Rogers Hornsby (on the left) pictured with Pirates Hall of Famer Paul Waner, at Wrigley Field in 1929
Profile by BCB reader MadHatterBlues
As most of you know, during the offseason a famous Rogers Hornsby quote adorns the top right corner of this space. While we can admire his desire to play baseball year-round, there are many things about his career that were less than admirable.
There are a number of different ways to look at the career of Rogers Hornsby. Some ways will have you hating his guts not only for his years at the Cardinals, but for the kind of man he was (and seemingly enjoyed being). Other kinds of analysis may have you thinking that he was quite simply the very best (righty) hitter ever to play the game of Baseball. He ranks 2nd All-time (to Ty Cobb) in lifetime batting average (.358), 8th in OBP (.424) and 12th in SLG (.577). Of course, as far as the top 100 Cubs goes, we can focus down on what really matters....What did he do for us?
Rogers came to the Cubs before the 1929 season from the Boston Braves, and the Cubs sent a small army in the other direction to compensate - Socks Seibold, Percy Jones, Lou Legett, Freddie Maguire, Bruce Cunningham, and $200,000 cash. Thankfully for the Cubs, his debut season proved his worth. A hitting line of .380/.445/.679 to go along with 39 HR and 149 RBI helped Hornsby to the National League MVP, and helped the Cubs to their first pennant since 1918. On May 30th the following year Hornsby, already limping after off-season surgery on his heel, breaks an ankle sliding into 3B in the first game of a doubleheader in St. Louis. The Cubs win both games, 2-0 and 9-3, to move into 3rd place, but Hornsby ends up missing most of the season. Manager Joe McCarthy (claiming a lack of support from team owner William Wrigley) resigns as team manager, and a month later is installed as the new Yankee manager. A frustrated observer, Hornsby was installed as the team manager.
He played/managed his way to a .331 average in 1931, but the Cubs managed only a 3rd place finish, and although the Cubs were successful in '32, the personalities were not. On August 2nd, with the team 5 games behind the Pirates in the NL standings, the Cubs lost 4-2 with an 8th inning collapse in Brooklyn. Following the loss, Cubs president Veeck and Hornsby argue on the train to Philadelphia about the strategy. Further "discussion" in Veeck's hotel room ended with Rogers Hornsby being fired from his position as manager. A contributing factor in The Rajah's departure is his gambling, and the debts he has run up borrowing money from his own Cubs' players. Veeck works out a repayment schedule with the money to be subtracted from what the Cubs owe Hornsby on his contract. The Cubs made the Series that year in spite of Hornsby, but still felt a strong enough dislike for the man to deny him any share of the Series bounty.
You'll notice I haven't spent long going into the many reasons Hornsby was unpopular despite the fact Rogers is disliked enough to feature on most all-time hated Baseball lists. The fact that Hornsby wasn't the first, nor the last asshole in the history of Baseball. Its unfortunate that the game seems to have more than its fair share of foul characters over the years, but the game does not help in refining or controlling any negative urges. Simply put, Baseball is not a gentleman's game. Players curse, spit, argue, fight, throw at batters, take steroids, doctor baseballs, kick dirt and are obscenely paid to do so. Standard procedure is to claim not only for the decisions they know they should have, but also the decisions they think they can get away with. The game is not built around honesty/integrity. You do whatever you have to, to win and if you happen to spike your opponent in the passing so much the better. So knowing all this, why should it matter if a player acts like an ass while playing big league ball?
As far as hitting goes, Hornsby must have been a joy to behold. His brief Cubs playing career still eclipses many decades compiled by lesser men. Few will associate the career of Hornsby with the Cubs, he will remain a legend for other teams, but we should revel in the fact that a hitter of his class once graced the batters box at Wrigley Field.
Hornsby briefly worked as a broadcaster for the Cubs in 1949, when no fewer than three stations broadcast Cub games (this was before the concept of "broadcast rights" was invented). He was universally reviled and went back to coaching and managing, managing the Browns again briefly in 1952 and the Reds in 1952 and 1953.
After his playing career, Hornsby returned to managing -- but with a terrible team, the St. Louis Browns. In three full seasons and parts of two others, they never managed a winning percentage higher than .441 under Hornsby. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1942, and like many great players, he was unable to accept the fact as a manager that not everyone had the talent that he had. He developed special disdain for young players, particularly when the Mets hired him as a major league scout; according to Hornsby's Wikipedia entry: