BASEBALL’S ROGERS HORNSBY was a success right off the bat. In 1916, at age twenty, he became the leading hitter for the St. Louis Cardinals. His 1924 batting average of .424 is still the best of the modern era (and his lifetime .358 is second only to Ty Cobb’s .367). Not once but twice, in 1922 and 1925, he won baseball’s rare Triple Crown by having the season’s highest batting average, most homers, and most runs batted in. Despite the big stick, though, the right-handed “Rajah” never spoke softly. He was equally famous for his immense ego, his unblinking insults, and his love of the national pastime: “Any physically able boy who doesn’t play baseball,” he once declared, “is not, in my opinion, an American.”
He was born on April 27, 1896, in Winters. “Rogers” was his mother’s maiden name.
In 1915 Hornsby’s minor league team, the Denison Railroaders, sold his contract to the St. Louis Cardinals for $600. By 1922 Hornsby, a second baseman, had become the highest-paid player in National League history, making $18,500 a year. In 1925 he started managing the Cardinals as well, and the next year led the team to its first World Series victory.
To protect his eyesight, he read only newspaper headlines and avoided movies until 1952, when a friend told him, “Haven’t you heard? Movies stopped flickering a long time ago.” His great vice was betting on horses: A bookmaker once sued him over a $70,075 debt.
Hornsby’s social skills, like his sporting abilities, were decidedly offensive. He referred to fellow players as humpty-dumpties, stool pigeons, and sons of bitches. Ted Williams, a fellow Triple Crown winner, he summed up as “not a great hitter.” Eventually Hornsby so alienated the Cardinals that, in 1926, they traded him to the New York Giants, who in turn traded him to the Boston Braves, who dispatched him to the Chicago Cubs—where he lasted almost four years, until being fired in 1932.
After a short-lived return to the Cardinals, Hornsby signed on with St. Louis’ rival team, the American League Browns—who fired him in 1937 over one of his gambling scandals. He never played in another major league game, but he stayed in organized baseball for the next quarter century, at various times managing the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Browns (as well as the Texas League’s Fort Worth Cats and Beaumont Roughnecks) and scouting and coaching for the fledgling New York Mets.
He died on January 5, 1963, and is buried in a family cemetery at Hornsby Bend, just east of Austin.