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HORNSBY, ROGERS

HORNSBY, ROGERS (1896–1963). Rogers Hornsby, called the greatest right-hand hitter in the history of professional baseball, son of Edward and Mary Dallas (Rogers) Hornsby, was born on April 27, 1896, on his father's Hereford ranch near Winters, Texas. He played with Hugo, Oklahoma, and then Denison, Texas, in the lower minor leagues. When the St. Louis Cardinals purchased his contract for $500 in 1915, he began an illustrious career in the major leagues. At the time he weighed only 130 pounds, so he spent a winter at an uncle's farm near Lockhart, where he added thirty-five pounds. During his first full season in the major leagues he batted .313, a remarkably high figure for that era of dead ball.

Known as the "Rajah of Swat," Hornsby was one of the most controversial characters in baseball history. Although he did not drink, smoke, or otherwise dissipate, he was a compulsive horse player whose gambling frequently caused run-ins with baseball management. He read nothing but newspaper headlines, attended no movies, and did nothing to weaken his "batting" eyes or to interfere with his being in top physical condition at all times. One writer characterized him as "a liturgy of hatred." His only interest was in winning, so that he was as sarcastic and uncompromising with club owners as he was with careless players.

Hornsby managed five major-league baseball clubs and was dismissed from each as the result of disagreement. He led the National League in batting seven times and batted over .400 in three seasons. In the successive years of 1921–25 his batting averages were .397, .401, .384, .424 (a modern record), and .403; Arthur Daley of the New York Times called this "the most unbelievable period of batting greatness in baseball history." Hornsby disclaimed any ability as a home-run hitter, but twice led the National League in home runs, forty-two in 1922 and thirty-nine in 1925. His lifetime home-run total was 301, part of which was compiled during the dead-ball era. His lifetime batting average was .358, the highest in National League history and second only to the .367 of Ty Cobb. Hornsby was named most valuable player of the National League in 1925 and 1929. His managed the St. Louis Cardinals to their first world championship in 1926. In 1942 he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was also named to the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. He earned approximately $750,000 in the days when income taxes were negligible. When returned to the minor leagues, he managed Fort Worth in the Texas League before it folded at the start of World War II, then managed a team in the Mexican League for a brief period.

Hornsby was married three times. He divorced Sarah E. Hornsby in 1923, married Jeanette Pennington Hine on February 29, 1924, was again divorced, and married Marjorie Bernice Frederick on January 27, 1957. He had one son from his first marriage and one son from his second. He died on January 6, 1963, in Chicago, of a heart attack following an operation for cataracts. He was buried at Hornsby Bend, Texas, a few miles east of Austin, in the old family cemetery. Rogers Hornsby was a descendant of the pioneer Reuben Hornsby.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Current Biography, 1952. Dictionary of American Biography. Rogers Hornsby, My Kind of Baseball (New York: McKay, 1953). Rogers Hornsby and Bill Surface, My War with Baseball (New York: Coward-McCann, 1962). New York Times, January 7, 1963. B. Surface, "Last Days of Rogers Hornsby," Saturday Evening Post, June 15, 1963.

Joe B. Frantz

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Joe B. Frantz, "HORNSBY, ROGERS," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fho61), accessed December 21, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.