Any conversation about the greatest hitter in baseball history must include Rogers Hornsby in the opening gambit.[fn]George “Specs” Toporcer, “Rogers Hornsby — The Greatest Hitter of All-Time,” Baseball Bluebook, May, 1953.[/fn] His .358 lifetime batting average in 23 big-league seasons is second all-time to Ty Cobb’s .367 and well ahead of such all-time greats as Tris Speaker (.345), Ted Williams (.344), Babe Ruth (.342), Lou Gehrig (.340), and Stan Musial (.331). Further, there is really no debate that Hornsby is the greatest right-handed hitter of all time; he is significantly ahead of such notables as Harry Heilmann (.342) and Al Simmons (.334).
Along the way, Hornsby won seven National League batting titles and batted over .400 three times, including an unbelievable .424 in 1924, the best single season batting average in modern baseball history. Perhaps his most remarkable season was 1922, when he captured the Triple Crown. He not only led the league in seven major offensive categories, but he dominated the league in a way few others have. For example, his .401 batting average was almost 50 percentage points higher than that of Ray Grimes, who finished second; his 42 home runs were 16 more than anyone else; his 152 RBIs led the league by 20; his 250 hits led the league by 35; his 450 total bases were 136 more than Irish Meusel, who finished second; and his .722 slugging percentage led the league by 150 points.
Hornsby was so good that even umpires accorded him special reverence. One story, perhaps apocryphal but oft-repeated, described the time a pitcher complained after the legendary umpire Bill Klem called a close pitch a ball rather than strike three. Hornsby hit the next pitch out of sight for a home run and Klem allegedly told the pitcher, “See, Mr. Hornsby will tell you when it’s close enough to be a strike.”[fn]Bob Broeg, Super Stars of Baseball, 128.[/fn]
It is no wonder that Hornsby earned the sobriquet “the Rajah.” After Rudolph Valentino starred in the silent film classic The Sheik in 1921, America became enthralled with all things “Arabian.” As a result, Babe Ruth became known as the “Sultan of Swat,” and Hornsby the “Rajah of Swat,” soon shortened to “the Rajah.”[fn]Jonathan D’Amore, Rogers Hornsby, A Biography, 37.[/fn]
Hornsby, however, was almost as well known for his bluntness and complete lack of diplomacy as his prowess with a bat. He rarely argued with umpires but said whatever crossed his mind to anyone else, including the owners he worked for. Longtime Cardinals owner Sam Breadon remarked that listening to Hornsby was like have the contents of a rock crusher emptied over his head.[fn]Dick “Rowdy Richard” Bartell with Norman L. Macht, Rowdy Richard, 223.[/fn]
Once when he was playing second base for the New York Giants in 1927, he was eating dinner with Eddie “Doc” Farrell, the team’s young shortstop. A sportswriter stopped by the table and asked Hornsby if he thought the Giants could win the pennant.
“Not with Farrell playing shortstop,” was his answer.[fn]Broeg, Super Stars of Baseball, 127.[/fn]
No wonder Hornsby mostly ate alone.
Hornsby’s managerial career was far less successful than his playing career, however, especially at the major-league level. He managed for all or part of 15 big-league seasons with six franchises, achieving by far his greatest success as player-manager of the 1926 world champion St. Louis Cardinals.[fn]Bob Gorman, Hornsby’s Heroes of 1926; Paul E. Doutrich, The Cardinals and the Yankees, 1926.[/fn] However, his overbearing, often irascible personality created poor relations with both players and owners, and led to his being fired at every post, sometimes in midseason. Like many great ballplayers who try to manage, he couldn’t teach what had come so naturally to him, and he was easily frustrated by mediocrity.[fn]John C. Skipper, A Biographical Dictionary of Major League Baseball Managers, 153-54; Bartell, 222, 326.[/fn] As one writer put it, “Hornsby knew more about baseball and less about diplomacy than anyone I ever knew.”[fn]Harry Grayson, They Played the Game, 135.[/fn]
Hornsby was born on April 27, 1896, on a farm two miles outside of the small town of Winters in Runnels County, Texas. He was the fifth child of Ed and Mary Rogers Hornsby and was named after his mother’s family name. His father died when young Rogers was 2½ years old. Left with five children, the oldest of whom was only 14, Mary Hornsby moved the family back to her parents’ farm about nine miles from Austin, Texas. There Rogers began playing baseball as a youngster in overalls and insisted on getting to play with the big kids.[fn]Charles A. Alexander, Rogers Hornsby — A Biography, 12-13.[/fn]
In the winter of 1902 and 1903, Mary moved her five children to the small city of Fort Worth, which had lured large meat-processing and packing houses to its stockyards, creating many jobs. The three older boys went to work as packers, while Rogers attended elementary school and played baseball with the neighborhood children. By the time he was 9, he was the leader of a semi-organized local team that had blue flannel uniforms sewn by his mother. The team sometimes traveled to games in other neighborhoods by trolley.[fn]Alexander, 13-14.[/fn] Young Rogers so loved his uniform that he wore it as much as possible, even around his own yard.[fn]D’Amore, 3.[/fn]
By the age of 10, he was working in the summer as a messenger boy at the Swift & Company plant and serving as a batboy for one of the adult teams. He also sometimes played as a substitute infielder because he was adept in the field. At 15 he was playing with grown men for the North Side Athletics in the Fort Worth City League, as well as hiring out to other teams in the area. For example, in 1911 he played a dozen games for a team in Granbury, an hour southwest of Fort Worth, for $2 a game plus rail fare and room and board. He was already quite cocky. When the manager praised Hornsby’s play at second base after a win over Weatherford, Hornsby replied, “Yeah, and there are eight other positions I can play just as good.”[fn]Alexander, 15.[/fn]
The following year, Hornsby answered a local newspaper ad and joined the Boston Bloomer Girls, a traveling girls’ baseball team that was touring Texas. Even though he learned that he was expected to wear a wig and bloomers and pretend to be a girl, the prospect of playing ball and making some money led him to sign on and play a number of games in North Texas.[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
Hornsby had entered Fort Worth’s new North Side High School in 1909 and played both baseball and football, playing in the same backfield with future football Hall of Famer Bo McMillin.[fn]D’Amore, 5; Alexander, 16.[/fn] He dropped out, however, after two years to go to work as an office boy for the superintendent of the Swift & Company packing plant to help support his mother and sister. Although he played baseball whenever and wherever he could, he didn’t overwhelm anyone with his talent. At 17 he was almost 6 feet tall but skinny as a rail. The result was that he was an adept fielder but, hard as it might be to believe, a weak hitter.[fn]Alexander, 16-17.[/fn]
In the spring of 1914 the 17-year-old Hornsby talked his older brother Everett, who was a 30-year-old journeyman minor leaguer, into arranging a tryout with the Dallas Steers of the Class B Texas League. The Steers were impressed enough to sign Rogers to a contract, but he was released on April 29, two weeks after the season started, without ever getting off the bench.
Undaunted, Hornsby caught a bus to Hugo, Oklahoma, to try out for the Hugo Scouts of the Class D Texas- Oklahoma League. He made the team as its shortstop and signed for $75 a month.[fn]Alexander, 18; D’Amore, 5[/fn] The franchise folded, however, on June 11 after just 51 games,[fn]Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff, eds., The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, 2nd ed., 197.[/fn] but Hornsby’s contract was sold to the Denison Champions in the same league for $125. All in all, however, it was not an auspicious beginning. Hornsby committed 45 errors in 113 games and, at 5-feet-11 and 135 pounds, hit only .232. His teammate Herb Hunter remembered a frustrated Hornsby pleading, “Won’t somebody teach me how to hit?”[fn]Lee Allen and Tom Meany, Kings of the Diamond: The Immortals of Baseball’s Hall of Fame, 124; Rogers Hornsby with Bill Surface, My War
With Baseball, 36-37.[/fn]
For 1915 Hornsby reported back to Denison, which had changed its name to the Railroaders and was now affiliated with the Western Association, still a Class D league. The St. Louis Cardinals trained that spring in Hot Wells, Texas, outside San Antonio, and, with a split squad, played their way north to St. Louis at the end of the spring. Their second team stopped for a three-game series against the Railroaders in Denison. Hornsby caught the eye of the Cardinals’ one and only scout, Bob Connery, who liked the way he fielded tough hops. Connery was so impressed he even bought Hornsby new spikes and a glove out of his own pocket.[fn]Alexander, 19’ D’Amore, 7; Hornsby and Surface, 37[/fn]
Hornsby played the season with Denison and improved his batting average to .277 in 119 games, as the Railroaders won the pennant by 4½ games over the Oklahoma City Senators. His erratic play at shortstop continued, however, as he made 58 errors in the field, or one almost every two games.
Near the end of the season, Hornsby received the startling news that the Cardinals had purchased his contract from Denison for $600. He was ordered to join the team in Cincinnati for the remaining month of the National League season. Hornsby’s meteoric rise was no doubt helped by the fact that the Federal League was in its second and last season and had depleted the American and National League rosters.[fn]Alexander, 21-22.[/fn]
Hornsby had never been north of Tulsa, Oklahoma, when he reported to the Cardinals on September 3, 1915, after a two-day, 1,200-mile train ride in a day coach. Cardinals’ manager Miller Huggins did not see fit to put Hornsby into a game until September 10, by which time the Cardinals had returned home to St. Louis. With the club trailing the Reds 7-0 in the sixth, Rogers entered the game at shortstop in place of Artie Butler. Hornsby’s 23-year big-league career began inauspiciously as he went hitless in two at-bats against Reds rookie pitcher Charles “King” Lear and had no chances in the field.[fn]Alexander, 25.[/fn]
After riding the bench for two more games, Hornsby finally got his first start on September 13, against Brooklyn and the veteran right-hander Jack Coombs, who held him hitless in four at-bats. The following day the 19-year-old got his first major-league hit, a single, off Brooklyn’s future Hall of Famer Rube Marquard. Huggins then played Hornsby at shortstop in all 15 remaining games, batting him eighth in the order. Following Huggins’ instructions, Rogers choked up about six inches on the bat, seldom striking out but seldom hitting the ball hard. His first extra-base hit, a double, was off none other than Grover Cleveland Alexander, who was pitching the Phillies to their first pennant.[fn]Alexander, 26; D’Amore, 11.[/fn]
All told, the rookie managed 14 hits, all but two of which were singles, in 57 official at-bats for a .246 batting average. He continued to be erratic in the field, committing eight errors in his 18 appearances. Hornsby tailed off in the six-game annual postseason city series against the St. Louis Browns, with only two hits in 20 at-bats and four more errors in the field.
Hornsby was not shy even as a 19-year-old getting his first taste of the big leagues, and after the season approached manager Huggins for his assessment. Huggins said, “Kid, you’re a little light, but you’ve got the makings. I think I’ll farm you out for a year.”
As hard as it is to believe, Hornsby completely mistook what Huggins meant and spent the winter on his uncle’s farm near Lockhart, Texas, doing farm labor, eating fried chicken and steak, and drinking as much milk as he could hold.[fn]Hornsby and Surface, 38; D’Amore, 11-12; Alexander, 26-27; Frederick G. Lieb, “Hornsby Badges — Blazing Bat, Sharp Tongue,” The Sporting News, January 19, 1963, 12.[/fn]
By the time he reported to the Cardinals’ 1916 springtraining base in Hot Wells, Texas, Hornsby had gained about 30 pounds of muscle. He displayed so much exuberance and hustle that his teammates starting calling him “Pep.”[fn]D’Amore, 15.[/fn] At bat, he stopped choking up, stood back in the box, and immediately began lacing line drives all over the field. Huggins, who didn’t think much of Hornsby’s future at shortstop, now thought he had a future at third base.[fn]In the offseason the Cardinals had tried to sell Hornsby to Little Rock in
the Southern League for $500, or $100 less than they had paid for him, but even that price was too steep so Little Rock passed. St. Louis had also signed Roy Corhan out of the Pacific Coast League, intending him to be their shortstop for 1916. D’Amore, 11; Alexander, 27.[/fn]
When the season opened on April 12, however, the still 19-year-old Hornsby was at shortstop against the Pittsburgh Pirates and their 42-year-old shortstop legend Honus Wagner. Batting seventh, Hornsby drove in both runs with two singles in a 2-1 Cardinals win. Although St. Louis was destined for seventh place, Hornsby was a genuine spark, crossing the .300 barrier in late June and moving to fifth and then fourth place in the batting order.[fn]Alexander, 31-32.[/fn] Very quickly several National League teams attempted to trade for or purchase Rogers from the cash-strapped Cardinals, but ownership resisted. By September 14 he was all the way up to .326, which tied him for the league lead with Cincinnati’s Hal Chase.[fn]D’Amore, 17.[/fn]
Playing more third base than shortstop, Hornsby finished the season at .313, fourth best in the league, but only .003 away from second place. He led the team in most offensive categories and was among the league leaders in many. It was truly a meteoric rise for a young man who had batted .277 the previous year in Class D.
By the time Hornsby reported to the Cardinals’ 1917 spring training in Hot Wells after a winter working for Swift & Company as a checker on the loading docks in Fort Worth, the club had new ownership and had installed Branch Rickey as president.[fn]Alexander, 33.[/fn] For the next 20 years the careers of the two would be intertwined, although not always happily so. Under Rickey’s leadership the Cardinals won 22 more games than in 1916 and moved up to third place. Hornsby played shortstop exclusively for manager Huggins and raised his batting average to .327, second in the league behind Cincinnati’s Edd Roush’s .341. Rogers hit a powerful .327 as he led the league with 253 total bases and a .484 slugging percentage.
Huggins left the Cardinals after the season to manage the New York Yankees, and Rickey replaced him with Jack Hendricks, late of the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association. It was not a happy match for Hornsby, who late in the war-shortened season publicly called his manager “a boob,” and his teammates “stool pigeons.” Earlier when he failed to slide on a play at home plate and was tagged out, he told his teammates, “I’m too good a ballplayer to be sliding for a tail-end team.”[fn]D’Amore, 22; Alexander, 46-47.[/fn]
The Cardinals were in fact a last-place team, finishing 33 games out of first place. Hornsby’s discontent showed on the field as he struggled out of the gate before a midseason hot streak got his batting average to a respectable level. He finished at .281 but committed 46 errors in 115 games, almost all of which were at shortstop.
Before heading to his war-essential job at a shipyard in Wilmington, Delaware, Hornsby loudly announced that he would never again play for Hendricks. Soon after his arrival in Wilmington he was joined by his fiancée Sarah Martin, whom he had met during his time in Denison. They were married in a civil ceremony on September 23.[fn]Alexander, 47-48.[/fn] When the war ended in November, they returned to Fort Worth, where Hornsby set about using his baseball connections to try to arrange automobile dealerships in Texas.
The Cardinals board of directors did not bring Hendricks back for 1919 but instead persuaded Branch Rickey to manage as well as serve as team president. The team could only improve to seventh place, thanks in large measure to the woeful Phillies (47 victories), but Hornsby fared much better under Rickey’s leadership. He batted .318, second only to Edd Roush’s .321, and was among the league leaders in most categories.
Hornsby’s play in the field continued to be indifferent. According to teammate Bill Doak, Hornsby wouldn’t think of working on his fielding and cared only about his batting average. Doak even suggested that manager Rickey switch Hornsby from third base to second because Milt Stock could play third and “Hornsby couldn’t be any worse at second base than he is at third.”[fn]Bartell, 348.[/fn] Even so, Hornsby managed to reduce his error total to 34 for the year, playing 72 games at third base, 37 at shortstop, 25 at second base, and five games at first.
In the offseason John McGraw made a concerted effort to acquire Hornsby for his New York Giants, offering the Cardinals $70,000 plus four players, but Rickey was not interested. Giants owner Charles Stoneham eventually offered $300,000 straight cash with St. Louis to keep Hornsby through 1920, but Rickey still wouldn’t bite for his cash-strapped club.[fn]Alexander, 54-55.[/fn]
Hornsby settled into second base as the 1920 spring training began in Brownsville, Texas, and stayed there, playing all 149 games at the position during the regular season. He led second basemen in errors with 34, but no one cared because offensively he moved from star to superstar, leading the league with a .370 average for the Cardinals, who tied for fifth place with the Chicago Cubs.
Only 24 years old, he also led the league in hits (218), doubles (44), and slugging percentage (.559), and tied for the lead in runs batted in (94) with New York’s George “High Pockets” Kelly.
It was the beginning of an incredible run of batting prowess. For the next five seasons, 1921 through 1925, Hornsby batted .397, .401, .384, .424, and .403, arguably the most dominant stretch in baseball history. His overall average for that five-year stretch was an astounding .402.[fn]Tom Meany, Baseball’s Greatest Hitters, 81.[/fn] Coupled with 1920, he strung together six straight National League batting championships. He won the Triple Crown in 1922 and 1925 and led the league in every major category multiple times. Hornsby was the top player in the National League for the decade, a true superstar well before that phrase was coined.
Off the field, however, life was not so rosy. His wife, Sarah, gave birth in November 1920 to a boy whom they named Rogers Hornsby, Jr., but by the fall of 1922 their marriage was falling apart, due in no small part to Hornsby’s dalliance with a married woman named Jeannette Pennington Hine.[fn]Alexander, 74-77; D’Amore, 43-44.[/fn] By June 1923 Hornsby was defending an alienation-of-affections lawsuit by Jeannette’s husband and an action for divorce by Sarah. He settled both, agreeing to pay Sarah $25,000 in exchange for her public exoneration of Rogers for the Hine affair.[fn]Alexander, 79-80; D’Amore, 45.[/fn]
Then late in the season Hornsby became embroiled in a dispute with Cardinals management, who accused him of feigning injury, fined him $500, and suspended him for five games. For his part, Hornsby was bothered by his knee, which he had badly injured in May, and a severe skin rash that forced him to be swathed in bandages and ointment.[fn]Alexander, 81-83; 46-47.[/fn] He was limited to 107 games for the season and “slumped” to .384.
Hornsby’s troubles with Branch Rickey, which included the normally mild-mannered Rickey twice charging and swinging at Hornsby after a game,[fn]Hornsby had thrown up his hands in frustration while at bat after
getting the take sign from the dugout. He continued complaining loudly in the clubhouse after the game, and when confronted by Rickey, called him every unprintable name imaginable. Lee Lowenfish, Branch Rickey — Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman, 145-146; Alexander, 80-81.[/fn] and the Cardinals allowed John McGraw to renew his efforts to trade for Hornsby. The talks fell apart when the Cardinals insisted on Frankie Frisch in return. During the winter meetings in Chicago, the Brooklyn Robins offered Cardinals owner Sam Breadon $275,000 for Hornsby but, although shocked by the offer, Breadon said no.[fn]D’Amore, 47.[/fn] In February Hornsby and Rickey eventually talked through their troubles and made up. Then, on the eve of leaving for spring training for the 1924 season, he married Jeannette Pennington in a private ceremony in a courtroom in St. Louis.[fn]Alexander, 87; D’Amore, 48.[/fn]
With the tumultuous 1923 behind him, Hornsby attained new heights in 1924, attaining a modern-day record .424 batting average, with 227 hits in 536 at-bats. He was held hitless in only 24 of the 143 games he appeared in and never more than two games in a row. During July and August, the peak of the hot, humid St. Louis summer, he batted .486. Although he missed eight games with a sore back beginning with the very end of August, he hit an incredible .509 for the month. During an August 21-23 four-game series against the Giants in Sportsman’s Park, he smashed out 11 hits in 16 at-bats. [fn]Alexander, 90; D’Amore, 49.[/fn]
Hornsby was the consummate gap hitter and an RBI machine, leading or tying for the league lead four times. He also hit with power, leading the league with 42 home runs in 1922 and 39 in 1925. Although he stole only 135 bases in his career, he was regarded as one of the speediest men in baseball and often legged out infield hits. Pro football hero Bo McMillin, Hornsby’s old high-school teammate, once dropped in to Sportsman’s Park to visit, and ended up donning baseball shoes and challenging Hornsby to a footrace, which Rogers won by a good margin.[fn]Alexander, 95.[/fn]
In the field Hornsby had become a more than adequate second baseman with a perceived weakness for going back for pop flies. That reputation may in part be due to the fact that with a runner on first he liked to cheat toward second in anticipation of a double-play groundball, which allowed some popups to fall in that he might have otherwise reached.[fn]J. Roy Stockton, tongue-in-cheek, once explained that, “Hornsby was unfamiliar with pop flies because he hit so few himself.” Broeg, Super Stars of Baseball, 128.[/fn] On the other hand, teammate Dick Bartell remembered that Hornsby would often tell his shortstop to take all the pop flies around second base because the sun was in his eyes, even on cloudy days.[fn]Bartell, 256.[/fn] His real defensive strength was turning the double play, at which he was the acknowledged master of his era.[fn]Alexander, 95.[/fn]
Hornsby’s personal habits and lifestyle were almost as exceptional as his prowess at baseball. He didn’t drink alcohol or use tobacco products but was a big red-meat eater, always with quantities of whole milk. He also had a particular fondness for ice cream, which he consumed every evening. He thought it important to get his rest, which in his case meant 12 hours of sleep a night.
He famously didn’t read anything but the sports pages or go to the movies, reputedly to save strain on his eyes. On the road, he became known as the champion lobby sitter in baseball history, not reading, but sitting for hours watching the people go by. His interests and topics of conversation were pretty much limited to baseball and horse racing. During spring training in 1925, Branch Rickey talked Hornsby into playing nine holes of golf for the first time. He shot a 39 and never played again. He tended to be aloof from his teammates, usually rooming by himself on the road, and often showering, dressing, and exiting the clubhouse after a game without saying a word to anyone.[fn]Alexander, 96-97.[/fn]
Hornsby parlayed his almost incomprehensible 1924 season into a three-year contract totaling $100,000, behind only Babe Ruth and commensurate with the deals player-managers Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker had. When the Cardinals won only 13 of their first 38 games in 1925, Sam Breadon fired Branch Rickey as the field manager, while retaining him as the general manager, and persuaded the 29-year-old Hornsby to take over the club as playermanager. Just three days later, second wife Jeannette gave the Rajah a second son when William Pennington Hornsby was born in St. Louis.[fn]Breadon had twice earlier tried to get Hornsby to take over as manager, but this time offered to finance his purchase of a minority interest in the ballclub. Alexander, 92, 100-101; D’Amore, 51.[/fn]
Under Hornsby the Cardinals went 64-51 and rose to fourth place with an overall 77-76 record.[fn]Skipper, A Biographical Dictionary of Major League Baseball Managers, 152.[/fn] Managing certainly didn’t affect Hornsby’s playing as he batted .403 for the year to win his sixth consecutive batting title. He also garnered his second Triple Crown, smacking 39 home runs and driving in 143 runs to go with his second straight .400-plus year and third overall.[fn]He so dominated in the big three categories that he finished 36 percentage points above the next highest batting average, 15 home runs ahead of the next leading home run hitter, and 13 runs batted in above the closest contender.[/fn]
Hornsby suffered from a variety of physical ailments during the 1926 season and his batting average fell to .317. Nonetheless, the year was the pinnacle of Hornsby’s long baseball career, as under his managerial guidance the Cardinals won their first National League pennant by two games over the Cincinnati Reds and then the world championship in a thrilling seven-game World Series over the powerful New York Yankees.
The club was bolstered by Hornsby’s midseason acquisitions of outfielder Billy Southworth and the 39-year-old Grover Cleveland Alexander, who both played key roles in clinching the pennant.[fn]Peter Golenbock, The Spirit of St. Louis — A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, 102-103; John C. Skipper, Billy Southworth — A Biography of the Hall of Fame Manager and Ballplayer, 51.[/fn] While the Cardinals were preparing for the Series opener in New York, Hornsby received word that his 62-year-old mother had died. She had gotten word that the Cardinals had won the pennant and let it be known that she didn’t want anything to interfere with her son playing in the World Series. Rogers heeded her wishes and the funeral was delayed until after the Series was over.[fn]Hornsby and Surface, 44-45.[/fn]
The Series itself was a seesaw affair with Alexander striking out ten Yankees in a complete-game win in Game Two to even the games at one apiece.[fn]Bill Southworth’s three-run home run in the seventh inning iced the 6-2 victory.[/fn]
After St. Louis won Game Three, Babe Ruth hit a record three home runs to lead the Yankees to a 10-5 win, tying the Series at two games each. When the Yankees rallied to win Game Five in extra innings in St. Louis, the Cardinals headed for Yankee Stadium down three games to two and having to win two consecutive games for the title. With Alexander back on the mound, the Cardinals won Game Six, 10-2, as Ol’ Pete scattered eight hits, struck out six, and threw only 29 balls in his 104 pitches.
Alexander was known to have a serious drinking problem. After the game Hornsby approached him and urged him not to celebrate too much because he might be needed in Game Seven. Alexander reportedly assured Hornsby that he could “throw four or five of the damnedest balls they ever saw” and maybe could go a couple of innings.[fn]Alexander, 118-119; D’Amore, 69; Jack Kavanagh, Ol’ Pete — the Grover Cleveland Alexander Story, 103; John C. Skipper, Wicked Curve — The Life and Troubled Times of Grover Cleveland Alexander, 119.[/fn]
Game Seven turned into a classic. The Cardinals led 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh, but after the Yankees loaded the bases with two outs, Hornsby signaled for Alexander to come in from the bullpen. No one knows for certain what kind of shape Alex was in, but he told Hornsby he felt fine when he reached the mound.[fn]Alexander, 119.[/fn] He took only three warm-up pitches before facing Tony Lazzeri, who hit a long foul on a 1-and-2 pitch that was almost a grand slam. But Lazzeri then struck out to end the threat. Alexander retired the Yankees in order in the eighth but in the ninth walked Babe Ruth with two outs. Ruth inexplicably tried to steal second base, but Cardinals catcher Bob O’Farrell threw to Hornsby at second base to nail Ruth by a wide margin and win the Series for St. Louis.[fn]Gorman, 211-216; Lowenfish, 167-169.[/fn]
For the rest of his life Hornsby would say that making a simple tag at second base to end the 1926 World Series was the biggest thrill of his baseball career.[fn]Hornsby and Surface, 193.[/fn] Perhaps that is not a surprising answer, for it was the only time in his long career that he was part of a world championship team.
Hornsby received very high praise for his managerial abilities after the World Series from his players[fn]Grover Cleveland Alexander said, “There is a great fellow if there ever was one. Who couldn’t pitch for Rog? … He makes this a great ballclub.” Alexander, 120. Catcher Bob O’Farrell later called Hornsby “a great manager,” saying “He never bothered any of us. He just let you play your own game.” Lawrence Ritter, The Glory of Their Times, 254-55.[/fn] and sportswriters alike.[fn]J. Roy Stockton called him “a dynamic leader” whose best characteristics were “courage, honesty, bluntness, and determination.” Alexander, 115.[/fn] Not surprisingly after the success of 1926, Hornsby sought to rework his contract, which had a year to go, demanding a new three-year deal at $50,000 a year. Breadon countered with one year at $50,000, providing Hornsby stayed away from the race tracks. Unbeknownst to Rogers, Breadon had so tired of Hornsby’s act that he had arranged to trade him to the Giants if talks fell through. McGraw had coveted Hornsby for years and was now willing to trade Frankie Frisch, with whom he’d had a bitter falling-out. When Hornsby blew up at Breadon’s counteroffer, the deal was done, to the shock and consternation of everyone in St. Louis.
Breadon later confessed that he so much wanted to get rid of Hornsby that he had been afraid he might accept the one-year offer.[fn]Alexander, 125; Lowenfish, 170-172.[/fn] For his part, Hornsby termed the trade “the biggest disappointment I had in my life.”[fn]Hornsby and Surface, 29.[/fn] It came less than two months after his biggest thrill in baseball, winning the World Series.
Hornsby rebounded on the field with the Giants in 1927, batting .361, second in the league, slugging 26 home runs, third-most in the league, and driving in 125 runs, also third-most. He also frequently took over the managerial reigns due to John McGraw’s annual bouts with sinusitis. His club finished third in a tight pennant race, only two games from the pennant, but the Rajah managed to wear out his welcome in New York after only one year. Not surprisingly, his overbearing personality managed to get him cross-ways with McGraw and Giants star Freddy Lindstrom.[fn]Joseph Durso, The Days of Mr. McGraw, 190-191; Peter Williams, When the Giants Were Giants — Bill Terry and the Golden Age of New York Baseball, 83-84. Mrs. John McGraw downplayed any conflict between the two, asserting that her husband had only “profound respect” for the Rajah. Mrs. John J. McGraw, edited by Arthur Mann, The Real McGraw, 314. It is interesting, however, to note that McGraw in his autobiography, even while naming him to his all-time team, uniformly referred to Hornsby as “Roger” rather than “Rogers,” a common error that Hornsby detested. John J. McGraw, My Thirty Years in Baseball, 201, 226, 228, 262.[/fn] Then his criticism of Giants owner Horace Stoneham and a highly-publicized lawsuit by a bookie claiming that Hornsby owed him over $70,000 for unpaid horse-race bets led the Giants to dump him to the Boston Braves in January 1928 for outfielder Jimmy Welsh and catcher Shanty Hogan, both front-line ballplayers but hardly stars.[fn]Robert S. Fuchs and Wayne Soini, Judge Fuchs and the Boston Braves, 55-58; D’Amore, 90, 93-94; Frank Graham, Baseball Extra — An Album of Profiles, 199-202; Robert H. Shoemaker, The Best in Baseball, 90-91.[/fn]
Hornsby’s time in Boston was also short, although he batted .387 to claim his seventh National League batting title. With the Braves off to an 11-20 start, manager Jack Slattery resigned on May 23, to be replaced by the Rajah. But the team continued its inept performance even after the acquisition of George Sisler, and finished with only 50 wins against 103 losses, ahead of only the dismal Phillies.
The Braves’ dreary record did not temper Hornsby’s attitude. Late in the season, the Pirates and Paul Waner, who had been chasing the Rajah in the batting race all summer, came to Boston to play the Braves. Waner had a rough series and afterwards ran into Hornsby in the runway under the stands. Waner said, “Well, Rog. It looks like you’re gonna beat me.”
Hornsby scowled at him and said, “You didn’t doubt for a minute that I would, did you?”[fn]Golenbock, Wrigleyville, 207-208.[/fn]
On the other hand, Hornsby had a good relationship with George Sisler, both on and off the field, and lived in the same upscale residential hotel. Displaying his fondness for children, the Rajah often took George’s 7-year-old son Dick (later a major leaguer with the Cardinals, Phillies, and Reds) down to the local drugstore for an ice cream or a soft drink.[fn]Rick Huhn, The Sizzler — George Sisler, Baseball’s Forgotten Great, 229-230.[/fn]
The Braves were deep in debt and after the season, Hornsby, armed with a new three-year $120,000 contract and working both sides of the aisle, urged the owner, Judge Emil Fuchs, to swing a deal with the up-and-coming Chicago Cubs. On November 7 Fuchs did just that, sending Hornsby to the Cubs for five players and a record $200,000.[fn]Fuchs and Soini, 58-62; D’Amore, 97; Alexander, 148-149.[/fn] The reigning star of the National League thus joined his fourth different team in four years.
Hornsby told reporters that he highly respected Cubs manager Joe McCarthy and knew they would get along, and they did. Playing on a powerhouse team with the likes of Hack Wilson, Kiki Cuyler, and Riggs Stephenson no doubt helped. The Cubs swept to the National League pennant by 10½ games as the Rajah, now 33 years old, lived up to his name, hitting .380 for the season. Despite persistent pain in his heel, Hornsby played in all 156 games and led the league in runs scored with 156.[fn]Alexander, 155-156; D’Amore, 102-103.[/fn]
The Cubs fell flat in the World Series against the Philadelphia Athletics, losing in five games, and so did Hornsby. The pain in his heel probably had an impact, as he batted only .238 and struck out an uncharacteristic eight times.
After the season, Hornsby was awarded his second Most Valuable Player Award by the Baseball Writers of America. He also had surgery to remove bone spurs from his heel, which helped ease the pain temporarily. He fell victim to the stock-market crash, but the bulk of his losses on his RCA stock were on paper only.[fn]Alexander, 158-159; D’Amore, 102-103.[/fn]
Hornsby was highly praised in 1929 for his leadership and for being a consummate baseball man who “lives, breathes, and dreams baseball.” It was about this time that the Rajah uttered his most famous quote when asked what he did in the offseason. He answered, “I stare out the window and wait for spring.” [fn]Rogershornsby.com/quotes.htm[/fn]
Unfortunately, the spring of 1930 brought more pain from his heel which made it difficult for Hornsby to hit with any power, run, slide, or cover any ground on defense. After working his way into the lineup, he broke his ankle sliding in late May.[fn]The next day Hornsby, with one foot in a plaster cast and the still sore from bone spurs, hobbled out to home plate to accept his MVP award for 1929. Alexander, 161; D’Amore, 103.[/fn] When he returned to the team late in the season, the Rajah was mostly relegated to pinchhitting duties.[fn]Alexander, 161-162; D’Amore, 103.[/fn] Ironically, in the National League’s most prolific offensive season, Hornsby, its premier hitter, appeared in only 42 games and finished with a .308 average.
Cubs owner William Wrigley had become disenchanted with Joe McCarthy and announced with four games left in the season that Hornsby would take over as player-manager for 1931.[fn]Alan H. Levy, Joe McCarthy — Architect of the Yankee Dynasty, 144-145; When McCarthy refused to manage the final four games in 1930, Hornsby stepped in immediately to take over the team. The Cubs won all four games. Roberts Ehrgott, Mr. Wrigley’s Ball Club: Chicago and the Cubs During the Jazz Age, 255; Alexander, 163; D’Amore, 104.[/fn] Although there were rumors that Hornsby had undermined McCarthy and actively sought his job, the Rajah denied it, saying the two had parted as friends. Others, like teammates Gabby Hartnett and Charlie Grimm, were not convinced.[fn]Alexander, 165; D’Amore, 104-105.[/fn] Cubs president William Veeck, Sr. was so upset at Hornsby’s hiring that he resigned, only to come back when Wrigley promised he would never interfere again.[fn]Bill Veeck with Ed Linn, Veeck — As in Wreck, 25.[/fn]
Veeck put up with what has been characterized as Hornsby’s “reign of terror” for about a season and a half before firing him on August 2, 1932.[fn]Veeck, 30.[/fn] In the interim Hornsby had gotten cross-ways with just about everyone on the team, including stars like Gabby Hartnett, Hack Wilson, Kiki Cuyler, and Billy Herman.[fn]Ehrgott, 262, 270-171; Robert S. Boone and Gerald Grunska, Hack — The Meteoric Life of One of Baseball’s Superstars: Hack Wilson, 105, 109;William F. McNeil, Gabby Hartnett — The Life and Times of the Cubs’ Greatest Catcher, 168; Clifton Blue Parker, Fouled Away — The Baseball Tragedy of Hack Wilson, 131-133, 140-141; Ronald T. Waldo, Hazen “KiKi” Cuyler — A Baseball Biography, 159-161, 168-169.[/fn] Hornsby was so disliked that when a firecracker in the stands went off during a lull in a game, Woody English, who actually liked the Rajah, remembered thinking that somebody must have just shot Hornsby.[fn]Peter Golenbock, Wrigleyville — A Magical History Tour of the Chicago Cubs, 226.[/fn]
Hornsby also became entangled with the IRS for understating his income and had borrowed money from a number of his teammates to cover his losses at the race track.[fn]Alexander, 171-172, 177-178; D’Amore, 115; Ehrgott, 280; David Pietrusza, Judge and Jury: The Life and Times of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, 318; Peter Golenbock, Wrigleyville, 229-230; William F. McNeil, Gabby Hartnett — The Life and Times of the Cubs’ Greatest Catcher, 168.[/fn] The team had slipped to third in 1931, although Hornsby had his last good year as a player, batting .331 in 100 games. They were in second place in 1932 when Veeck lowered the boom, five games out of the lead.[fn]Ehrgott, 303-306.[/fn] Under the genial Charlie Grimm, the team swept to the pennant by four games over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Afterward, the Cubs spoke loudly about their feelings for the Rajah when they voted him a zero share of the World Series money.[fn]Hornsby appealed the decision to Commissioner Landis, to no avail. Alexander, 180; D’Amore, 115-116; Ehrgott, 363-64; 375; Pietrusza, 337.[/fn]
Although Hornsby’s heel limited him to only 58 at-bats in 1932, he wasn’t out of work for long. His old nemesis Sam Breadon of the Cardinals had a hole at third, thought the Rajah could still hit, and so signed him for the 1933 season. Foot and leg ailments plagued the 37-year-old, but he did hit .325 for the Cardinals in 46 games, many as a pinch-hitter. By midseason, however, St. Louis was mired in fifth place and asked waivers on Hornsby, who was unable to play regularly.
Once again Hornsby found a taker, this time in the American League. Phil Ball, owner of the last-place St. Louis Browns, quickly signed him to a three-year contract as player-manager. For the first time Hornsby actually lasted beyond his initial contract, running the Browns until midway through the 1937 season before the axe finally fell. The team was dismal, finishing in eighth, sixth, seventh, seventh, and eighth place. They paled in comparison to the Cardinals’ Gas House Gang and, in the height of the Depression, drew as few as 81,000 fans for an entire season.[fn]D’Amore, 121.[/fn]
Bill Werber remembered a one-sided conversation with the Rajah late in the 1933 season when the Boston Red Sox and the Browns happened to be on the same train west to open a series in St. Louis. Midway through the long trip, Hornsby made his way into the Red Sox Pullman car and took center stage. Werber was in first full major-league season and so was all ears as Hornsby expounded on hitting and eye care. Hornsby said he had never seen a movie because they were bad for one’s eyes. He also thought reading weakened them, as well, whether through newspapers, magazines, or books. He also stressed the importance of plenty of sleep and the avoidance of whiskey. After Hornsby had exhausted his fund of advice, he rose and abruptly departed.[fn]Bill Werber and C. Paul Rogers, III, Memories of a Ballplayer — Bill Werber and Baseball in the 1930s, 52.[/fn]
Hornsby’s playing days were for all intents and purposes over, although he remained on the active roster, occasionally filling in at second base or pinch-hitting. For example, at 41 years of age in 1937, he hit .321 in 56 at-bats. Off the field, he continued be plagued by gambling debts and bad investments, which caused his farm to be foreclosed on, and a crumbling second marriage.[fn]D’Amore, 119.[/fn] Indeed, his inveterate playing of the horses finally caused the Browns to give him the heave-ho.[fn]Alexander, 214-215.[/fn]
This time there was no big-league club waiting in the wings, so Hornsby managed to land a job as player-coach with the Baltimore Orioles of the International League for 1938.[fn]He also worked briefly that spring as a batting instructor and imparted wisdom in Florida that rookie Ted Williams never forgot: “Get a good ball to hit.” Ted Williams, My Turn at Bat (New York: Fireside Books, 1988), 63.[/fn] In early June, flamboyant Chattanooga Lookouts owner Joe Engel, looking for box-office appeal, signed Hornsby to manage for the rest of the season. He even hit a pinch-hit home run and went 2-for-3 in limited playing duty.[fn]Alexander, 221.[/fn] He returned to Baltimore, this time as manager, in 1939 but guided the team only to sixth place.
Hornsby then found himself out of a job until the following June, when he signed on to manage the Oklahoma City Indians in the Class A1 Texas League. Under his tutelage the team rose from the cellar to fourth place, making the league playoffs. That earned him a return engagement for 1941, but with the team languishing below .500, he resigned in late June and returned to his home in St. Louis.[fn]Alexander, 223-225; Patrick K. Petree, Old Times to the Goodtimes — Oklahoma City Baseball, 20-21.[/fn]
Hornsby’s hometown Fort Worth Cats, also in the Texas League, came calling for 1942, and gave him authority over the business operations of the team in addition to naming him manager. He was in Fort Worth in January when he received word of his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He said it was a “mighty nice honor,” and went about selling season tickets for the Cats, without “a single turndown.”[fn]Alexander, 226-227; Hornsby was the only player who received the threefourths majority vote required for election that year as luminaries like Frankie Frisch and Mickey Cochrane fell short. D’Amore, 125.[/fn]
The Cats, buoyed by a late-season nine-game winning streak, finished third in 1942 with an 84-68 record before losing to Beaumont in seven games in the league playoffs. Although Hornsby was rehired for 1943, the Texas League shut down operations due to World War II, leaving him with a reduced salary with the Cats and renewed money problems.[fn]Jeff Guinn with Bobby Bragan, When Panthers Roared — The Fort Worth Cats and Minor League Baseball, 51-53.[/fn] Mexican baseball mogul Jorge Pasquel came to the rescue, hiring the Rajah as manager of the Vera Cruz Blues in Pasquel’s six-team circuit for 1944.[fn]Hornsby was quoted as saying, “There’s no place left for me in the game here. United States baseball has forgotten me.” Alexander, 231.[/fn]
He lasted nine days in Mexico, quitting when Pasquel expressed disappointment that the Blues had won a Saturday game that meant a smaller crowd on Sunday. When Hornsby got back to St. Louis, he said, “I finally decided I’d rather be a lamppost in America than a general down there.”[fn]Alexander, 232.[/fn]
There were suspicions that Commissioner Kenesaw M. Landis had blacklisted Hornsby from the major leagues because of his inveterate playing of the horses and generally disagreeable personality.[fn]Pietrusza, 316-322.[/fn] Landis died in November 1944, however, and Hornsby was not quick to get back to the majors even afterward. He had a brief stint as a spring-training hitting instructor for the Chicago White Sox in 1946 and then with the Cleveland Indians the following spring.
Hornsby and Lefty O’Doul were widely considered to be the best batting instructors of their time, especially when it came to the mechanics of hitting.[fn]Richard Leutzinger, Lefty O’Doul — The Legend That Baseball Nearly Forgot, 115, 129.[/fn] But the Rajah’s effectiveness as a teacher of hitting was probably affected by his prowess as a hitter. A struggling Eddie Robinson, the Indians first baseman, sought Hornsby out during spring training to ask him if he should be a guess hitter, looking for a certain pitch in a given situation. Hornsby told him, “No, just hit what you see.” As a result, Robinson decided not to be a guess hitter and continued to struggle. Then, when Robinson was with the Washington Senators in 1949, his manager, Joe Kuhel, told him that “guessing” was really just looking for a certain pitch until you have two strikes. That advice turned Robinson’s career around; he would eventually make four All-Star teams.[fn]Eddie Robinson with C. Paul Rogers, III, Lucky Me — My Sixty-Five Years in Baseball, 72-73.[/fn]
Hornsby was so good a hitter that he could just react to the pitch and hit .400. But even most good major-league hitters could not.
Hornsby spent much of the late 1940s as director of a youth baseball program in Chicago sponsored by the Chicago Daily News, and operating the Rogers Hornsby Baseball School in Hot Springs, Arkansas. He separated from his second wife, Jeanette, in 1945, effectively ending their marriage.[fn]Alexander, 233-234, 237.[/fn] In December 1949 he got word that his estranged 29-year-old son from his first marriage, Rogers Hornsby, Jr., had been killed in a training mission in a modified B-29. His first wife refused to allow Hornsby to attend the funeral.[fn]Alexander, 239; D’Amore, 130.[/fn] Thus ended a rough decade for the Rajah.
The 1950s started off better for Hornsby when the New York Yankees hired him to manage their Beaumont farm team in the Texas League. After a slow start the Roughnecks, led by league Player of the Year Gil McDougald, played .709 baseball after June 7, winning the regular-season pennant by 2½ games over the Fort Worth Cats. The Yankees, liking what they saw, sent him to manage Ponce in the Puerto Rican Winter League, where his team finished third.[fn]Alexander, 240-248.[/fn]
Hornsby was again in demand and was recruited to manage the independent Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League for 1951. He was again successful, guiding the Rainiers to their first PCL championship in ten years, even though the team was picked to finish in the second division.[fn]Dick Dobbins, The Grand Minor League — An Oral History of the Old Pacific Coast League, 100-101.[/fn] Led by Jim Rivera, a player Hornsby had drafted after seeing him in the Puerto Rican League, they won the pennant by six games and then the league playoffs against the Los Angeles Angels and Hollywood Stars.[fn]Dan Raley, The Story of the Seattle Rainiers, 144-160; Dobbins,
98-103, 133-35.[/fn] Hornsby didn’t allow alcohol in the clubhouse, but after the Rainiers won the pennant, the players asked if they could have champagne or something in the clubhouse to celebrate. “Not till I’m out of here,” he said.[fn]Dobbins, 101.[/fn]
His son Bill was attempting to make it as a ballplayer and hooked on with Oklahoma City in the Texas League that year. After hitting only .206 after 69 games, Bill was released. When the Rajah learned of it, he said he was “glad Billy learned early that he wasn’t a real player. … Imagine how I would have felt, seeing the Hornsby name down in the batting averages with the pitchers.”[fn]Alexander, 251, 253.[/fn]
On a misty night in Seattle during the season, Hornsby and Lefty O’Doul put on a pregame batting exhibition. O’Doul, one of the all-time great left-handed hitters, who was 54 years old, hit line drive after line drive deep to left field. The Rajah, who was 55, then nailed line drive after line drive deep to his opposite field, right. The two old rivals could still smash the ball.[fn]Dobbins, 103.[/fn]
After his successes in Beaumont and Seattle, Hornsby’s long road back to the majors was soon at an end. He quickly received similar three-year offers from both the St. Louis Browns and the Cardinals to manage for 1952. The Browns, owned by Bill Veeck, son of former Cubs president William Veeck, were coming off a 102-loss, last-place finish. The Rajah chose that job because he thought the upside was much greater than with the perennial contending Cardinals. Thus, at the age of 55, the Rajah was back in the majors, hired by the franchise that had 14 years earlier fired him from his last big-league job, and hired by the son of the man who fired him from the Cubs in 1932.[fn]Paul Dickson, Bill Veeck — Baseball’s Greatest Maverick, 197; Alexander, 254; D’Amore, 131.[/fn]
Hornsby lasted only 51 games before Veeck gave him the boot. During spring training, he quickly got cross-ways with the legendary Satchel Paige, who liked to keep his own training rules.[fn]Larry Tye, Satchel — The Life and Times of an American Legend, 230; Dickson, 202-203.[/fn] The club got off to a strong start but soon faded to seventh place, as Hornsby became more and more irascible.[fn]Peter Golenbock, The Spirit of St. Louis — A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, 339-343.[/fn] The acerbic Hornsby had general contempt for pitchers and continued his long-standing practice of making pitching changes from the dugout.[fn]According to one story, Hornsby didn’t go to the mound to change pitchers because once when he did, the pitcher talked Hornsby into letting him stay in the game, swearing that he could get the next batter out. About the time Hornsby returned to the dugout, that batter hit a home run. From then on, he didn’t want to risk being talked out of removing a pitcher. Guinn, 52.[/fn] According to Ned Garver, he was completely aloof and wouldn’t speak to a player except to ridicule him. Once in a hotel elevator, Hornsby derided Garver for walking the opposing pitcher in the game that day. The problem was that it had been Cliff Fannin, not Garver, who had done the deed.[fn]Ned Garver, with Bill Bozman and Ronnie Joyner, Touching All the Bases, 49; Golenbock, The Spirit of St. Louis, 341-343.[/fn]
When Veeck got rid of the Rajah on June 8, the players were thrilled and presented their owner with a three-foot trophy that they had inscribed, “To Bill Veeck: For the greatest play since the Emancipation Proclamation.” Pitcher Gene Bearden said, “They ought to declare a national holiday in St. Louis.”[fn]Only catcher Clint Courtney, a Hornsby favorite, came to the Rajah’s defense, calling him a fine manager and saying he “was like a father to me.” Alexander, 266; D’Amore, 133-134. To his credit, two weeks after he was fired, Hornsby was quoted as saying that the Browns “were a fine bunch of fellows who gave me one hundred percent of their ability.” Alexander, 267; Rogers Hornsby, My Kind of Baseball. 171.[/fn] Outfielder Bob Nieman was quoted as saying that “the news was like lifting a hundred-pound sack of sand from each player’s back.” For his part, Hornsby claimed that the trophy was a publicity stunt dreamed up by one of Veeck’s underlings, and that many of the Browns had let him know they had nothing to do with it.[fn]Hornsby, My Kind of Baseball, 175-177.[/fn] In his autobiography, however, Veeck asserted that he was completely surprised by the trophy.[fn]Veeck, 235-240; Dickson, 203.[/fn]
As amazing as it seems in hindsight given the debacle with the Browns, Hornsby was hired to take over the Cincinnati Reds about six weeks later. The club was languishing in seventh place when general manager Gabe Paul selected the Rajah to replace Luke Sewell because he “wanted a hard-nosed baseball man.”[fn]Alexander, 269.[/fn] He certainly got one.
The Reds went 27-24 under Hornsby to finish in sixth place. He was signed through the 1953 season and began spring training in a more relaxed mode, telling his players, “Baseball is fun, not work.” He couldn’t curtail his bluntness, however, and soon rubbed everyone the wrong way. One day after watching weak-hitting infielder Rocky Bridges take batting practice, he turned away from the batting cage and said, “I can piss farther than he can hit.”[fn]William A. Cook, Big Klu — The Baseball Life of Ted Kluszewski, 42.[/fn]
Bubba Church, like most pitchers, was less than fond of Hornsby, in part because he wouldn’t come to the mound to change pitchers. Church also objected to the Rajah’s inveterate second-guessing. Once Church threw a 3-and-2 curveball that the batter hit for a home run. When he got back to the dugout, Hornsby said loudly, “Why did you throw him a curveball in that situation?”
Church replied, “Because I wanted him to hit a home run.”[fn]Author’s interview with Bubba Church, June 1994.[/fn]
Hornsby couldn’t avoid controversy with the Reds, making an anti-Semitic remark to Gabe Paul, who, although Hornsby didn’t know it, was Jewish, and getting into a well-publicized spat with sportswriter Earl Lawson over his failure to remove a battered pitcher from a game.[fn]Earl Lawson, Cincinnati Seasons — My 34 Years with the Reds,93-107; William A. Cook, 47-50; Alexander, 276-278.[/fn] Thus, just before the conclusion of a lackluster 68-86 year and a sixth-place finish, the Reds announced that Hornsby would not return for 1954.
Although the Rajah would never again have a manager’s job, he continued to find baseball-related work for the rest of his life. His long-estranged second wife, Jeanette, died in 1956, and about six months later he married Marjorie Bernice Frederick Porter, a 49-year-old widow.[fn]Alexander, 287. Earlier, in 1953, a woman named Bernadette Harris, whom Hornsby had lived with and whom he described as his “good friend and secretary,” committed suicide in Chicago, leaving him more than $25,000 in her will. Alexander, 279-280; D’Amore, 137; Cook, 49.[/fn] He continued to work with Chicago’s Youth Foundation; participated in his baseball camp in Hot Springs, Arkansas; and then Hannibal, Missouri;[fn]One 1957 participant at Hornsby’s baseball camp remembered him coming to the camp for three days and being “real ornery.” The camper also remembered how Hornsby, at 61 years of age, laced a line drive over his head in right field. David Cataneo, Hornsby Hit One Over My Head, 183-184.[/fn] served as a spring training hitting instructor for the Cubs and did some scouting for the team. In 1961 the expansion New York Mets hired Hornsby as a scout and then manager Casey Stengel brought him on board as a coach with the original 1962 Mets team that finished 40-120.
In the fall of 1962 Hornsby entered a Chicago hospital for cataract surgery and suffered a stroke. He was unable to leave the hospital during the holidays and on January 5, 1963, the Rajah suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 66 years old.
Like all men with superior athletic ability of one kind or another, Hornsby was far from perfect. He mostly made a mess of his personal life and his blunt, opinionated, outspoken, speak-your-mind-at-any-time approach to life kept him in turmoil and cost him any number of jobs. He was, not surprisingly given his Texas upbringing at the time, bigoted and anti-Semitic, although he had a number of Jewish friends.[fn]The veteran sportswriter Fred Lieb claimed that Hornsby told him that he was a Ku Klux Klan member. Fred Lieb, Baseball As I Have Known It, 57. If he was, biographer Charles Alexander believes, he was only semiactive and probably not a member for long. Alexander, 146-147.[/fn] Although he always claimed that he was hurting no one but himself, his betting on the horses got him cross-ways with Commissioner Landis, who may have blackballed Hornsby for a number of years.[fn]Although the assessment seems rather harsh given the competition, Bill James has characterized Hornsby as perhaps the biggest “horse’s ass” in baseball history, ahead of even Ty Cobb. Bill James, Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?[/fn]
On the other hand, Hornsby had a real fondness for children, working with thousands over many years. He was a more successful minor-league than major-league manager, suggesting that he had more patience at that level. But as a player he was so good that any all-time team without him at second base is highly suspect. The Rajah was indeed royalty with a bat in his hands.
This biography appears in “Winning on the North Side: The 1929 Chicago Cubs” (SABR, 2015), edited by Gregory H. Wolf.
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