This article was written by Glen Herness
Jack Crooks, born on November 9, 1865, in St. Paul, Minnesota, was the first player in organized baseball to hit four home runs in one game. He accomplished the feat while playing for Omaha of the Western League in 1889. This helped to get him to the major leagues later that summer.
Crooks was an excellent defensive player with a powerful throwing arm. He had great speed both defensively and on the base paths, where he stole a total of 220 bases during his eight year major league career. While he was only a .241 career hitter, he had the ability to foul off pitches, making him a difficult hitter to pitch to, often resulting in a base on balls. With this ability Jack became a very valuable player with a career .386 on base percentage.
In his 1995 Baseball Research Journal article, “The Walk-A-Game-Club,” Lary Bump tells us there had only been eight players in major league history (up to that time; find a current list through 2014 at Baseball-Reference.com) that had drawn more walks in a season than the number of games they played. We would expect to see names like Babe Ruth (1920, 1923) and Ted Williams (1941, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1954), the only players with multiple appearances on the list. Another familiar name is Mickey Mantle (1957). Jack Clark in 1987 was the most recent addition to the list. Of the other four players the most well-known is John McGraw (1899), who was known more for his managerial skills than his ability to draw walks. The other three players were Eddie Joost (1949), Yank Robinson (1890), and Jack Crooks (1892). Crooks narrowly missed making this club two years in a row when he drew 121 walks in 128 games in 1893.
His 136 walks in 1892 placed Crooks at the top of the list for walks in a season, a record he held until 1911, when Jimmy Sheckard drew 147 walks. Crooks also held the record for walks by a rookie second baseman, 96, from 1890 until the record was broken by Jim Gilliam, who had 100 walks in 1953.
“Home Run” Crooks, which was his nickname for a while after his four-home-run game, hit 21 home runs during his eight-year major league career. His first was off William Stecher on October 1, 1890. It was an inside the park grand slam homer. It was also the only home run Stecher surrendered in his short major league career. He pitched ten games, all starts, with nine complete games. Alas, his career record was 0-10. Crooks had success against some top pitchers, also. He hit two home runs in one game against Amos Rusie on September 23, 1895. Rusie was a career 246-game winner. Crooks also hit two of his 21 homers off Cy Young. Young won 511 games in his career, although he never won a Cy Young Award. Several of Crooks other home runs came off notable pitchers of the era, including Silver King, Ted Breitenstein, Red Donahue, Brickyard Kennedy, and Egyptian Healy, whose nickname was generated from his home town of Cairo…Cairo, Illinois.
Stew Thornley, in “Minnesota’s First Major League Baseball Game,” points out that on October 2, 1891, the Milwaukee and Columbus teams from the American Association played a game at Athletic Park in Minneapolis. They had been scheduled to play a three- game series, but were weathered out of the other games. Crooks played second base for Columbus and, although his team was shutout, he had three hits in three at-bats as the leadoff hitter.
Thornley also points out that there was a major league team from St. Paul in 1884 which folded after only nine games. All of their games were played on the road. The 1891 game was the only major league game played in Minnesota until the Twins moved there in 1961.
Crooks was acquired by the Columbus Colts of the American Association (then a major league) in 1889, shortly after his four-home-run game. He hit .326 in only 43 at-bats for the Colts, which helped to earn him a starting position on the 1890 team. The 1890 Columbus Colts were the only winning team that Crooks played on during his eight year major league career. While he hit only .221 for the season, he did walk 96 times, giving him a respectable .357 on-base percentage. He also stole 57 bases. He played one more season with the Colts. He raised his batting average to .245 while drawing 103 walks for an on-base percentage of .379 and added another 50 steals. He hit 13 triples with no home runs for the season, which ranks him in the top ten for most triples in a season without a home run. In 1892, while playing for the St. Louis Browns, Crooks was named team captain and also had two short stints as manager. Under his guidance the team won 27 games while losing 33. Considering that the team’s record for the season was 56 wins and 94 losses, it would appear that Crooks, the manager, did reasonably well.
He was a starter again in 1893 for the Browns, playing mostly second base and sometimes at third base. He finished out his career playing for the Washington Senators and the Louisville Colonels before coming back to the St. Louis Browns for the 1898 season, which was his last in the major leagues.
While playing for St. Louis Crooks took an off-season job as a cigar salesman for a tobacco house. He was well-liked, both on and off the field, and this job eventually became lucrative enough that he quit baseball after only eight major league seasons. He did play some minor league and semi-pro baseball, but never returned to the major leagues.
Jack Crooks spent the last 27 months of his life in an insane asylum in St. Louis before passing away on February 2, 1918, at the age of 52. His death certificate states that he was married. No other family information was found. He is buried at Valhalla Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri; his plot is unmarked, Adult Section Two, Grave 618.
“The Walk-A-Game Club” by Lary Bump, Baseball Research Journal, 1995, p. 108-110
“Minnesota’s First Major League Baseball Game” by Stew Thornley
From Minnesota to the Major Leagues, by Glen Herness. (Victoria, British Columbia: Trafford Publishing, 2005)
Jack Crooks file, National Baseball Hall of Fame
www.findagrave.com, biography by Frank Russo, November 20, 2006
www.sabr.org, home run log