To name all the former players who at one time held the career record for homeruns is to offer a short roll call of names. Barry Bonds recently broke Hank Aaron’s record, which Mr. Aaron took from Babe Ruth, who held the record for several decades. The Bambino toppled the mark set by Hall of Famer Roger Connor, while Connor broke the record held by the man who set the original mark: Mr. Harry Stovey. Ruth, Aaron and Connor are all Hall of Famers while Bonds will be judged for the Hall of Fame in the up-coming year. As for Harry Stovey, few people can recall his name because he has yet to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The honor has yet to be bestowed upon the legend of the 1800s because historians pay little notice to Stovey’s primary league: the old American Association.
The reason Harry Stovey, one of the greatest speed/power combo threats in the game’s rich history, has been passed over repeatedly for inducted is the stigma of the American Association (AA). Often referred to as “The Beer and Whiskey League,” the AA was deemed a lesser caliber of play to the dominant National League. Be that as it may, Stovey participated in both leagues and shined in each one. The early legend of baseball was a five-time single season homerun champ–he won the homerun crown his rookie year–and also led the league in triples and runs scored in four separate seasons. Due to his many league leading totals, Stovey’s rank on the “Black Ink Test,” which focuses on the totals of league-leading stats, rests high on the all-time board and exceeds most of his peers. Stovey’s Black Ink mark is a stellar 56. Hall of Fame peers Billy Hamilton (43), Hugh Duffy (35), Orator O’Rourke (27), King Kelly (23) and Tommy McCarthy (3) all rest well below Harry’s mark.
If one were to offer a modern ballplayer as a likeness to Stovey, the name Barry Bonds would come to mind. Both ballplayers were exceptional athletes who were capable of leading their respective leagues in both homeruns and stolen bases. Although the stolen base stat wasn’t kept on a regular basis during the first few years of Stovey’s career, he nevertheless led his league in that department on three occasions. Old literature on the game will often list Stovey, in one of the years the stolen base wasn’t kept, as having pilfered over 150 bases in a single season. Perhaps, had stats been annotated like they are today, Ty Cobb, Maury Wills and Rickey Henderson would not be considered the record holders of past and present in that department.
At one point in baseball history, Harry Stovey held the single season record in both homeruns and stolen bases. An accomplished all-round ballplayer, Stovey was a slugging threat (he paced the league three times in slugging percentage) who also ran the bases with the speed of a gazelle. Although his career was anything but lengthy, Harry rests 21st all-time in the career triples department. Due to his prolific offensive accomplishments, Stovey remains, to this day, one of the single greatest run manufacturers in the game’s history. Capable of scoring and driving in a ton of runs, Stovey is one of just a select few ballplayers in history to average over a run scored per game. As a manufacturer of runs, scored and driven-in, Stovey is in the class of the elite. He accounted for an average of 1.615 runs manufactured per game, a tally that exceeded Hall of Fame peers Kelly (1.586), Hamilton (1.530), O’Rourke (1.469) and McCarthy (1.412). Modern day comparisons, Derek Jeter (1.208) and Alex Rodriguez (1.525) show that Stovey was quite remarkable, regardless the era.
When Harry Stovey passed away, he received a little support for the Hall of Fame but those individuals who turn their nose up to the American Association kept him from garnering much support. The highest percentage of the Hall of Fame vote Stovey ever received came just prior to his death when he netted the small total of 7.7% of the vote. A case could be made for Harry Stovey as the most underrated player in baseball history, for the man seemed to lack a weakness on the field. He was both swift and strong, leading his league in long balls and thefts on several occasions.