This Day in Baseball History: June 20th, 1921

Who else would you put in front of him for best player ever?

On June 20, 1921:

Babe Ruth passes Sam Thompson for 2nd on the all-time home run list and is 11 back for the lead.

Sam Thompson was an amazing hitter who played in both the underhand and overhand pitching eras. He slugged a career-high 20 home runs in 1889, but his peak power years came from 1893 to 1896 when he hit double-digit homers each season. Thompson ended his career with 127 home runs.

Babe Ruth had just begun his homer barrage. 11 in 1918, 29 in 1919, a record 54 in 1920, and a new record 59 in 1921. Ruth would pass Thompson on June 20th of 1921, and it wouldn’t take him long to reach the next guy on the list. Once he did, he just kept going. By the time he was done, he beat Thompson by almost 600 home runs, the difference would have put him 4th on the all-time list today.

But who were they chasing? Roger Connor. Connor collected 138 home runs in his career, one of them being the first walk-off Grand Slam (and they were down by three at the time). Standing at 6’3″, he was a major reason the New York team was called the Giants. Connor was an excellent hitter (maybe a bit better than Thompson), but his highest output was 17 home runs. The difference was the length of careers and an extra double-digit home run season.

At this point in history, only 11 players even had 100 career home runs, none over 200. By the end of Babe Ruth’s career, things had changed quite a bit. The Live Ball Era began in the early 1920’s, and home runs became more prevalent. 51 players would eclipse 100 home runs by 1935 (the end of Ruth’s career), and ironically, 11 now had more than 200. Lou Gehrig was second on the all-time list with 378 with Jimmie Foxx and Rogers Hornsby 76 and 78 behind, respectively. The difference between Ruth and the rest of the competition is just staggering.

When we look back on the greatest players in baseball history, you can probably make an argument for several players. I think it would be hard to go against Ruth, but I imagine you could. The argument I think you would have a hard time making is that one other player made such a difference to the game. By himself, he changed the landscape. Sure, the new balls helped make offense easier, but it was Ruth who made “chicks love the longball”. He popularized it, and his popularity, I would argue, changed the game from hit-and-run to hit-and-trot. One of my history professors once told me, “No man is historically important, in that he changed history radically by himself, other than maybe Alexander the Great.” When I mentioned Babe Ruth (he was a baseball fan), he responded, “He is the Alexander of Baseball”.

Trivia Time
After the 1935 season, where did Connor rank on the all-time list?

Yesterday’s Answer –> Center field. The Houston Astros officially made him a pitcher after they signed him.


One Response to “This Day in Baseball History: June 20th, 1921”

  1. Ian Says:

    I feel like a complete idiot for forgetting that Santana was a lefty. That's what happens when you make a random guess without thinking it through.

    This time I'll think it through. You say 11 players had over 200 homers after 1935 and 51 had over 100. That means 40 had between 100 and 200. Connor had 138 homers, so that means he was 38% of the way between 100 and 200. 40 times .38 is 15.2, which we can round off to 15. 51 minus 15 is 36, so assuming a reasonably even distribution down the list he'd be around 36th. Then again, the degree of difficulty increases the higher you get on the list. I'm not sure how to account for that mathematically, but I would assume that several guys were just barely over 100 homers at the time. After all, a lot of teams continued to play deadball-style baseball for years after the Ruth revolution.

    I'll guess Connor was 20th, since I'm having a hard time thinking of names that should be ahead of him.

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