July 21, 1890: Roger Connor becomes only Players’ League batter to hit for the cycle
In 1890 a record seven batters in the major leagues hit for the cycle. They were Mike Tiernan of the National League’s New York Giants (June 28), Bill Van Dyke of the American Association’s Toledo Maumees (July 5), Jumbo Davis of the AA’s Brooklyn Gladiators (July 18), Roger Connor of the Players’ League’s New York Giants (July 21), Oyster Burns of the NL’s Brooklyn Bridegrooms (August 1), John Reilly of the NL’s Cincinnati Reds (August 6), and Farmer Weaver of the AA’s Louisville Colonels (August 12). This record stood until 1933, when eight batters hit for the cycle.1 Connor became the only player in the Players’ League to accomplish the rare feat of getting a single, double, triple, and home run in one game.
The Players’ National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, more popularly known as the “Players’ League” (PL), lasted only one season, 1890. The Brotherhood of Professional Base-Ball Players, baseball’s first union, persuaded many National League stars to leave their 1889 teams and form a new league. The PL “offered teams in which the players themselves retained partial ownership,”2 and it consisted of eight teams: the Boston Reds, the Brooklyn Ward’s Wonders (named after manager John Ward, who also founded the Players’ League), the Buffalo Bisons, the Chicago Pirates, the Cleveland Infants, the New York Giants (there was still a New York Giants team in the National League), the Philadelphia Athletics (there was still a Philadelphia Athletics team in the American Association and a Philadelphia Phillies team in the National League), and the Pittsburgh Burghers.
This meant that the Players’ League had teams in seven of the cities that had National League teams (only Buffalo did not match, as the NL had the Cincinnati Reds). And with the Brooklyn Gladiators playing in the AA, both Philadelphia and Brooklyn had major-league teams in each of the three different leagues in 1890. Of the 72 players appearing in Players’ League box scores on Opening Day, all but two had been in one of the other two leagues in 1889.3 The PL lasted only one season, and the franchises in Brooklyn, New York, Chicago, and Pittsburgh each merged with their NL counterparts the next year (Philadelphia joined the American Association).
After a 12-game homestand in which New York won nine games (including their last four), the 39-33 Giants traveled to Buffalo for a three-game series. The Bisons (18-48) were coming off the road (having played 15 games with only two wins and a tie). The attendance for this first game at Olympic Park was 1,155. When it was over, the Giants had prevailed, 7-5, and the Bisons’ losing streak continued. New York’s Roger Connor was the star of the game.
New York’s Evening World reported that Giants second baseman Danny Richardson had taken ill before the game “with an attack of malaria”4 and manager Buck Ewing replaced him with Gil Hatfield. The skipper called on his brother John Ewing to be “New York’s twirler.”5 Buffalo sent George Haddock to the mound to oppose him.
The Bisons put up the first run in the top of the first inning. Sam Wise drew a two-out walk and Ed Beecher drove him home with a double to left field. In the home half, Connor singled to right with two outs but was stranded. After Buffalo went three up-three down in the second, New York’s Hatfield led off with a single, advanced to second on a passed ball, and took third on a sacrifice by Dan Shannon, but again the Giants could not score. Neither team managed any threat in the third.
In the Giants’ fourth, Connor, leading off, drove the ball “over the right field fence for four bags.”6 Through the first four frames, each team had put up a solo run; the Bisons had two hits, while the Giants had four. In the fifth, after holding Buffalo scoreless, New York started a rally. Shannon hit a ball to shortstop Jack Rowe, whose wild throw to first allowed Shannon to gallop to second. He stole third base and after Art Whitney walked, came home on George Gore’s fly ball. (Whitney took second on the play.) Buck Ewing then shot the ball to right for a single and Whitney scored, giving New York a 3-1 lead.
Buffalo went quietly in the sixth but New York threatened again. Connor led off with a double to right and moved to third base on Jim O’Rourke’s sacrifice to first baseman Deacon White. Hatfield hit a comebacker to Haddock, who fired to third, catching Connor off the bag for the second out. Hatfield stole second and took third on a wild pitch by Haddock. Mike Slattery came through with a timely single to center, and Hatfield trotted home with New York’s fourth run of the game.
Things were quiet until the top of the eighth, when the Bisons gave the Giants “a good scare.”7 Connie Mack started the inning with “a baser to right.”8 Wise reached on an error by Hatfield at second. After Beecher popped out to second, Rowe, White, and John Irwin hit consecutive RBI singles, and four runners crossed the plate. (Irwin’s single brought both Rowe and White home.)
Now trailing by a run, New York stormed back in its eighth inning at-bat. Connor, leading off an inning for the third time, smacked a triple to deep center field, for his fourth hit of the game. According to the Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express, Connor “lost one of Haddock’s twisters somewhere around the rear fence and before Hoy secured the ball Sir Roger reposed on third.”9 O’Rourke singled him home and advanced to second when Irwin fumbled the ball. Hatfield sacrificed O’Rourke to third, and he scored on Slattery’s single. Dummy Hoy bobbled the ball in center, and Slattery kept on running. Irwin took the outfield relay and threw wildly to home, and Slattery was safe! The three tallies gave New York a 7-5 advantage, and that’s how the score remained. John Ewing retired the Buffalo batters in order in the ninth to preserve the win.
Buffalo managed only seven hits in the game, and six of them were singles. New York banged out 11 hits, four by Connor, who “performed wonders with the stick” in hitting for the cycle.
Connor, wrote the Buffalo Commercial, “hit it when and where he pleased, and as hard as he liked, his hits ranging the entire gamut, from a single to a home run.”10 Connor was a first baseman who was one of the early sluggers in the game. He became baseball’s career home-run leader in 1895 (with 126 round-trippers), and he held the top spot (with 138) until 1921, when Babe Ruth obliterated the mark with 162 career homers (Ruth had hit 142 home runs just from 1919 to 1921). Connor’s 14 home runs in 1890 led the PL, as did his slugging percentage (.548), and his runs scored (133), total bases (265), and OPS (.998) were in the top five. According to his SABR biography, Connor “spent virtually every season between 1880 and 1894 among league leaders in a wide array of offensive categories.”11 In his career, he was also a very good fielder and was a stolen-base threat.
One benefit of the Players’ League was the construction of new ballparks. Connor’s team, the PL’s New York Giants, played in a new facility called Brotherhood Park, which became the home field for the NL’s Giants from 1891 through 1957, known as the Polo Grounds.
Here is a photograph of the 1890 Giants:12
In addition to the sources mentioned in the Notes, the author consulted baseball-reference.com, mlb.com, sabr.org and retrosheet.org. Play-by-play was taken from the Evening World account of the game. Thanks to Kevin Larkin with information about the Players’ League.
1 The 1933 record of eight batters hitting for the cycle was equaled in 2009. Five of the eight batters from 1933 were elected to the Hall of Fame; Connor is the only Hall of Famer from the 1890 group.
2 John Bauer, “April 19, 1890: Debut of the Players League,” sabr.org/gamesproj/game/april-19-1890-debut-players-league.
4 “An Enthusiastic Crowd Greets the Giants in Their Nadjys,” New York Evening World, July 21, 1890: 1.
5 “The Players’ League,” Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express, July 22, 1890: 6.
6 “Sat Upon by Giants,” Buffalo Commercial, July 22, 1890: 8.
7 Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express.
10 Buffalo Commercial.