Transaction of Today…October 20, 1889: The Boston Beaneaters purchase Bobby Lowe’s contract for a reported $700. Date is approximate.
No one did it this year, but in 2017, Scooter Gennett and J.D. Martinez each hit four homers in a game. They joined an interesting collection of sluggers including Lou Gehrig, Willie Mays, Mike Schmidt, and Carlos Delgado in a club that only has 18 members. They’re the only ones to smack four homers in a game. The Braves’ organization is tied with Phildelphia as the only teams to have three players do it. In 1986, Bob Horner did it in a losing effort. Thirty-two years before that, Joe Adcock had a quartet of homers for Milwaukee.
But the first Brave – and the first player ever – to hit four homers did it with the Boston Beaneaters in 1894. His name was Bobby Lowe and nearly 125 years ago, he joined this franchise.
Born in Pittsburgh shortly before the end of the Civil War, Lowe gave up baseball at the age of 18 to provide for his mother and youngest sister by working as a machinist. But three years later, a former co-worker from Lowe’s days with the New Castle Courant newspaper convinced Lowe’s employer to allow him to play some baseball here-and-there. The co-worker was named Charley Powers, who played minor league baseball and found work as an umpire as well. He saw in Lowe, during some amateur games in New Castle, “a born ballplayer.”
The half-time gig in baseball became more of a full-time job. He moved up the ladder with different minor league teams, posting tremendous stats until, after hitting .315 in 1889, the Boston Beaneaters came calling.
Boston won two of the first three pennants in the National League, but had just one NL title in the previous eleven seasons. New manager Frank Selee took over and worked to change over an aging roster. Young 20-year-old Kid Nichols was added to the team a few months after Lowe and a few weeks later, Boston purchased Herman Long. They’d finish in the fifth place in 1890, but Lowe, who played sparingly as an utility player, hit .280/.366/.391.
In 1891, Boston rebounded to take the NL behind the dynamite duo of John Clarkson and Nichols and the spark-plug Long. That season and the following year, Lowe’s bat struggled to break out while he floated around like Ben Zobrist used to. After 38 starts in center during 1891, Lowe ceded most of the playing time to Hugh Duffy in 1892, leaving Lowe as a 2B/SS/3B/LF.
Following 1892, Boston got rid of Joe Quinn and put Lowe in at second base full-time. Paired up with Long for the first time, Lowe finally took over for good, hitting .298/.369/.433 with 14 homers. Only two other players hit more homers in the dead ball-era 1893. Once again, Boston cruised to a NL Title, scoring over 200 more runs than they surrendered.
In 1894, Boston would finish third in the NL while playing in three different stadiums. They opened the year in the South End Grounds II, which burned down in mid-May. As a result, the team moved to the Congress Street Grounds – also in Boston. The Beaneaters shook off the fire and won three consecutive games against Washington before the Reds came to town for a double header on May 30. In the morning, Boston won 13-10 before handing the ball to Nichols in the afternoon tilt. Boston fell behind early, but had already tied it up at 2-2 when Lowe stepped into the batter’s box in the third inning. Hitless in his first at-bat, Lowe sent a line drive deep to left field, clearing the fence to put Boston up. From there, it was a rout. Still in the third inning, Lowe bashed another homer to conclude the scoring. After entering the third inning knotted at 2, it was now 11-2.
Neither pitcher was particularly sharp. By the bottom of the fifth, Nichols had surrendered four more runs to make it a game. Lowe hammered another homer, his third, to increase the edge. Six other players had hit three homers in a major league game to that point. But Lowe was hardly done. Just one inning later, Lowe stepped in with the bases loaded and unloaded for his fourth homer. Fans, astonished at what they were seeing, showered the field with an onslaught of coins. All told, Lowe is probably the only player in history to hit four homers and earn an additional $160 from the fans as they showed how grateful they were for his accomplishment.
Though Boston would go on to win 20-11 and Lowe finished with an MVP-type campaign that season – if such an award existed. Like I said, Boston still finished in third place as their pitching staff badly struggled. Lowe’s season was still special with a .346/.401/.520 line that included 34 doubles, 11 triples, and 17 homers.
Boston struggled more the following season, though their double-play combo of Lowe and Long remained elite. Famed manager, John McGraw, referred to the combination as the best he’d ever seen. In 1896, the team started to construct a new infield as Jimmy Collins joined the team at third base. The following year, Fred Tenney became the team’s first baseman. The four members of the infield all hit at least .309 as Boston rebounded to win 93 games and take the NL title with ease. With their new infield, Boston would go on to win two more titles in 1897 and 1898, giving them five for the decade. It’s been argued that Boston’s super infield may have been the best infield ever.
At the turn of the century, Boston’s best days finally came to a close. Much like when Lowe joined them, they were getting old – only this time it was Lowe and Company. After 1901, Lowe was sold to the Chicago Orphans, who changed their name to the Cubs in 1903. Lowe was replaced at second by another famous second baseman in Johnny Evers, who would go on to be a part of the next great Boston team in 1914. After a brief stop in Pittsburgh, Lowe headed to Detroit to finish his career. He even ended 1904 as a player/manager for the Tigers, the year before Ty Cobb won his first batting title.
His career over, Lowe became the University of Michigan baseball coach in 1907 before a season as the Grand Rapids Wolverines coach. Guess he liked the moniker. After two more years as a college coach, he transitioned into a scout and then an inspector for the City of Detroit.
Lowe would once again return to baseball in 1932 when, while wearing his old Boston uniform, he took pictures with Lou Gehrig after the latter joined the four homers in a game club – the same club he started. Lowe passed away in 1951 at the age of 86.
One final note on Lowe. When we talk about greatest second basemen of all time, we often speak of Rogers Hornsby, Jackie Robinson, Joe Morgan, or Roberto Alomar. But before them, most people felt Nap Lajoie was the greatest second basemen of all time. Lowe’s wife thought so and told the 1901 Triple Crown winner of her thoughts. Lajoie disagreed. “The greatest second baseman was your husband.” Not too shabby for a $700 investment.