American baseball player
Rogers Hornsby wanted to play baseball so badly that when he was sixteen he donned a wig, pretended to be a woman, and barnstormed through his native Texas with the Boston Bloomer Girls. As an adult, he cared for nothing except baseball. Often overlooked when baseball's greatest players are ranked, Hornsby was arguably the best right-handed batter in the game's history, retiring with the second-highest lifetime batting average, surpassed only by his contemporary, Detroit's Ty Cobb . With few other interests, the gruff, profane, outspoken Hornsby was an early model of an athlete completely dedicated to his sport.
The Hornsby family came from Wales to colonial Virginia in the early 18th century, and about a century later moved to west Texas, to a settlement near Austin that became known as Hornsby's Bend. Ed Hornsby married Mary Dallas Rogers, from nearby Rogers Hill, in 1882. They had four children before moving to a homestead near Abilene. There, Rogers Hornsby—named after his mother—was born on April 27, 1896. His father died two years later of unknown causes. His mother took the children to live with her parents on a farm near Austin, then later moved to Fort Worth, a booming meatpacking town. In Fort Worth, Rogers began playing baseball in earnest, and by the time he was nine was the star of a local team. Mary Hornsby sewed his team's blue flannel uniforms, and the boys traveled to their games by trolley. By age ten, when he went to work after school and during the summer for the Swift and Company meatpacking plant, he substituted on teams of stockyard and packing plant workers.
Young Hornsby was slight, smooth on defense at any position, and cocky, but not much of a hitter. But he was determined to be a professional baseball player. At age fifteen, he was playing on the North Side Athletics in the Fort Worth adult league, and on other teams, including the semipro Granbury club, where he made two dollars per game plus room and board and rail fare. Granbury manager H.L. Warlick remembered praising Hornsby after one game for making all the plays at second base, and recalled Hornsby replying: "Yeah, and there are eight other positions I can play just as good," according to Charles Alexander's biography, Rogers Hornsby. The next summer, Hornsby and a friend took a train to Dallas, answering a newspaper ad looking for players under eighteen to play with the touring women's team, the Boston Bloomer Girls. Donning wigs and bloomers, Hornsby and his friend played as female impersonators.
In high school, Hornsby played football and baseball, but dropped out after two years to help support his mother
by working as an office boy at Swift and Company. In the spring of 1914, Hornsby had grown to his adult height of nearly six feet but still weighed only 135 pounds. His older brother Everett, who had played seven years in the Class B Texas League and one season at Class A with Kansas City, was on the Dallas Steers and got his little brother a tryout. He signed a contract but never played and was released after two weeks. He tried out with a new team in the Class D Texas-Oklahoma League, the lowest level of the minors. He made the team, located in the small town of Hugo, and played for $75 a month as the regular shortstop. But the franchise folded and Hornsby's contract was sold to Denison. There, he hit .232 and made forty-five errors in 113 games. "Won't somebody teach me how to hit?" he pleaded to teammate Herb Hunter, according to Alexander.
After another season at Denison, where he boosted his average to .277 but still made fifty-eight errors in 119 games, Hornsby was called up at the end of 1915 to St. Louis, a struggling National League club. Rosters in the major leagues had been severely depleted by players defecting to the upstart Federal League. Hornsby, whose record to that point hardly merited such a rapid promotion, arrived in St. Louis as a callow, wholesome young man, and he frequently got lost in the unfamiliar big city. He played in his first game on September 10, a week after joining the club, and was hitless in two at-bats. In all, he batted .246, appearing in eighteen games at shortstop and making many mistakes in the field.
After the season, when the manager told Hornsby he wanted to "farm him out for a year"—send him down to the minors for more seasoning—Hornsby misunderstood him and decided he would spend the off-season on his uncle's farm near Austin. He worked hard, ate steak and fried chicken, drank a lot of fresh milk, and slept twelve hours a night. He put on thirty-five pounds. A bulked-up Hornsby returned to spring training a much more impressive hitter. He stood far back in the box and away from home plate, used an open stance, and rifled line drives to all fields. Confident, hustling, and eager, Hornsby forced his way onto the team and into the regular lineup and played every infield position, finishing the season primarily as a third baseman and hitting .313. By the end of the season, several other National League clubs were trying to get Hornsby in a trade.
In 1917, Hornsby hit .327 and led the league with 253 total bases, a .484 slugging percentage and seventeen triples, in an era when triples were the prime measure of a power hitter. His defense was nothing to brag about, though. Playing the entire year at shortstop, he made fifty-two errors, third-highest in the league.
|1896||Born April 27 in Winters, Texas|
|1912||Impersonates a girl and barnstorms with the Boston Bloomer Girls|
|1914||Plays first professional game for Hugo, Oklahoma|
|1915||Debuts in major leagues with St. Louis Cardinals|
|1918||Marries Sarah Martin|
|1920||Becomes Cardinals' regular second baseman|
|1922||Has one of best offensive seasons in baseball history|
|1924||Marries Jeannette Pennington|
|1924||Compiles .424 batting average, best of modern era|
|1925||Takes over as manager of Cardinals and wins Triple Crown|
|1926||Manages St. Louis to a World Series win over New York Yankees|
|1927||Traded to New York Giants and fills in for John McGraw as manager|
|1928||Dealt to Boston Braves, takes over as manager, and again is traded after season|
|1929||Has last great season with Chicago Cubs|
|1930||Becomes Cubs manager|
|1933||Returns to St. Louis to play and manage American League's Browns|
|1937||Finishes playing career and tenure as Browns manager|
|1942||Inducted into National Baseball Hall of Fame|
|1950||Manages Class AA Beaumont, Texas, team to championship|
|1952||Hired to manage St. Louis Browns, is fired and becomes Cincinnati Reds manager|
|1953||Fired as Reds manager near season's end|
|1962||Coaches for New York Mets under Casey Stengel|
|1963||Dies January 6 in Chicago|
In 1918, injuries—including a groin pull, a spiked thumb, and a sore shoulder—hampered Hornsby, and he slumped to .281, the worst full-season performance of his major-league career. The season was cut short by World War I, and Hornsby was drafted to go to Wilmington, Delaware, to work in the naval shipyards and play ball for military teams. There, he married Sarah Martin. The war ended, and over the winter Hornsby and his bride traveled around Texas and set up a string of automobile dealerships, capitalizing on his sudden fame. In 1919 Hornsby was groomed for second base but played all four infield positions and rebounded to hit.318, almost winning the batting championship.
The next year, Hornsby was installed at second base, the position that Cardinals management decided he was best suited to play. Settled there for the entire year, Hornsby had a breakout season, winning the batting championship with a robust .370 average and leading the league in hits, runs batted in, doubles, and slugging percentage.
In his prime, Hornsby piled up offensive numbers that have never been equaled. The 1920 season was the first of six consecutive seasons, and seven overall, in which Hornsby won the National League batting championship. His accomplishments over the next five-year stretch, 1921 through 1925, could hardly have been imagined a few years earlier, when he was a scrawny kid struggling to hit. It helped that baseball had instituted a new, livelier ball, but even in that context his achievements were astounding. No one before or since has averaged over .400 for a five-year period, even Cobb, but Hornsby hit .397, .401, .384, .424. and .403. He didn't just hit for average. He compiled high on-base percentages with many walks and increased his power output. In 1922, he won the Triple Crown (batting average, home runs, and RBIs) and set a new National League record with forty-two home runs. He drove in 152 runs, and led the league with 250 hits, forty-six doubles, 141 runs scored, and a slugging mark of .722 along with a .459 on-base percentage. It was almost certainly the best offensive season in league history—at least until Barry Bonds ' performances in 2001 and 2002—and was surpassed only by the top seasons of his American League contemporary Babe Ruth .
Everything seemed to have fallen in place for Hornsby. He was the proud father of a little boy, Rogers Jr., and the top player in the National League. But Hornsby's love of gambling soon led to some off-the-field troubles. One day in 1922, he met a married woman named Jeannette Pennington Hine at a dog track. After the 1922 season, both spouses found out about the affair. Hornsby's wife Sarah took their son and left him to live with her mother. In 1923, Hornsby had to overcome a serious knee injury, legal problems stemming from his extramarital affair including a costly divorce settlement, and his mother's illness. At the end of the season, he was fined and suspended for refusing to play. Still, he hit.384 and qualified for the batting title despite playing in only 107 games. In February 1924, with all legal matters settled, Hornsby married Pennington.
In 1924 Hornsby compiled the highest batting average by any player in the post-1900 era—.424. That year, he played in 143 games and hustled out every ball he hit, hitting safely in 119 games. Hornsby's batting feat won him national attention and for that year he even eclipsed the fame of Babe Ruth, America's most popular athlete. Hornsby led the league in hits, doubles, runs, and slugging percentage, and also in on-base percentage and walks. Incredibly, he failed to win the league's Most Valuable Player award, which was bestowed on Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Dazzy Vance.
Swinging at Strikes
Hornsby had simple rules for hitting. The most important was never to swing at balls out of the strike zone. He didn't vary his stance, standing almost upright and rigid in the batters' box, left foot closer to the plate than right. He rarely pulled the ball down the left-field line, and always tried to hit the ball where it was pitched. He also placed paramount importance on a confident attitude, saying, as quoted in Alexander's biography, "Never get the idea that you can't hit a certain pitcher. … You must believe in yourself." Other than that, he tried not to think too much or overanalyze the situation or the pitcher he faced. "The only emotion or thought I ever had for a pitcher," he said, "was to feel sorry for him."
Awards and Accomplishments
|1917, 1920-25, 1927-29||Led National League in slugging percentage|
|1920-25, 1928||Led National League in batting average|
|1920-25, 1927-28||Led National League in on-base percentage|
|1920-22, 1925||Led National League in runs batted in|
|1920-22, 1924||Led National League in hits|
|1920-22, 1924||Led National League in doubles|
|1921||Led National League in triples|
|1921-22, 1924, 1927, 1929||Led National League in runs scored|
|1922, 1925||Leads National League in home runs|
|1922, 1925||National League Triple Crown|
|1924, 1927-28||Led National League in walks|
|1925||National League Most Valuable Player|
|1926||Manager of World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals|
|1926, 1929||Played in World Series|
|1929||National League Most Valuable Player|
|1942||Inducted into National Baseball Hall of Fame|
Though Hornsby always hustled and had enough speed to beat out many infield hits, he never was much of a base-stealer. As a fielder, he was inconsistent. His fielding percentage of .958 lifetime is subpar. Even after settling at second base as a regular position, he continued to play games at first base, third base, and the out-field. But he was excellent at turning the double play. With a runner on first base, he would play in on the edge of the infield dirt and "cheat" toward second base to get a jump on any potential double-play grounders. He was unmatched at taking throws from other infielders, making the difficult pivot with a runner sliding into him, and getting off quick, accurate throws to first base.
In an era when many players indulged in drinking and carousing and cared little for conditioning, Hornsby subordinated every other aspect of his life to baseball. He never drank or smoked. He went to bed before midnight and tried to sleep 12 hours a night. He took special care of his eyesight. He avoided reading, and preached that hitters shouldn't ruin their eyes by reading on trains or trolleys. He never went to the movies during baseball season, saying that motion pictures would harm his eyesight and lessen his batting abilities. His one vice was overeating. He ate lots of steaks, milk, and ice cream, and after his playing days ended, his weight ballooned.
In fact, baseball was about the only thing Hornsby really cared about. His only other hobby was gambling, and that got him into trouble. Despite organized baseball's well-publicized problems with gamblers in that era, Hornsby always defended his right to bet on horse (and dog) racing. He lost much of his salary in doing so. But the other interests shared by most ballplayers, such as golf, left him cold. It's once said that Cardinals owner Branch Rickey dragged Hornsby to a golf course during spring training in Florida in 1924, and Hornsby, who had never played golf, shot a 39 for nine holes, beating Rickey, an experienced golfer, by nine shots. But Hornsby never played golf again.
Hornsby was far from gregarious. He insisted on rooming alone, and was aloof from his teammates. He rarely talked with anyone about anything other than baseball, and he always spoke his mind—often too bluntly. His usual pastime on the road was to sit in hotel lobbies and watch people come and go, talking about baseball to anyone who approached him.
Hornsby and his second wife had a new son in 1925. In mid-season, he took over as manager of the Cardinals, displacing Branch Rickey, and bought one-eighth of the club's stock, as part of a three-way power struggle for control of the club that also involved owner Sam Breadon. As a manager, Hornsby drove his players hard. He told pitchers they should knock down a batter if the count was no balls and two strikes, and he fined them $50 if a batter hit a pitch on that count. Hitters were fined $50 if they took a called third strike with runners on second or third base. Battling minor injuries, Hornsby again won the Triple Crown, with a .403 average, 39 home runs and 143 RBIs. He was named Most Valuable Player, and local newspapers dubbed him "the Rajah."
In 1926, Hornsby pushed the Cardinals ever further. Relentlessly hectoring his teammates and charges, Hornsby made winning a championship his first priority. He battled a thigh infection and fell into a batting slump, sinking to a .317 average. He defied Breadon by refusing to send many of his key players to exhibition games that Breadon had scheduled in September in the middle of the pennant race. The championship was the first in the history of the Cardinals franchise.
In the 1926 World Series, St. Louis faced Ruth and the heavily favored New York Yankees. Ruth homered three times in the fourth game of the series, the first two times after Hornsby had told his pitcher to throw him something slow. As he had during the pennant drive, Hornsby kept calling on Grover Cleveland Alexander , an epileptic and heavy drinker. After Alexander started the sixth game, Hornsby brought him back in the seventh and deciding game in relief, and he struck out Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded and saved the game by walking Ruth in the ninth inning; the series ended when Ruth was thrown out trying to steal second base.
Related Biography: Manager John McGraw
Hall of Famer John McGraw is considered by many baseball experts to be the best manager in major league history. As a player with the Baltimore Orioles in the 1890s, McGraw was instrumental in perfecting an allout style of play now known as "small ball" that focused on stealing bases, bunting, and hustling. He mixed these skills with an intimidating approach to opposing players and umpires. McGraw was constantly baiting and brawling and was frequently ejected from games.
As the manager of the New York Giants from 1902 through 1932, McGraw drove his players to 2,784 wins, second only to Connie Mack on the all-time list. His teams won nine pennants and three World Series and dominated the National League throughout most of his tenure. He was known as "The Little Napoleon" for his autocratic managing methods.
McGraw was constantly trying to get star players from other teams to help his club. From the very start of Rogers Hornsby's career, McGraw coveted him. He frequently urged Giants owners to propose trades to the St. Louis Cardinals. McGraw finally got his wish when Hornsby was traded to the Giants after the 1926 season. During the 1927 season, the only one they spent together, McGraw and Hornsby became close friends. They shared a love of betting on horse races and they shared a single-minded, ruthless approach to baseball. When McGraw battled illnesses during the season, Hornsby took over as manager and did so well that McGraw did not return at the season's end even though he had recovered.
After the 1927 season, Hornsby was traded to the Boston Braves after several run-ins with Giants owner Horace Stoneham. The deal was done while McGraw was spending the off-season in Havana, Cuba, and it was executed without McGraw's knowledge. He surely would not have consented to losing the player he had always wanted to get.
Hornsby was now at the pinnacle of the baseball world—at thirty years old, he was the game's best hitter, and he had managed a World Series winner. Things went quickly downhill, however. Breadon and Hornsby had had a long-standing feud, exacerbated by Hornsby's refusal to quit gambling on horses. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis was trying to clean up baseball and backed Breadon. In a stunning trade, Breadon sent Hornsby to the New York Giants for second baseman Frankie
Frisch and pitcher Jimmy Ring. There was one problem: Hornsby still owned stock in the Cardinals, now his rival team in the same league. After long negotiations, pushed by Landis's insistence on cutting Hornsby's ties to his former team, Hornsby sold the stock for a handsome profit just before Opening Day of the 1927 season.
Hornsby fit perfectly with longtime Giants manager John McGraw, who had been trying to acquire him for ten years. Both men were demanding perfectionists on the diamond, and they shared a love for betting on the ponies. McGraw had health problems in 1927, and Hornsby took over as manager for thirty-three games near the end of the season. He led the league in runs and walks and hit .361. But Hornsby again made enemies in the front office and among his Giants teammates and had well-publicized legal problems involving gambling debts. Hornsby was traded again, this time to the lowly Boston Braves for two mediocre players, Jimmie Welsh and James Hogan.
In Boston, Hornsby again assumed the managerial reins during the season and won his final batting championship with a .387 average. He also led the league in walks and slugging percentage. But the Braves were inept and finished next to last. After the season, it was announced that Hornsby had signed a three-year contract to manage Boston, but then he was traded to the Chicago Cubs for five inconsequential players and $200,000.
In 1929, playing on his fourth National League team in four years, Hornsby didn't have to manage, and he played in every inning of every game. He won his second Most Valuable Player Award with another exceptional season—thirty-nine homers, a .679 slugging percentage, a .380 batting average, and a league-high 156 runs. The Cubs won the pennant but lost the World Series to the Philadelphia Athletics. During the season, Hornsby developed a calcified heel and played in pain. Shortly after the World Series ended, he lost many thousands of dollars in the great stock market crash of October 1929. He had off-season heel surgery and appeared healthy, but he injured his ankle in 1930 and his season ended early. Near the end of the 1930 season, he took over as manager. Although he continued to play himself on occasion, his regular playing days had ended because of age and injuries, and he concentrated on managing. The Cubs had winning records under Hornsby in 1931 and 1932, but he was released in August 1932. It came out that Hornsby owed money to several of his teammates; he had been borrowing from them to finance his gambling habit. Newspapers raised allegations that Hornsby had led a horse-race betting pool among Cubs players, but he denied it, and Landis refused to investigate the charges. Privately, Landis said, according to Alexander's book: "That fellow will never learn. His betting has got him in one scrape after another, cost him a fortune and several jobs, and still he hasn't enough sense to stop it."
In 1933, Hornsby hooked on for a last tour with the Cardinals, playing in forty-six games. He then served as player-manager for the American League's St. Louis Browns, where he stayed through 1937. The Browns were a perennial also-ran, and Hornsby used himself mainly as a pinch-hitter. His playing career ended when he hit .321 at age forty-one in twenty games. He finished with a career batting average of .358, second only to Cobb. Hornsby also ranks eighth in lifetime on-base percentage at .434, and his .577 lifetime slugging percentage is ninth among all retired players.
Because of his refusal to stop gambling and his prickly personality, Hornsby eventually became unwelcome in major league baseball. But baseball was everything to Hornsby, especially considering that his second marriage had also ended in divorce, and he continued to manage in the minor leagues, in Mexico and Texas. Umpire Len Roberts remembered Hornsby as "a true gentleman on the field—he never questioned a decision. I don't think there was a dishonest bone in his body," according to the Baseball Research Journal.
In 1942, when Hornsby was inducted into the Hall of Fame, he was managing in the low minors. He got a reprieve when the Browns hired him as manager in 1952, but he was fired in mid-season and took over in Cincinnati, where he lasted through most of the 1953 season before again getting dismissed. In his managerial career, he was traded or fired six times, and compiled a record of 701 wins and 812 losses. In the 1950s, Hornsby coached for the Chicago Cubs and in 1962 joined the New York Mets coaching staff. Late that year, he went to a Chicago hospital for eye surgery, but suffered a heart attack and died on January 5, 1963.
|BOS: Boston Red Sox; CHC: Chicago Cubs; NYG: New York Giants; SLB: St. Louis Browns; SLC: St. Louis Cardinals.|
Hornsby will be remembered as a hitter of unequalled accomplishments and a player of exceptional drive and focus. Though not as reviled as Cobb, Hornsby was never a popular player among his teammates. But social skills don't win ball games, and Hornsby concentrated on winning. His discipline at the plate—swinging only at strikes, and not trying to overpower the ball—became a model for many future great hitters.
Alexander, Charles C. Rogers Hornsby: A Biography. New York: Henry Holt, 1995.
The Baseball Encyclopedia. New York: Macmillan, 1997.
Burns, Ken, and Ward, Geoffrey C. Baseball: An Illustrated History. New York: Knopf, 1994.
Thorn, John, and Palmer, Pete. Total Baseball. New York: Warner Books, 1989.
"Hail to the Rajah: Before Ted Williams, there was Rogers Hornsby, the forgotten father of the father of hitting." Sports Illustrated (June 24, 2002): R14.
"Hornsby, in Death, Acclaimed for Great Hitting." New York Times (January 6, 1963).
"The Rajah at 100." The Sporting News (May 6, 1996): 55.
"A tale of two Hornsbys: a sweetheart back home." Baseball Research Journal (Annual, 2001).
baseball-reference.com. http://www.baseball-reference.com (November 22, 2002).
"Hornsby cared only about results." ESPN.com. http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00014249.html (November 22, 2002).
"Hornsby, Rogers." The Handbook of Texas Online. http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/view/HH/fho61.html (November 22, 2002).
"Rogers Hornsby." Baseball Library.com. http://www.pubdim.net/baseballlibrary/ballplayers/H/Hornsby_Rogers.stm (November 22, 2002).
"Rogers Hornsby." National Baseball Hall of Fame. http://www.baseballhalloffame.org/hofers_and_honorees/hofer_bios/hornsby_rogers.htm (November 22, 2002.htm
Sketch by Michael Betzold
Rogers Hornsby (1896-1963) was the greatest right-handed hitter in baseball history. With a single-minded dedication to baseball, Hornsby was the National League's answer to Babe Ruth in the 1920s. A tough, hard-bitten competitor who excelled at hitting, he achieved the highest single-season batting average in modern National League history (.424) and is second only to Ty Cobb in career batting average (.358).
During the first half of the 1920s, while playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, Hornsby reached an unmatched peak of batting excellence, hitting over .400 for a five-year stretch and compiling several of the greatest offensive seasons in baseball history. To Hornsby, who went on to play and manage for several other major league and minor league clubs, baseball was everything, and the rest of life had little meaning. He wouldn't go to movies or read books for fear of ruining his batting eye. "People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball," Hornsby once said. "I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring."
The Kid from Texas
Rogers Hornsby's unusual first name came from his mother's maiden name. In 1896, he was born to Mary Dallas Rogers Hornsby and Edward Hornsby on the family's Hereford ranch near Winters, Texas, south of Abilene in the central Texas cattle country. Edward Hornsby died when Rogers was a young boy, and his mother took the family to Austin, then later to Fort Worth. In Fort Worth, Hornsby was the star of his high school baseball team. A rail-thin boy, Hornsby spent the summer of 1912 wearing a wig and knickers so he could barnstorm through Texas with the Boston Bloomer Girls, an all-women's team.
In 1914, at age 18, Hornsby played his first season of legitimate professional baseball in the low minors at Hugo, Oklahoma. The next year, he was playing for Denison, Texas, in the Texas League. Though he committed 58 errors at shortstop that season, the St. Louis Cardinals bought him for $500 and brought him up to the big club. He appeared in 18 games as a shortstop, batting only .246. He still was a skinny young man, 5 foot 11 inches but weighing only 130 pounds. Over the winter, he bulked up at his uncle's farm in Texas, adding 35 pounds. The extra weight helped him become a more powerful hitter.
During his first full season with the Cardinals, in 1915, Hornsby batted .313 while playing third base, shortstop and first base. He had a strange batting stance, positioning himself deep in the batter's box and far away from the plate, with feet close together. Yet his powerful stride enabled him to hit the ball with power to the opposite field. In 1917, he hit .327 and led the National League with 17 triples and a .484 slugging percentage, an impressive mark in the dead-ball era. But the next year he slumped to .281.
Years of Glory
Hornsby was primarily a shortstop at the start of his career, though he played all over the infield and even a few games in the outfield. In 1920, Cardinals manager Branch Rickey installed Hornsby permanently at second base. He played all of his 149 games there that season and his batting average jumped to .370, enough to win him the first of seven league batting championships. He also led the league in hits, doubles, slugging percentage and runs batted in.
Entering his prime, Hornsby over the five seasons (1921 through 1925) broke every existing record for hitting prowess. He won five more batting titles, hitting .397, .401, .384, .424 and .403. Not even the legendary Cobb had ever compiled a five-year stretch in which he averaged over .400. And Hornsby didn't just hit for average—he also hit for power and racked up high on-base percentages. In his incredible season of 1922, he won the Triple Crown, leading the league in home runs with 42 (the most in National League history to that point), RBIs (152) and average (.401). He also led his league in runs (141), hits (250), doubles (46), slugging percentage (.722) and on-base percentage (.459). Many baseball experts consider that 1922 season to be the best batting performance in National League history.
Two years later, Hornsby hit an astounding .424, while leading the league in hits, doubles, runs, walks, slugging and on-base percentage. It was the highest batting mark in the post-1901 era of baseball. Astonishingly, Hornsby finished second in the league Most Valuable Player voting that year, behind Brooklyn pitcher Dazzy Vance.
In 1925, Hornsby finally was named MVP after winning his second Triple Crown, with 39 homers and 143 RBIs to go with his .403 batting average and career-best .756 slugging percentage. In May, he replaced Rickey as manager of the Cardinals, beginning a 14-season managerial career.
At the start of the 1926 season, Hornsby oozed optimism. "We are playing every game for what it's worth," Hornsby told the Sporting News . In late June, Hornsby suffered a thigh infection, which sidelined him until early August. When he returned, he fell into a batting slump, and ended the season with a .317 average, nice work for most players, but way below par for Hornsby. Yet his desire to win infected the rest of the club. "Rogers has had his men driving all the way," commented the Sporting News. "He is the boss, but at the same time he is one of the gang." Hornsby inspired the team to win the league championship.
In the World Series, the Cardinals faced the heavily favored New York Yankees. Babe Ruth hit three home runs in the fourth game. But Grover Cleveland Alexander, the veteran pitching star whom the Cardinals had acquired in mid-season, won the second and sixth games. With the seventh and final game on the line, Hornsby brought Alexander into the game in relief, and he struck out Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded to preserve the victory.
Two months after the Cardinals' World Series victory, St. Louis executives stunned the baseball world by trading Hornsby to the New York Giants for second baseman Frankie Frisch. Hornsby had fought with Rickey, who was still an executive with the Cardinals, and team owner Sam Breadon. Breadon was upset at Hornsby for refusing to send his regular players to some exhibition games in minor-league cities that Breadon unwisely had scheduled during the heat of the pennant race. Breadon also was miffed at Hornsby's one vice—his penchant for betting on horse racing.
Gambling on the ponies was Hornsby's only distraction from baseball. By all reports, Hornsby bet badly and often, piling up huge debts. Other than going to the track, Hornsby's life consisted of baseball and little else. He didn't want to ruin his eyesight, so he never went to the cinema or read anything smaller than newspaper headlines. He didn't smoke, drink or eat excessively and rarely went out at night. His obsession with baseball may have contributed to two divorces. He divorced Sarah Hornsby in 1923 after she had given birth to a son; then he married Jeanette Pennington Hine in 1924; they also had a son before divorcing. His final marriage was to Marjorie Bernice Frederick in 1957.
Hornsby wanted to talk only about baseball. He was always first to come to the ballpark each day, and he would chatter about the sport with the ushers and the grounds-keepers. "Baseball is the only thing I know," Hornsby once said, "the only thing I can talk about, my only interest." He was quick-tempered and often cranky, with little tolerance for players who didn't share his single-minded intensity. "I wore a big-league uniform and I had the best equipment and I traveled in style and could play ball every day," he told the Sporting News long after his retirement. "What else is there?" He believed baseball should be a required course in public school.
Hornsby's sharp tongue and combative manner riled team executives, umpires, opponents and even teammates. As a manager, he didn't have much patience with his players or his bosses and he frequently made enemies. In 1927, Hornsby hit .361 for the Giants and led the league in runs and walks, while serving as manager for 33 games. After the season he was traded again, to the Boston Braves. Despite winning his seventh and final batting championship with a .387 average and leading the league in walks and slugging percentage, Hornsby couldn't motivate the woebegone Braves to finish higher than seventh.
Refused to Quit
In 1929, Hornsby, who had been a fixture with the Cardinals for the first half of his career, found himself playing on his fourth club in four years—the Chicago Cubs. That year, he had his last great season—hitting .380, scoring a league-high 156 runs, clouting 39 homers, and slugging .679. He was rewarded with his second Most Valuable Player award.
Hornsby missed most of the next year with a foot injury. At 34 years old, his skills were in decline, but he would not even consider quitting the game he loved. Near the end of the 1930 season, Hornsby was named manager of the Cubs. He began to concentrate on managing and no longer played regularly. The Cubs enjoyed winning seasons under him in 1931 and 1932, but there was constant friction. Hornsby was fired in August 1932 and the team went on to the World Series. The resentful players refused to vote him a share of their World Series earnings.
In 1933, Hornsby returned to the Cardinals for 46 games as a player only, then got a job across town as player-manager of the American League Browns. He remained with the sad-sack Brownies through the 1937 season as their manager, occasionally inserting himself into ball games. In 1937, his last season, Hornsby hit .321 in 20 games at age 41. He finished his career with a .358 lifetime average, 11 points lower than Cobb's all-time mark.
His playing days over and his managerial record spotty, Hornsby had no future in major league baseball. But he couldn't live without the game. For many years he continued managing in the minor leagues, mostly in Texas and Mexico. In 1942, Hornsby was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
In 1950, Hornsby was managing the Beaumont Roughnecks of the Texas League. His team won a championship, and management responded by throwing a day in his honor. The town's mayor gave him the keys to a new Cadillac as a gift of appreciation from the town and the team, but Hornsby said gruffly: "It's nice. Now get it out of here so we can start the game."
In 1952, he got another chance at the big leagues when general manager Bill Veeck hired him back to run the St. Louis Browns. Midway through the season, Hornsby was fired and took over as manager of the Cincinnati Reds. He lasted through most of the 1953 season before he was fired again. His final managerial record showed his teams winning 701 games and losing 812.
Hornsby remained in the game, coaching for the Chicago Cubs in the 1950s. He joined the staff of the New York Mets in 1962, coaching under Casey Stengel. Late in 1962, he went to a hospital in Chicago for surgery on his eyes, but suffered a heart attack and died in the hospital on January 5, 1963.
In retrospect, Hornsby's great offensive career is not diminished by his frequent run-ins with management or his reputation as merely an adequate defensive player. Many baseball experts believe his combination of batting skills has never been matched. Legendary Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams contended that Hornsby was "the greatest hitter for average and power in the history of baseball." Hornsby himself was once quoted: "I don't like to sound egotistical, but every time I stepped up to the plate with a bat in my hands, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the pitcher."
Alexander, Charles C., Rogers Hornsby: A Biography, Holt, 1995.
Burns, Ken and Geoffrey C. Ward, Baseball: An Illustrated History, Knopf, 1994.
New York Times, January 6, 1963.
"Hornsby cared only about results," ESPN.com,http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00014249.html.
"Hornsby, Rogers," The Handbook of Texas Online,http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/view/HH/fho61.html.
"Rogers Hornsby," Total Baseball,http://www.totalbaseball.com/player/h/hornr101/hornr101.html. □