In 1890, there were two well-known baseball leagues in America, the National League and the Players’ League. While the National League still exists today as part of Major League Baseball, it was actually the Players’ League that drew bigger crowds and boasted bigger superstars. Strangely, both leagues had teams in New York called the Giants.
The Players’ League was formed out of protest, when several members of baseball’s first player’s union (Brotherhood of Professional Base-Ball Players) withdrew from the National League. Unfortunately, lack of financial support and lack of competent leadership caused the league to fold after only one season. While the New York Giants finished in third place during the league’s only season, the team had some of the best players in the history of baseball, including four players who eventually made it to the Hall of Fame:
Roger Connor (first baseman). Conner, who is most famous for being the first major league player to hit a grand slam, was the pre-eminent power-hitter of his era. During his 18-year pro career, he amassed 1322 RBI, 233 triples (which ranks fifth all-time), 441 doubles, 244 stolen bases, and 138 home runs. Connor was a prolific home run hitter in an era when home runs were scarce. In fact, upon his retirement, his career home run record stood for over two decades, until it was surpassed by Babe Ruth in 1921.
Buck Ewing (catcher). Ewing, the first player to hit 10 or more home runs in a season, was the best catcher inducted into the Hall of Fame. He finished his career with 1129 runs, 250 doubles and 178 triples, along with 354 stolen bases a .303 batting average.
Tim Keefe (pitcher). As a rookie pitcher in 1880 with the Troy Trojans, Keefe finished the season with an ERA of 0.86, which is a single-season record which still stands. By the time he played with the Giants, Keefe was an established superstar. He retired a few seasons later after a stint with the Philadelphia Phillies, compiling an impressive lifetime record of 342-225, with 2562 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.62. Keefe still ranks ninth in all-time pitching wins, and 27th in strikeouts.
Jim O’Rourke (outfielder). “Orator Jim’, as he was known, was a feared hitter and a powerful thrower (it was said that he could throw a baseball 365 feet with ease). He retired from the game in 1904, with 2643 hits (73rd all-time), 465 doubles, 151 triples (49th all-time), and a batting average of .311.
In 1968, baseball commissioner William Eckert ruled that the Players’ League was a “major league”, thus making the above-mentioned players eligible for the Hall of Fame.
(Sources: Baseball-Reference.com, MLB.com)