MLB Forgotten Greats: Remembering Harry Stovey

Imagine a player who was the single season MLB leader in homers and stolen bases, and held the all time home run lead when they retired. That player was Harry Stovey, one of the forgotten greats in MLB history.

One of the greatest players in the early days of the MLB, Harry Stovey was a true all around threat with the bat. A prodigious power hitter, Stovey was the first player to hit 100 career home runs, and led the league in homers five times. Stovey was also an incredible speedster, leading the league in steals twice, including his 1890 season when he led the Player’s League with 97 steals.

At one point, Stovey held the single season record for home runs, hitting 14 long balls in 1883, and in stolen bases, as he swiped 68 bags in 1886. That combination of power and speed was a rarity in those days, as Stovey performed at a level that was similar to Barry Bonds given the time frame. Overall in his 14 year career, Stovey produced a .289/.361/.461 batting line, hitting 122 home runs and stealing an estimated 509 bases, as steals were not an official stat during the first six years of his career. He also hit 174 triples, which were considered to be the true sign of a power hitter back in the 1800’s.

However, by the time the MLB Hall of Fame came into being, Stovey was a forgotten player. Babe Ruth had set the mark for what a power hitter would be, relegating Stovey’s prowess to the memories of people’s grandparents. Meanwhile, Billy Hamilton and Hugh Nicol had surpassed Stovey’s basestealing ability.

In 1936, the only year that Stovey was considered for the Hall, he earned only 7.7% of the vote. Since that time, he has not appeared on a ballot, leaving him forgotten amongst the early days of baseball history.

Yet, that should not be the case. Aside from his solid overall statistics, proving that Stovey was a unique talent for his time, he was amongst the league leaders in virtually every other category during his career. Stovey led the league in runs twice, and score 100 or more runs nine times. He was the league leader in triples four times, and in six of the eight seasons where stolen bases were recorded as a statistic, he stole fifty or more bases.

When one looks back at the best players from the 19th century that are not in the Hall of Fame, Bill Dahlen is often considered to be the best player from that era not enshrined. However, it may well be Stovey who can really claim that title. A rare specimen who could do it all on the field, Stovey was easily one of the top players in his day.

On what would have been his 160th birthday, let’s take a moment to reflect back upon the career of one of the forgotten greats in MLB history. Harry Stovey deserves to be remembered, and should have a place in the Hall of Fame.

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