An Introduction to the Legends of Baseball
| Hank Aaron
| Yogi Berra
| Ty Cobb
| Joe DiMaggio
Lou Gehrig | Rogers Hornsby | Mickey Mantle | Willie Mays | Stan Musial | Cal Ripken Jr
Jackie Robinson | Pete Rose | Babe Ruth | Ted Williams | Cy Young | The Baseball Hall of Fame
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.
Rogers Hornsby, nicknamed 'The Rajah' was one of the best right handed hitters ever to play baseball. He was powerful, often leading his league in several offensive categories, and consistent, having the second highest career batting average .358. Hornsby also had the highest season batting average of the 20th Century with a .424 in 1924. He was able to hit virtually any pitch, but once said that high and inside balls were the most difficult. Hornsby needed good vision so that he could hit the low outside balls that were often thrown at him, and he kept his vision good at any cost. He refused to read newspapers (because of the small print) and didn't attend movies.
Hornsby had an unusual batting stance. He stood deep in the batter's box and far from the plate, with his feet close together, which made him look vulnerable to pitches on the outside corner. But he had a way of striding in and closing the distance in a hurry, and he was an outstanding opposite-field hitter.
Though fielding was not his strength, Hornsby was a respectable fielder. However, he never really found a home in the field, going from shortstop to third to second base to outfield etc. He occasionally led his league in defensive categories, but had a real weakness chasing down pop-ups. He tended to lose his balance when he looked up and ran, occasionally falling over.
In public, Hornsby was a handsome dimple-cheeked gentleman. He never argued with umpires and was never ejected from a game. He was generally a nice person to most people. But when he became a manager, he developed problems with authority and was disrespectful of his higher-ups. He only cared about winning the game, and didn't care about how he treated the owners and other managers. He also had a compulsive gambling problem, betting on horse racing, making him a somewhat controversial player, despite never drinking, doing drugs or smoking.
His Life and Career
Hornsby was born 27 April, 18961 on his father's ranch in Winters, Texas. He played for minor league teams in Oklahoma and Texas doing a respectable job. In late 1915, the St Louis Cardinals bought his contract out for 500 dollars and he made his Major League debut on 10 September, 1915 as a shortstop. He went hitless in two at bats that game, and the Cardinals lost to the Reds 7-1. He was again in the starting lineup on 14 September, 1915 but again went hitless and St Louis lost again, 6-2. The season ended soon after, and the Cardinals didn't do much in the post-season.
The first season where he could really demonstrate his talent was 1916. Early in the season, on 12 April, 1916 Hornsby won a close game against the Pirates, driving in two runs for an final score of 2-1. He made his first home run relatively late in his career on 14 May, 1916 against Brooklyn. He had a terrific five hit day on 28 June, 1916. After these accomplishments and some others, Hornsby began to be noticed by baseball fans.
By 1920, Hornsby was hitting regularly and attracting public attention. His peak years were 1920 to 1925. In them, he led the league in batting average all six season with .370 in 1920, .397 in 1921, .401 1922, .384 in 1923, .424 in 1924 and .403 in 1925. He also led in RBI four times and home runs twice in these years. It was truly one of the greatest individual batting eras in baseball history. On 9 March, 1922 Cardinals owner Sam Breadon signed a 18,500 dollar contract with Hornsby, making him the highest paid baseball player of that time. He also won the Triple Crown in 1922 with .401 batting average (the first .400 in the 1900s), 152 RBI and 42 home runs. In 1925, Hornsby, now at second base, attained two of the highest honours a baseball player strives for - the batting Triple Crown and the League Most Valuable Player award.
1925 was perhaps his best year as a player, and it was also the year Hornsby became player-manager for the Cardinals, replacing Branch Rickey. He was named manager on 30 May, 1925 between games at a doubleheader. They finished fourth in the league with 64 wins and 51 losses. In 1926 on 22 May, 1926 Hornsby was immortalized at Rogers Hornsby Day. The 1926 Cards won 89 games and lost 65, winning the National League Pennant and the World Series despite being up against the powerful Lou Gehrig-Babe Ruth led 19262 New York Yankees.
After 12 seasons playing with the Cardinals and only two seasons as Cardinals manager, he got into an argument with Sam Breadon and was traded to the New York Giants for Frankie Frisch and Jimmy Ring. He called the trade 'The biggest disappointment in my life'. He served as deputy manager for the Giants for less than a full year. Eventually, he got into another altercation with owner Charles Stoneham who quickly traded him to the Boston Braves, accepting an offer that was much less than what Hornsby was worth.
He didn't have many troubles with the Boston management. Actually, he got along relatively well in Boston. The Braves weren't a great team, but he managed them fairly well, reaching seventh place in the National League. He won 39 of 122 games, which is not a great record, but was largely helped by Hornsby on the field. However, in 1929 the Chicago Cubs offered 200,000 dollars and five players for Hornsby and Boston reluctantly made the trade. Hornsby was not immediately the manager there, but still helped lead the Cubs to their first Pennant in more than a decade.
He eventually replaced Joe McCarthy as manager and helped the Cubs make it to third place. With his peak behind him though, he managed only a .331 average in 1931. 1932 was much worse, with a .224 average, the second worst of his career as injury kept him off the field much of that season. Hornsby was fired as manager around the middle of that season, being replaced by Charlie Grimm, following yet another front office argument, but he played out the rest of the season on the field. He was traded back to the St Louis Cardinals in 1933 and hit a .325 average. But before the season was complete, he went to the St Louis Browns - then one of the worst teams in the league.
He managed, and sporadically played for, the Browns through the twilight of his career, from 1933 to 1937, playing no more than 24 games a season. He hit .333 in 1933, .304 in 1934, a career low of .208 in 1935, .400 in 19363. He was fired on 21 July, 1937 for gambling and replaced by Jim Bottomely.
He was entered into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1942, his first year of eligibility. His plaque at the Hall of Fame says-
National League Batting Champion 7 Years - 1920 to 1925;1928 Lifetime
Batting Average .358 Highest in National League History. Hit .424 in 1924,
20th Century Major League Record. Manager 1926 World Champion
St. Louis Cardinals. Most Valuable Player 1925 and 1929.
Hornsby kept working after he retired from playing. In 1952, he managed the St Louis Browns again, in 1961, he scouted for the creation of the New York Mets and coached for them in 1962 and he briefly managed the Cincinatti Reds in 1961. He always explained how he hit to new baseball players, and never understood why other players couldn't match up to him just with his instructions. He died from heart problems on 5 January, 1963.
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