By Father Gabe Costa
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The light at the end of the tunnel is starting to show. Slashing line drives and crackling fastballs will been seen and heard in a few weeks when major leaguers report for spring training.
A few months ago, I referred to a legend about Rogers Hornsby and how he would sit in a chair at home after the baseball season ended. He would pass the time by just looking out of a window, waiting impatiently for the fall and winter to pass so he could get to spring training.
We don’t hear too much about Hornsby anymore, so I thought I would dedicate this installment of By The Numbers to him. And, boy, did he put up some numbers.
Hornsby was born in Winters, Texas, on April 27, 1896. A right-handed batter and thrower, he starred in the major leagues for 23 seasons, beginning in 1915 with the St. Louis Cardinals. For the bulk of his career he played second base, but he was versatile enough to play third base, shortstop and occasionally first base.
Hornsby played for five teams in his career: the Cardinals, Giants, Braves, Cubs and Browns.
He also put in 14 years as a manager, leading the Reds as well as the five aforementioned clubs. For a dozen of these years he was a player-manager for at least parts of the seasons. And in 1926 his Cards outlasted the Yankees in a seven-game World Series.
Hornsby was not especially famed as either a fielder or a baserunner, but at the plate he earned the title “The Rajah.”
Here are some of his accomplishments:
- A lifetime BA of .358 (second only to Ty Cobb’s .366)
- Seven NL batting titles
- The NL Triple Crown winner in both 1922 and 1925
- A .424 BA in 1924
- From 1921 through 1925, Hornsby’s batting average was .402
- NL MVP Awards in both 1925 and 1929
- Career totals of:
- 300+ HRs
- Nearly 1,600 runs scored
- Nearly 1,600 RBIs
- 4,700+ total bases
- .577 SLG
- 1.011 OPS
- 8073 TPQ [= Total Power Quotient = (HR+TB+RBI)/AB]
- Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1942
By most accounts, it does not seem that Hornsby was a particularly friendly individual. In a real sense it seems that baseball was his primary focus throughout his life. It has been said that Hornsby would neither read newspapers while riding in railroad cars nor go to the movie theater. Why, you ask? Because he wanted to protect his eyesight. But he did make concessions when it came to the racing form.
In the spring of 1962, a year before his death, Hornsby agreed to become a coach for the fledgling New York Mets. During that time it had been reported that Hornsby refused to pose for a picture with the Yankees’ Roger Maris, the newly crowned home-run king.
Maris, of course, broke Babe Ruth’s single-season HR record by slugging 61 homers the previous season. Hornsby’s reason for the snub was that Maris batted only .269 in 1961. Hornsby reportedly would not pose with a sub-.300 hitter. Too bad.
The Rajah died in Chicago on January 5, 1963.
Like all of us, Hornsby had his foibles. But when he had a baseball bat in his hand, he brought joy to millions of fans. He must be considered among the top 10 hitters who ever lived, if not the top seven or eight.
And, among those who hit from the right side, he was perhaps the best ever — Jimmie Foxx, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Albert Pujols notwithstanding.