May 12, 1890: Mike Tiernan's homer in 13th wins it for Giants
During his 13-year major-league career, Mike Tiernan proved himself to be one of the top home-run hitters of the National League.
The left-handed-hitting Tiernan, who spent his entire career with the New York Giants, slugged 106 home runs and led the National League in home runs twice. At the time of his retirement in 1899, his career total was only 32 shy of the existing major-league career mark of 138 (held by Roger Connor, whose career mark stood from 1895 to 1920).
In 1890, his fourth season with the Giants, Tiernan hit a league-leading (and career high) 16 home runs. One of those home runs had the unique distinction of being cheered simultaneously by fans in two ballparks and was called “one of the most spectacular in history.”1
The Giants, who had won back-to-back National League titles in 1888 and 1889, had gotten off to a slow start in 1890. Through the games of May 11, the Giants were in last place with a 5-10 record. Tiernan, just one of two Giants regulars in 1889 who didn’t sign with the New York team in the rival Players League for the 1890 season, was one of the early-season bright spots for the Giants.
Tiernan took a .303 batting average into the Giants’ home game against Boston on May 12. On the mound for the Beaneaters was rookie (and future Hall of Famer) Kid Nichols. Nichols, who was 20, and Giants rookie (and future Hall of Famer) Amos Rusie, who was 19, matched scoreless innings until Tiernan provided the heroics in the 13th inning.
In the top of the eighth inning (the home team had the option of batting first at that time),Tiernan singled with two outs and stole second. But Nichols ended the threat by retiring Giants shortstop Jack Glasscock.
The game remained scoreless through 12 innings. Nichols struck out Rusie to open the top of the 13th inning, bringing Tiernan to the plate. Tiernan’s eighth-inning single was just one of three hits Rusie had allowed in the first 12 innings.
After Tiernan fouled off the first pitch, a new ball was put into play. Newspaper accounts differ slighty on what happened next.
One account reported, “He hit a foul, and then a new ball (was provided). The first ball was too far away for the batter, but the next one was just right.”2
Another account said, “He had knocked a foul and a new ball was thrown in. He hit the first one pitched.”3
A third account said, “Two balls were pitched to Tiernan, and a new ball came into the game. Tiernan met it squarely on the end of his bat.”4
Whether it was the second or third pitch of the at-bat can be debated, but the result can’t. Tiernan lined a tremendous drive that cleared the center-field fence for a home run to give the Giants a 1-0 lead. After Tiernan’s home run, Nichols retired Glasscock and Dude Esterbrook. In the bottom of the 13th, Rusie retired the Beaneaters in order to complete his three-hit shutout victory.
The game was “the best that has been seen in New York and it has been a long time since one so good was played in the United States.”5
Tiernan’s home run not only stirred the 687 fans in attendance at the Polo Grounds, it brought cheers from the fans of the adjacent Brotherhood Park – the two ballparks were separated by an alley – where, by coincidence, a Players League game between New York and Boston was being played at the same time.
“Never before in the history of the game has the same number of people shown so much enthusiasm on a ball field. Even the people who were at the Brotherhood Game, and who were watching the League game at the top of the fence, made a great demonstration. And, why not? Tiernan had done what few people ever believed could be accomplished. The ball struck the fence of Brotherhood Park.”6
According to one newspaper account, Tiernan’s home run wasn’t the only thing that that made the game memorable.
“And another thing about the game. It was the finest contest played by two professional teams, and will go down to record as such, not on account of the number of innings played, but because of the wonderful work done by the pitchers and the brilliant fielding.”7
Tiernan would go on to hit .304 with 59 runs batted in and a league-leading .495 slugging percentage for the Giants in 1890. The Giants went on to finish sixth in the National League with a 63-68 record – 24 games behind the first-place Brooklyn Bridegrooms.
Tiernan retired in 1899 with a .311 career batting (including a career-high .369 in 1896). After his retirement, one national sportswriter pointed out that Tiernan should be remembered for his defense, as well.
“In looking back over the history of the game for great outfielders, one invariably picks men who worked in the center garden, yet some of the most remarkable workmen the game has produced played the other outfield positions. Among them . . . Sam Thompson, Tom McCarthy,and Mike Tiernan in right. All worked without a mitt or glove of any kind and were the true artists of the game.”8
When he passed away at the age of 51 in 1918, Tiernan was remembered as “one of the best players of his day. At the plate, he had a fine eye and a splendid follow-through swing. His fielding was phenomenal and his base running very fine.”9
New York Post
New York Times
The Sporting News