the distant kiln. By a coincidence, the pitcher was the same Terry Larkin who was then representing the Chicago White Stockings. Sadly, due to the prevailing rules of the time, when the ball drifted foul after leaving the park fair, it was judged foul.
Exactly two weeks later at Lakefront Park in Chicago, The Iron Batter was at it again. Facing the familiar Mr. Larkin, Lip unloaded once more to right field. The ball roared so high over the right field fence that it passed over several railroad cars before finally landing near Lake Michigan. Yet again, there was no official home run. The problem this time was that Lakefront Park had foul line boundaries so short that there was a ground rule prohibiting any right or left field homers. Regardless of distance, balls had to clear the fence between poles placed at the midway points in right centerfield and left centerfield. Within fourteen days, Lipman Pike had launched two of the longest drives of the Nineteenth Century, but had no home runs to his credit.
By July 1878, Lip’s production had slipped to the point where Cincinnati released him. He signed with the Providence Grays, but only lasted five games with them. For the season, Pike slugged at only the rate of .365. It appeared that his Major League days might be over, so Lip accepted an offer to captain the Eastern League Springfield team in 1879. Playing mostly in center field, while occasionally pitching, Pike enjoyed a fine year. Yet, trouble now seemed to follow Lip, and he was involved in a nasty on-field incident at Worchester on August 13.
Cursing at Stephen Brady for his hard tag at second base, Pike received a slap in the face in return. In response, Lip Pike pulled his team off the field which further resulted in Worchester canceling their remaining games with Springfield. This escalating series of events culminated in the disbanding of the Springfield franchise on September 6. Pike finished the 1879 season with Albany, and stayed on with them to start the following season. On May 21, 1880 at Albany’s Riverside Park, Lip reminded folks that he was still lethal. His home run that day sailed all the way into the Hudson River.
Through no fault of Lip Pike, Albany disbanded in July, whereupon Lip completed the 1880 calendar with stints on both the Brooklyn Unions’ and New York Metropolitans’ rosters. While in Brooklyn, Pike covered center field in the vast expanse of the Union Grounds. Lip recorded triples on consecutive days (August 26 & August 27) into that familiar area.
Regardless of his occasional problems, Lipman Pike was always recognized for his intelligence and intensity. Accordingly, he accepted the captaincy of his hometown Brooklyn Atlantics in 1881 for whom he also played center field and pitched. Playing a series of games versus the “Mets” at the original Polo Grounds, Lip recorded his last known professional home run on July 29. His overall play was good enough to receive an invitation to complete the season for the National League Worchester team in late August. Unfortunately, that’s where Lip Pike’s professional baseball career essentially ended.
Patrolling his customary center field sector at Boston’s South End Grounds on September 3, 1881, Lip and his teammates led the Red Stockings 2-1 entering the final inning. A few minutes later, after three atrocious errors by Pike, Boston won 3-2, setting off a series of accusations that Lip had deliberately “dropped” the game. Gambling was a big part of Major League Baseball back then, and such charges were not uncommon. The result was that Pike was immediately released by Worchester, and then suspended indefinitely by the National League later that month.
Lipman Pike retired from pro baseball, and focused his attention on Lip’s Haberdashery in Brooklyn. That had been his father’s profession. Of course, he stayed in the game by playing for various amateur teams, but, when he was formally re-instated on December 7, 1882, it was too late. At age thirty-seven, his skills already in decline, Major League Baseball had passed him by. With the exception of an honorary appearance for the New York Mets on July 28, 1887, Lip never played in another professional ball game.
Lipman Pike died of heart disease in Brooklyn on October 10, 1893 at age forty-eight. Services were held at Temple Israel in Brooklyn where he was eulogized for his honorable life. He is interred at Salem Fields Cemetery, also in his beloved Brooklyn. It is difficult to summarize the man’s life; his persona is wrapped around so many contradictions. Yet, it is clear that Lip Pike was guided by his own inner light, and no one can criticize him for that. He was also the most physically dominant player of baseball’s first professional decade, and that insures his place in the game’s history.
Bill Jenkinson, Baseball Historian (2010)