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Rogers Hornsby

From Academic Kids

Rogers Hornsby (April 27, 1896 in Winters, Texas - January 5, 1963 in Chicago, Illinois), nicknamed "The Rajah", was a second baseman and manager in Major League Baseball who played most of his career in St. Louis (for the St. Louis Browns and the St. Louis Cardinals), with shorter stints for the Chicago Cubs, the Boston Braves, and the New York Giants. His .358 career batting average is the second highest in major league history, trailing only the .366 mark of Ty Cobb, and is the highest of any right-handed hitter or National League player. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1942.

Hornsby is considered by many followers of baseball's history to be one of the game's greatest hitters (and perhaps its greatest right-handed hitter of all time), on a level with Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Stan Musial. He holds the modern record for highest batting average in a season, with .424 in 1924, and won baseball's Triple Crown in 1922 and 1925. He won the NL's MVP Award twice, in 1925 and 1929. At his peak ability, from 1920 to 1925, Hornsby led his league in batting average all six years, in RBI four years, and in home runs twice. He is also the only second baseman in major league history to finish his career with 300 or more home runs.

In addition to his success on the field, he was one of baseball's more talented player-managers, guiding his Cardinals to a World Series victory over Babe Ruth's New York Yankees in 1926.

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." His chief interest was in winning, and he could be as sarcastic and uncompromising with club owners as he was with his teammates.

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.

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 manager 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!"

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". That was his assessment of Mickey Mantle.

Regardless of his personal shortcomings, at his peak as a player he was the closest thing the National League had to Babe Ruth: a man who excelled at the plate in both power and average. During one 4-year stretch he averaged over .400, an astonishing achievement.

Contrasting with his usual contempt for young players, he could be generous with those who had the "right stuff". In the recent book, Ted Williams: An American Hero, author Leigh Montville cites 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.

As Pete Rose said to a reporter in 1978 while he was pursuing a 44-game hitting streak and had just tied Hornsby's personal best at 33, "Ol' Rogers was quite a hitter, wasn't he?"

Hornsby was the great-grandson of early Texas pioneer Reuben Hornsby, and died in 1963 of a heart attack after cataract surgery. He was buried in the Hornsby Bend cemetery east of Austin, Texas.

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