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The Last Dodger HR Leader
2004-11-09 16:33
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

When Adrian Beltre took over the major league lead in home runs this season, it was widely reported that he was the first Dodger to do so since Tim Jordan, way back in 1908.

The ensuing number of people rushing to tell the story of Jordan numbered, well, in the zeroes.

Until now!

0695fu.jpgBeltre's home run doppleganger was born on Valentine's Day in New York, 125 years ago. A left-handed-hitting first baseman, Jordan made his debut at age 22 with the 1901 Washington Senators, but five years later, had only eight games and five hits in the majors to his name when he surfaced with the Brooklyn Superbas in 1906.

That year, on one coast, San Francisco was shaken by an earthquake. On another, Brooklyn was shaken by ... Tim Jordan!

Since 1900, according to Baseball Digest, three rookies have led the National League in home runs. Two of those were Brooklyn players at the turn of the century: outfielder Harry Lumley, who hit nine in 1904 (in the process becoming that rare home run leader to have more sacrifices than homers), and Jordan, who hit 12 in that 1906 season (with teammate Lumley again hitting nine to come in second). Both, by the way, finished behind the 1906 league leaders in triples, Pittsburgh's Fred Clarke and the Cubs' Frank Schulte each hitting 13, with Lumley hitting 12 in this category as well.

It will go without saying for most people that this was the Deadball Era. Think Dave Ross struggled in 2004? Brooklyn's starting catcher, Bill Bergen, batted .159 with six extra-base hits and seven walks in 103 games. Only two other Superbas, Whitey Appleman and "Silent" John Hummel, even homered for the team - combining for four.

Setting a precedent for Beltre, Jordan followed his smash rookie season by signing a seven-year, $103 million contract before the 1907 season (give or take six years and $102.99 million). Sadly, the cash went to his head and the homers went away from his bat. Jordan's home run production declined, by 67 percent, to four four-baggers, though the 6-foot-1, 170-pounder did boost his batting average and on-base percentage.

But in 1908, Jordan rallied to post the season that would have us all (okay, me) talking 96 years later.

1650fu.jpgWhen Jordan again eked out 12 home runs, for a 53-101 Brooklyn team in 1908, to lead the league, nobody knew it would be another century before a Dodger repeated the feat. What people did realize, however, was that Jordan had denied legendary Pittsburgh shortstop Honus Wagner, who had announced his retirement in March ("an annual rite of spring," according to BaseballLibrary.com) only to show up and lead the league with a .354 batting average and 109 RBI, a Triple Crown. Wagner finished second in the NL with 10 home runs, falling short in the best chance, as it turned out, that Wagner had in his career for the feat.

Despite leading the league with a home run total that was met or surpassed by 180 big leaguers in 2004, Jordan was no pansy. On July 22, 1908, Jordan became the first player to hit an over-the-fence home run at Pittsbugh's Exposition Park in the century. (Forbes Field opened the following season.) Foreshadowing many Dodger games of the future, Brooklyn lost the game, 2-1.

Two weeks later, Jordan and his teammates were held hitless by St. Louis lefty Johnny Lush in a rain-shortened five-inning game, which the Cardinals won, 2-0, when Jordan dropped a fly ball with the bases loaded. Another story of the times: Jordan made 28 errors at first base that season and 89 from 1906-08.

The NL's first two-time home run leader of the 1900s, Jordan was out of the majors before his 30th birthday. "Ailing knees forced his premature retirement," according to BaseballLibrary.com.

Tim Jordan died, at age 70, in 1949. Fifty-five years later, he came back to life.

Image credits (1 and 2): KJA Consulting.

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