|Birth||April 27, 1896|
|Death||January 5, 1963|
|Debut||September 10, 1915, St. Louis Cardinals vs. Cincinnati Reds, Robison Field|
|Team(s)|| St. Louis Cardinals (1915-1926)|
New York Giants (1927)
Boston Braves (1928)
Chicago Cubs (1929-1932)
St. Louis Cardinals (1933)
St. Louis Browns (1933-1937)
Rogers Hornsby (April 27, 1896 in Winters, Texas - January 5, 1963 in Chicago, Illinois), nicknamed "The Rajah", was a Major League Baseball second baseman and manager. Hornsby's unique first name, Rogers, was given to him in honor of his mother's maiden name. He spent most of his career with the St. Louis Browns and the St. Louis Cardinals. In addition, he had short stints for the Chicago Cubs, the Boston Braves, and the New York Giants.
Hornsby ranks second on the list for highest career batting average. He finished his career .008 percentage points behind Ty Cobb's average of .366. His .359 (.358 overall) average is the highest for any right-handed hitter or National League player. Rogers Hornsby was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1942. He was the only candidate elected by the BBWAA that year, and was 14th player selected by BBWAA> He has also been given a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. He is the only top hitter to have a lifetime batting average over 100 points higher in the majors than in the minors (winning trivia answer in finals of 1987 SABR National Trivia Contest).
He holds the modern record for highest batting average in a season, .424 in 1924 when the foul strike rule was employed, and he won the Triple Crown in 1922 and again in 1925 in baseball. He won the NL's MVP Award twice, in 1925 and 1929. At his peak, from 1920 to 1925, Hornsby led his league in batting average all six years, in RBIs four years, and in home runs twice. Over the 1921 through 1925 seasons, Hornsby averaged an astonishing .402 for five years, a feat unlikely to be equaled again. He hit over 300 homers in his career, not all of them as a second baseman. He is among the top four for home runs by a second baseman, as of the start of the 2005 season.
In addition to his success on the field, he was one of baseball's more successful player-managers, guiding his Cardinals to a World Series victory over Babe Ruth's New York Yankees in 1926. He himself tagged out Ruth trying to steal, thus ending that Series.
Hornsby was one of the more controversial characters in baseball history. Although he did not drink or smoke, he was a compulsive gambler. As with Ty Cobb, his photogenic smile belied a dark side. One writer characterized him as "a liturgy of hatred," and according to legendary baseball writer Fred Lieb, he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. His chief interest was in winning, and he could be as sarcastic and uncompromising with club owners as he was with his teammates. When Hornsby was traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the New York Giants after the 1926 season, the deal was held up because Hornsby, as part of his contract as the manager of the Cardinals (he was a player-manager at the time), owned several shares of stock in the Cardinals. Cardinals owner Sam Breadon offered Hornsby a sum for the stock considerably lower than what Hornsby demanded for it, and neither would budge. Eventually, the other owners of the National League made up the difference, and the trade went through.
As with some other star athletes, as a manager he had trouble relating to players who shared neither his talent nor his zeal for winning. As his playing skills waned, he tended to be shuffled from team to team, wearing out his welcome quickly among his charges. Having won the World Series as a player-manager with the Cardinals, he was traded to the Giants for the 1927 season, then to the Boston Braves for 1928, and finally moved on to the Chicago Cubs in 1929, where he became their player-manager (and remained for three seasons thereafter), thus playing for four different teams in four years.
As Bill Veeck related in his autobiography, Veeck as in Wreck, his father Bill Sr., who was President and General Manager of the Chicago Cubs, had hired Hornsby, and soon disposed of him when the usual problems surfaced. Some years later, when the junior Veeck hired Hornsby to manage his St. Louis Browns for a time, his widowed mother wrote him a letter asking, "What makes you think you're any smarter than your Daddy was?" After a near mutiny by the players, Veeck let Hornsby go, and his mother wrote back, "Told ya so!" Veeck, alert as ever to an opportunity for publicity, arranged a stunt in which he was awarded a trophy by the players for freeing them from Hornsby's control.
In his later years, Hornsby's disdain for younger players only increased. According to the book Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?, Hornsby was hired by the fledgling New York Mets to scout all the major league players. His report was not especially useful, as the best compliment he could come up with for anyone was "Looks like a major league ballplayer"—his assessment of Mickey Mantle. In another anecdote, Hornsby was reviewing a group of major league players with his customary none-too-complimentary remarks. Among the group were Chicago Cubs' third baseman Ron Santo and outfielder Billy Williams. Hornsby had just gotten through dismissing one player with the comment, "You'd better go back to shining shoes because you can't hit," when Santo whispered to Williams, "If he says that to me, I'm going to cry." When Hornsby came to Santo, he said, "You can hit in the big leagues right now," then turned to Williams and said, "So can you."
In contrast with his usual contempt for young players, he could be generous to those who had the "right stuff". When Hornsby was managing Cincinnati, Reds players recalled him giving impromptu batting tips to the opposition, unable to help himself. Biographers of Ted Williams cite the story that the young Williams spoke with the aging Hornsby about hitting. Hornsby's secret was simply this: "Wait for a good pitch to hit." That became Williams' creed and the creed of many who followed.
He died in 1963 of a heart attack after cataract surgery. Hall of Fame pitcher Teddy Lyons (who died in 1986) had the same surgery in the same hospital at the time. He was buried in the Hornsby Bend cemetery east of Austin, Texas.
In 1999, he ranked number 9 on The Sporting News list of Baseball's Greatest Players, the highest-ranking second baseman. Later that year, he was elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
See:Career Statistics for a complete explanation.
"Well, I wasn't making any progress trying to talk to him." — Rogers Hornsby, when someone asked him why he had just punched someone in the face during an argument.
"Baseball is my life, the only thing I know and can talk about. My only interest." — Rogers Hornsby
"People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." — Rogers Hornsby
"I have never been a yes man." — Rogers Hornsby
"I don't want to play golf. When I hit a ball, I want someone else to go chase it." — Rogers Hornsby
"Son, when you pitch a strike, Mr. Hornsby will let you know." — Umpire Bill Klem, responding to complaints from a young pitcher who thought some of his pitches to Rogers Hornsby were strikes, though Klem had called them as balls (possibly apocryphal).
- Baseball Hall of Fame
- Baseball-Reference.com - Major league career statistics
- Rogers Hornsby article at Hornsby Bend family history site
- St. Louis Walk of Fame
- Baseball America, Donald Honig.
- Ted Williams: An American Hero, Leigh Montville
- Hitter: Life and Turmoils of Ted Williams, Ed Linn
- Baseball As I Have Known It, Fred Lieb. Tempo, 1970.
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