“He was the Great Roger Connor”

26 Aug

Dan Parker wrote for The New York Mirror from 1924 until the paper folded in 1963, and for The New York Journal American until his death in 1967.

Parker used his platform to champion causes; he was most famous for a series of stories on mob influence in boxing that led to multiple investigations and several convictions.  He also exposed fraud in wrestling, and among racetrack touts.  He was also an outspoken advocate for the integration of baseball, beginning in 1933.

parker

Parker

In 1950, the Connecticut native wrote about a more personal crusade:

“Thirty-five years ago, when, as a cub reporter I used to cover the school department in offices in Waterbury, my home town, one of the officials I had to call on for news was a tall, handsome, powerfully built man of about 60 whose majestic gray, handlebar mustache perfectly matched his regal bearing.

“Though he was only the school inspector, a minor official in charge of the janitors and artisans employed by the department, I was always in awe of him and no wonder! He was the great Roger Connor, famous when a Giant had to be a giant in every sense of the word.”

Connor, the Waterbury native who appeared in 1998 National League games from 1880 through 1897 was so revered in Waterbury that:

“Kids would stop in the streets and stand at respectful attention as he drove by in his horse and buggy, making his daily rounds of the public schools.”

connor

Connor

But that respect, he said, was not shown outside of his hometown:

“Apparently the name of Roger Connor doesn’t mean anything to baseball today because it isn’t among those admitted to the diamond’s Hall of Fame.”

Parker, said there didn’t “seem to be anything that can be done.” He felt that the committee, which had not met to vote on new inductees since 1946, and added just two players—Mordecai Brown and Kid Nichols—in a vote consisting of mail-in ballots in 1949, had “once and for all” chosen :forever” the only 19th Century players “worthy of” enshrinement:

“Forever is indeed a long, long time to bar a player of Roger Connor’s stature.”

Five years earlier, after the first group of 10 players was selected by the committee, Parker said:

“Bill Klem, the Old Arbitrator, didn’t call when wrong when he said the other day that Roger Connor…should have been among the old-timers selected.”

Parker said in the 1945 article that Connor was not simply his hometown hero, he was “the first ballplayer I ever heard of”

Parker then described Connor’s daily trek through Waterbury in even more noble terms than he would five years later. Noting that while “There was nothing glamorous” about Connor’s position:

“(S)uch was Roger’s regal dignity and majestic aloofness that his commonplace job didn’t diminish his effulgence by a single candle power. The horse and buggy he drove around on his tours of inspection might have been a Roman emperor’s chariot.”

Physically, he said:

“He was a fine figure of a man, a good six feet three inches tall, straight as an Oregon pine and just as robust. Like Candy LaChance, the other big league first baseman Waterbury produced, Roger had a fine flowing mustache. An admirer from the Old Sod would have said of Roger: ‘Sure the bye don’t know his own strinth!’”

In the 1945 article, Parker talked about Connor’s prowess in general terms. In the 1950 pitch for enshrinement, he cited Connor’s lifetime extra base hits, in a stat line provided to him by Ernest Lanigan—the curator of the Hall of Fame–whom Parker called “The Roger Connor of baseball statisticians, in that he has never been fittingly recognized.”

statline.jpg

Connor’s Extra Base Hits

Parker never gave the campaign, in 1951, he said “when a great old-time slugger like Roger Connor is left outside,” it was time for the Hall of Fame to change their election procedures.

The same year he harkened back to the 1946 class and asked:

“Without meaning to be disparaging. May I inquire how Tom McCarthy came to be admitted the baseball’s Hall of Fame when Roger Connor missed out?”

Parker kept up the call for Waterbury’s most famous son, but unlike his other crusades, he did not see this one through.

After Parker’s death in 1967, his friend, Jack McGrath, the retired sports editor of The Troy Times Record, the town where Connor’s major league career began in 1880, and Don Harrison, sports reporter for The Waterbury Republican—where Parker got his start in 1912—took up the cause.

When Connor finally gained admittance in 1976, The Record said:

“As is often the case with such sports stories there is an interesting story behind the story. In this case it is the story of a crusade rewarded…Dan Parker crusaded for Connor’s election to the Hall of Fame for the former third baseman-first baseman’s consistently good hitting record. The crusade never succeeded, Parker died a few years ago but among those who carried on was Jack ‘Peerless’ McGrath…Connor, who died 45 years ago, was finally named to the Hall of Fame Monday. For Jack McGrath and his late great pal, Dan Parker, it was a case of a crusade rewarded.”

McGrath died nine months after Connor was elected.

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