Ask collectors about the first prolific home run hitter and Babe Ruth will often be the answer. But before the Babe, there was Roger Connor.
Now, Connor didn’t slug home runs with the proficiency that Ruth would later do. Not even close. After all, the most Connor managed to hit in a season was 17, a number topped by even average players today.
But when Connor last played in the majors in 1897, his 138 dingers were the most hit by any player in history. His ability to hit long balls coupled with a .316 career batting average eventually landed him in Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Along with Home Run Baker, Conner was one of the earliest masters of the home run.
But while Connor did some truly great things in his generation, unfortunately you won’t find him on many baseball cards. And while he does appear in some issues, most are difficult to find.
Collectors looking for a card of Roger Conner from his playing days will be most likely to find cards from one of two sets from the late 1880s — the N284 Buchner Gold Coin set (card pictured left) or the N172 Old Judge set. Like many players in those issues, Connor has more than one card in each issue. And while those cards aren’t plentiful, they will generally be your best bets if wanting to track down a Connor card.
Cards from both sets pop up on occasion in auctions, which is the good news. But as you would expect, his cards are not cheap, either. Even in low-grade condition, it is difficult to find the Buchners for much less than $400-$500 and the Old Judge cards will generally be more than that. Those prices would be considered bargains, though, compared to what some of his other stuff can sell for.
Now, Connor has more cards than the ones appearing in those sets. Unfortunately, they are much harder to find and, consequently, much more expensive.
For example, he’s in the N175 Gypsy Queen set. But to date, PSA has graded only two of them. Others are equally scarce. Connor has a couple of cards in the N403 Yum Yum Tobacco set, too. But SGC has graded only four of those and PSA hasn’t graded a single one. Ditto for the rare 1886 N175 Old Judge set where Connor has only a few cards graded by each company.
You rarely see any of those Connor cards or some of his other toughies at auction. But when you do, the prices can be astronomical. In 2005, Robert Edward Auctions sold a PSA 7 N167 Old Judge for $43,500. That price would likely be blown away should it come back on the market now. A PSA 4 went for over $30,000 in 2006. Heritage offered a Roger Connor Yum Yum card graded an SGC 5 and, in 2011, it sold for nearly $24,000.
Connor’s home run totals were ultimately surpassed (and then, shattered) by Ruth. But while his 138 home runs aren’t big numbers by today’s standards, there was a time when he was the most prolific home run hitter of all time. And while you can technically take home one of his cards with enough money, they are not terribly easy to find.