Cheap Seats

August 18, 2014

Is Rogers Hornsby one of the most underrated players in history?

Cheap Seats

Looking at the Cards from a fan's perspective

A website called baseballpastandpresident.com has an interesting article about the most underrated players by decade in MLB history.

What raised my eyebrow is the fact that St. Louis Cardinals slugger Rogers Hornsby was named the underrated player for the decade of the 1920s.

I wondered how The Rajah, a guy who won two most valuable player awards in the decade, finished second once and third another time could be considered underrated.

Hornsby's legend spread far and wide during his playing days. He was universally considered the top baseballer in the National League during his prime. His performance was the stuff of legends. Specifically, he was so renowned as a hitter than he was the subject of the famous line uttered by legendary umpire Bill Klem to a pitcher who complained that close pitchers were being called balls. "Son," Clem said. "When you throw a strike, Mr. Hornsby will let you know."

Sportswriter Joe Williams of the New York Herald-Tribune said of Hornsby "If consistency is a jewel, than Mr. Hornsby is a whole rope of pearls."

Today we hear that Stan Musial was overlooked because he didn't play on the east coast in an era before nationwide media exposure. But, not only was St. Louis a much more significant town on the national stage in the 1910s and 1920s than it has become later, Hornsby didn't play his whole career here. He was traded from the Cardinals to the New York Giants following the 1926 season and, after that, he played in Boston for the Braves and in Chicago for the Cubs.

Even in a more offensively-oriented era, Hornsby's exploits would have been hard to underestimate. He hit .382 for the decade of the 1920s, won seven batting titles and set the record for highest batting average in the modern era by a right handed player: .424 in 1924.

When the Cardinals traded Hornsby to New York in 1926 for Frank Frisch, the player-manager who led St. Louis to its first World Series championship the previous season was so well thought of by fans that they rioted in the streets. Some fans draped owner Sam Breadon's car dealership with funeral crepe, others waited outside Breadon's house or jumped on the running boards of his car at stop lights to threaten the owner into canceling the trade. When those things didn't work, Redbirds rooters petitioned the commissioner's office to overturn the swap.

To say he was respected, however, isn't to say that Hornsby was liked. Horsby was thought of as a jerk, by most accounts, when he was in his prime. But when he retired as a player his clubs loathed him as a manager.

"I'll tell you one guy nobody liked and that was our manager Rogers Hornsby," St. Louis Browns pitcher Les Tietje said. "He was a real (expletive deleted). With Hornsby, except for racing forms, there were no newspapers allowed. No movies. No beer. Nothing. Women and horses were his downfall."

In deed, Hornsby's association with gamblers may have hurt his future perception.

He was threatened with being banned from baseball because of his passion for visiting horse tracks and associating with gamblers. But Hornsby was completely unrepentant. He said "Eighty percent of big leaguers go out to the track today. Sneak around in sunglasses. And the other 20 percent ain't that holy. They just can't find anybody who will give them free tickets."

Nice attitude.

The bad blood between Hornsby and the baseball establishment helped keep one of the best players of all time out of the Hall of fame until his fifth ballot. But another factor could have been that the Hall of Fame opened right after he retired and luminaries like Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson and Honus Wagner got the first passes into enshrinement.

Hornsby had a couple of years in which he got an embarrassingly low number of votes with 26.4 percent of voters choosing him in 1937 and 17.6 percent in 1938 before his numbers rebounded and he got in as part of the 1942 class.

Anyway... While my perspective on Horsby differs a little bit, the piece is a good read. Here is the address:  http://baseballpastandpresent.com/2014/08/11/underrated-player-decade-early-20th-century/

 

 

Related content

Comments

Sports Videos