If you’re clever, you’ve discovered a pattern in my last few posts. I’m looking at the guys who held the all-time home run title before Babe Ruth. According to Baseball Reference, there were six of them: Lip Pike, Charley Jones, Jim O’Rouke, Harry Stovey, Dan Brouthers, and Roger Connor. If you don’t count the National Association as a Major League (which MLB doesn’t, but Baseball Reference obviously does), the list changes to add in people like George Hall. I’m sticking with the Baseball Reference list. I’ve done posts on Pike and O’Rouke previously and just added Brouthers and Connor. So today is Stovey’s turn.
He was born Harry Stowe in Philadelphia in 1856. By 1877 he was playing for the Defiance of Philadelphia and the Athletics. His mother didn’t like him playing ball, so he changed his name to Stovey to decieve her (don’t know how well it worked). By 1878 he was playing for the New Bedford Clam-Eaters (God, don’t you love old time team names?). He stayed through 1879 picking up a reputation as a good player and also picking up a wife.
In 1880 he was signed by the Worcester Ruby Legs (another great team name). He stayed with the team until it folding in 1882, winning both a home run and triples title in his rookie campaign. In 1883 he transfered, along with much of the Worcester roster to Philadelphia. With the Athletics he became a premier American Association player. He led the league in runs scored four times; in home runs three times; in triples twice; and in RBIs, stolen bases, doubles, total bases, and slugging once each. In 1883 the A’s won the American Association pennant with Stovey as their best player. The 19th Century version of the World Series didn’t begin until the next year.
In 1890 he joined most of the leading players of the day by jumping to the Player’s League. He proceeded to win the league’s only stolen base title with a career high 97. He had one final great year in 1891 leading the National Leagie in triples, home runs, total bases slugging, and in strikeouts with a career high 69. His team, the Boston Beaneaters (another great 19th Century team name), won the NL pennant that season. He hung on through 1893 playing for Boston, Baltimore, and Brooklyn.
Retired from the Major Leagues, he played and managed a little in the minors, then joined the New Bedford police force in 1895, rising to captain in 1915. He retired from the force in 1923 and died in 1937.
For his career he had 1771 hits and scored 1492 runs in 1486 games split between first base and the outfield (about two to one ratio in favor of the outfield). He had 347 doubles, 174 triples, 122 home runs, and 2832 total bases. His triple slash numbers are .289/.361/.461/.822 with an OPS+ of 144. He was considered an average fielder in his day. His teams won two pennants in his 14 year career.
There’s never been much of a push for Stovey to be enshrined in Cooperstown, and perhaps there shouldn’t be. He has the problem (as does a player like Pete Browning) of having played a long time ago for the American Association, which is generally considered the weaker of the two leagues. But he deserves to be remembered because between 1885 through 1894 (with a two year exception when Brouthers took the title) he was the most prolific home run hitter in Major League history.