For many years, my father and I have asking what we both consider to be "the hardest baseball trivia question." For three decades we've been asking both hardcore as well as regular baseball trivia fans a question that no fan has been able to answer. And that question is:
"Who held the career home run record before Babe Ruth set the record in 1921?"
Back in 1974, I sent a question to the Daily News columnist Red Foley, who used to have a Sunday column called "Ask Red," where he'd answer about 4 or 5 baseball queries from fans in the New York area. On four occasions I sent in questions that were printed in the paper that Sunday. However, every time I wrote to Red I got a response back from him on Daily News stationery. It was a really cool thing.
Hank Aaron had just broken Babe Ruth's all-time home run record. It was of course a huge thing, but in all the hullabaloo surrounding it, I wondered who's record Ruth broke. So I wrote to Red and he sent me back the answer.
For years, my dad and I asked people if they knew, and we'd get all kinds of guesses, like Ty Cobb, Home Run Baker and Honus Wagner. But they were always incorrect. When we'd say the answer, we'd get long faces and the inevitable response of, "I never heard of him."
So after three decades I figured nobody would ever answer this question correctly. I was in Professor Thom's on Thursday night, and my buddy Chris introduced me to a friend of his from ESPN.com named Dave. We were shooting baseball qusetions between us all night. Dave had a great one that stumped Chris and I but good. But then I decided to hit him with my question about the home run champion.
Dave at first said Roger Connor, but that was the "pre-1900" answer (as we checked it out in a baseball encyclopedia the bar has handy). Connor hit 136 homers, but his is not considered the "modern" record, as he hit all of his before 1898. Then the next response from Dave was, "Gavvy Cravath." I was totally dumbstruck! He got it right, and it's the first time his name has been mentioned by anyone in 30 years of asking that question between my dad and myself. I shook Dave's hand and congratulated him on getting it right.
Gavvy Cravath (pictured) was the premier home run hitter before Ruth, hitting 119 homers in a career that lasted from 1908-1920. He came up with the Red Sox, but played most of his career with the Phillies, and won 6 NL home run titles. After he retired, he became a judge in his native California, where he died in 1963. For more on the one-time home run champ, check this out: