Hornsby cared only about results
By Larry Schwartz
Special to ESPN.com
While Rogers Hornsby might have been a pain to teammates and management, he was an even bigger headache to opposing pitchers.
"I don't like to sound egotistical," said Hornsby, who was, "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."
Other notable accomplishments:
Two MVPs, with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1925 and the Chicago Cubs in 1929.
Hornsby's batting stance was unusual. Feet close together, he stood deep in the batter's box and far from the plate, making him appear vulnerable to pitches on the outside corner. But he had a way of striding in that closed the distance in a hurry, and he was an outstanding opposite-field hitter.
While his sharp tongue invariably caused the second baseman to get into major disagreements with management, he also was careful to keep his eyes and body sharp. To preserve his batting eye, he tried to avoid straining his eyes by not going to the movies or reading books. He also tried to stay in shape by watching his diet, not smoking or drinking, and getting plenty of rest.
"Baseball is my life," Hornsby said. "It's the only thing I know and care about."
While he said baseball was the only thing he knew, he also cared about the horses. He had a fondness for gambling at the track. But unfortunately for him, Hornsby was more proficient at predicting which pitch was coming than guessing which horse would finish first.
It has been reported that Hornsby disdained golf because, as he once said, when he hit a ball, he wanted someone else to chase it.
While Hornsby was a star on the field, he had difficulty dealing with people. He could be cold, contentious and belligerent. Management would only take so much before dealing him away. As a manager, these same qualities caused many of his players to dislike him. Fired as Cubs manager during the 1932 season, the players showed their feelings about him when they refused to vote him a World Series share after winning the pennant under Charlie Grimm.
He played in the minor leagues at 18 and the next season was up with the Cardinals for 18 games as a shortstop. He played short and third base his first five seasons before being moved to second base by manager Branch Rickey in 1920. It might have been a coincidence, but after that switch, Hornsby became a dynamite hitter.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder batted .370 in 1920, winning the first of his six consecutive titles. He also led the league in hits (218), doubles (44) and runs batted in (94). He had another terrific season in 1921 (.397, 126 RBI, 131 runs, 235 hits, 44 doubles -- all league-leading figures). But this was just a warm-up for 1922, when he produced one of the most sensational seasons in the game's history, possibly the greatest ever in the National League.
He led the league in 10 offensive categories, many by huge margins with totals that rank among the all-time best. He romped to his first Triple Crown, with his career-best 42 homers leading the league by 16, his career-high 152 RBI leading by 20 and his .401 average winning the batting title by 47 points. He also led the league with 450 total bases, 250 hits, 102 extra-base hits, a .722 slugging percentage, 141 runs, 46 doubles and a .459 on-base percentage.
In 1924, when Hornsby hit his astounding .424, he didn't win the MVP, finishing second to Brooklyn pitcher Dazzy Vance, who went 28-6 with a league-leading 2.16 earned-run average.
But there was no stopping Hornsby from the MVP the next year when he won his second Triple Crown (.403, 39 homers and 143 RBI). One-quarter into the season, he became player-manager for the Cardinals, with the team going 64-51 under him after it had been 13-25 under Rickey.
St. Louis won the pennant by two games in 1926 under Hornsby, who slumped to a .317 average with 11 homers and 93 RBI. He also didn't do much in the World Series, batting just .250, but the Cardinals became champs when they won Games 6 and 7 in New York.
While Hornsby was a hero to St. Louis fans, Cardinals owner Sam Breadon had grown tired of Hornsby's quarrelsome manner. When Hornsby rejected a one-year contract to remain as player-manager for 1927, Breadon had enough. Combining his personal dislike for the man and their financial differences, Breadon went against public opinion and traded Hornsby to the New York Giants for Frankie Frisch and Jimmy Ring.
Hornsby's abrasive personality was the primary reason he lasted only one season in New York and then only one season with the Boston Braves, for whom he also managed before being fired when the team went 39-83. In 1929, Hornsby was playing for the Cubs, and he took the Windy City by storm. He won his second MVP by leading the Cubs to the pennant by hitting 39 homers, scoring a league-leading 156 runs, knocking in 149 and batting .380. But that was Hornsby's last hurrah as a player.
He played until 1937 -- with the Cubs, Cardinals and St. Louis Browns -- but only once did he appear in more than 60 games in a season, used mostly as a pinch-hitter in his stint as player-manager. While the Cubs were a good team, his players disliked him and rejoiced when he was fired. The Browns were a perennial second-division team under Hornsby.
He then managed in the minors -- where he was as unfriendly to his players as he had been in the majors -- before Browns owner Bill Veeck hired him in 1952. However, he was canned after 50 games. Hornsby wound up managing the Cincinnati Reds for the last 51 games that season and almost all of 1953 before he was fired again, with the team in sixth place.
Hornsby remained in baseball as a coach with the Cubs in the late 1950s and for the expansion New York Mets in 1962. Late that year, he entered a Chicago hospital for surgery on his eyes. While in the hospital, he suffered a heart attack and died on Jan. 5, 1963.
Hornsby, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1942, had 301 homers, 2,930 hits and a slugging percentage of .577 to go with that phenomenal lifetime .358 average. Among those who were awed by Hornsby the hitter was Ted Williams.
"I've always felt Rogers Hornsby was the greatest hitter for average and power in the history of baseball," Williams said.