Cardinals Clubhouse
Profile: Rogers Hornsby - II

Rogers Hornsby 1916


Roy Corhan


Miller Huggins


Branch Rickey

As the 1916 season approached, the Cardinals nearly sold young SS Rogers Hornsby.
  • Since St. Louis had secured an option to buy a promising SS named Roy Corhan from San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League, they offered to sell Hornsby to Class A Little Rock for $500, which was $100 less than what the club had paid for Hornsby's contract the year before.
  • But Little Rock passed on the deal because the price was too steep.
The National and American League franchises were overjoyed that the Federal League, which had stolen players and jacked up player salaries the last two season, had folded.
  • Hornsby signed a contract for $2000 for the '16 season. The salary was predicated on his making the club.
  • When manager Miller Huggins saw Hornsby when he reported to spring training, he dropped any thoughts of trading the youngster.
  • The 30 pounds Rogers had put on in the off-season greatly increased his power at the plate. One writer observed: Hornsby was hardly recognized when he appeared. He has grown from a gangling boy into a well-developed physical speciman. ... It's all good, solid weight, too. The addtional poundage has made him much stronger.
  • Hornsby also surprised Huggins by returning to the batting style he'd used at Class D Denison. He stood in the batter's box as far back and away from the plate as possible. He stood upright and held the bat at the end. To protect against outside pitches, he put his left foot closer to the plate than his right and stepped into the pitch at a 45° angle.
  • He took a full swing at the ball with his 36", 38-40 ounce thin-handled bat.
  • Everyone stopped to watch the youngster driving balls to all parts of the field.
  • Huggins, still skeptical of Rogers' future at SS, spoke of him as having great promise at 3B.
  • Hornsby solidified his spot in the lineup by slapping five singles and three doubles in five games against the Browns in the intercity series that ended the preseason.
  • Hornsby's confidence, which bordered on cockiness, irritated some of his veteran teammates. But they could abide it if he continued his hot hitting when the season started.

And that he did.

  • He batted .313 in 139 games, the highest average on the club. That was also 66 points than the average for the entire NL.
  • He smacked 17 doubles, 15 triples - tops on the Redbirds, and 6 HRs - tied for the most on the team.
  • He also drove in 65, quite a good figure for a SS. He even stole 17 bases.
  • Rogers fielded better at 3B (.934) than Corhan did at SS (.917).
  • By the end of the season, Hornsby had established himself as one of the outstanding young players in the NL.
  • Huggins called his hot-cornerman "the greatest free-swinging hitter in baseball." Writers compared Hornsby to Browns' 1B George Sisler, who hit .305 in his first full ML season that year.
  • In mid-August, Cubs owner Charles Weeghman sent the Cardinals an offer to buy Hornsby. Brooklyn also floated a deal, offering to trade SS Ollie O'Mara and OF Casey Stengel for Hornsby and $20,000.
  • But owner Helen Robison Britton, who declared herself president of the club after her divorce was finalized, stated that she would sell or trade any player on her club except Hornsby. In fact, she said she wouldn't trade Rogers for the entire Cubs roster.

But what Helen really wanted to do was rid herself of her unprofitable ball club.

  • So she sold the team to a syndicate of 110 St. Louis businessmen for $250,000.
  • One of the new owners' first moves would put the Cardinals on a course that would make them one of the most successful franchises in the majors within ten years.
  • They lured 35-year-old Branch Rickey away from the Browns' front office by offering him a three-year contract that paid $15,000 annually.
  • Hornsby expected a significant raise from Rickey, who was serving as what a later era would call the General Manager. Rogers wanted nothing less than $4,000, double what he made the year before. But even in his short tenure with the Browns, Branch had established a reputation for being tight with the dollar.
  • Wanting his best player to be happy, Huggins interceded with his new boss and arranged a compromise. Rogers signed for $3,000. It wasn't near the $15,000-20,000 salaries of stars like Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Walter Johnson but wasn't bad at all for a second-year player.

The war in Europe and the possibility of America's participation in it cast a spectre over the 1917 season.

  • Back at SS after the Cardinals jettisoned Corhan, Hornsby raised his average to .327 - highest on the club by 30 points.
  • His 24 doubles, 17 triples, and eight roundtrippers also topped the lineup, and he led the lead with 253 total bases.
  • Rogers was a fan favorite despite his erratic fielding - he committed the third-highest number of errors in the league.
  • The Cards won 22 more games (82) than in '16 and moved up to 3rd place in the National League.
  • The result was good news for the new owners as attendance increased by 64,000. That allowed Rickey to declare a $20,000 profit and a small dividend for the stockholders.
  • However, Miller Huggins was unhappy. Not liking the new ownership and upset that Rickey had been hired to take over salary negotiations, Huggins turned down a $10,000 offer to return and jumped to the American League Yankees, then a mediocre franchise at best, for $12,500 per year. He also took with him ace scout Bob Connery, who had discovered Hornsby deep in the Heart of Texas.
  • Cubs owner Weeghman redoubled his efforts to obtain Hornsby, offering $75,000. But Rickey turned him down.
  • Rogers received good news in January 1918 when his draft board in Fort Worth placed in Class 3 - deferment - because he provided the sole support for his mother and sister after his father's death during the past season.

To be continued ...

Reference: Rogers Hornsby: A Biography, Charles C. Alexander (1995)

Baseball Quiz

Put these Cardinals managers in chronological order of when they managed the Redbirds, from earliest to latest.

  1. Eddie Dyer
  2. Fred Hutchinson
  3. Johnny Keane
  4. Red Schoendienst
  5. Eddie Stanky

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