Cardinals Clubhouse
Profile: Rogers Hornsby - I


Young Rogers Hornsby

 


Helene Hathaway Britton, owner of Cardinals after death of her husband


Bob Connery


Miller Huggins, Cardinals manager

Player-manager Rogers Hornsby led the Cardinals to the 1926 World Series championship in the franchise's first appearance in the Fall Classic.
  • He is considered by many to be the greatest right-handed hitter in baseball history.
  • But he was a driven man who had almost no interests outside of baseball and gambling on horse racing and few friends in or out of his sport.
  • To say he lacked tact would be an understatement.
  • But if you wanted a hitting machine in your lineup, he was your man.
Rogers was a Texan through and through.
  • Born in 1896 on a farm in western Texas, Hornsby was given his mother's maiden name as his first name.
  • His father died at age 41 when Rogers was only two and a half years old, leaving his widow to raise five children under the age of 15.
  • When Rogers was six, Mary Hornsby moved her brood to the little city of Fort Worth.

That was the age when he started playing baseball.

  • Within three years, he led a semiorganized team whose uniforms were sewn by his mother.
  • By age 15, Hornsby was good enough to play with grown men on a team in the city league, sometimes being paid $2 per game.
  • Rogers could play any of the nine positions. "I had trouble swinging the bat," he recalled years later, "but I could field ... I could always field."
  • He also played both baseball and football at the new North Side High.
  • But he dropped out of school after two years to get a job and help support his family.
  • His mother encouraged him to follow in the footsteps of his older brother Everett and play professional baseball.

The younger Hornsby, age 18, had to travel to Oklahoma to find a job in baseball.

  • He played for Hugo OK in the Class D Texas-Oklahoma League, the lowest rung of organized baseball. His salary? $75 a month. His position? Shortstop.
  • When the Hugo team folded a third of the way into the season, his contract was sold to Denison TX in the same league for $125.
  • He hit only .232 and committed 45 errors in 113 games on the rocky and skinned diamonds prevalent at that time.
  • Determined to succeed, he lamented to a teammate, "Won't somebody teach me how to hit?"

When he returned to Denison for the 1915 season, his salary soared to $90 per month.

  • As luck would have it, the St. Louis Cardinals trained that spring in Hot Wells TX just outside San Antonio.
  • Running one of the poorest franchises in the majors, Cardinal management decided the team could not afford to sign players in the upper minor leagues. So they instructed their only scout, Bob Connery, to look for "a kid who might help us" in the low minors.
  • When his team broke camp, St. Louis manager Miller Huggins broke his squad into two groups.
  • He led the regulars in exhibition games in larger cities on their way to St. Louis. Meanwhile, Connery took charge of a second team that played in smaller places, including a three-game set at Denison against the local team.
  • That gave Hornsby a chance to play against "what I thought was a big-league team. It was my big break."
  • Holding his bat at the end and taking full swings, Rogers didn't impress Connery as a batter. But as the scout remembered years later, "The more I looked at the kid, the better I liked him. He was green and awkward but possessed a great pair of hands. He fielded bad hoppers neatly and got the ball away quickly."
  • Bob liked what he saw so much that he bought Hornsby a new glove and pair of shoes out of his own pocket in one of the greatest examples in baseball history of a small investment producing giant dividends.

Denison won the 1915 Western Association pennant.

  • The Sporting News listed less than a dozen players from the league who had major league potential. But one of them was Denison's shortstop, "who is only a kid yet and may need a little more seasoning."
  • At season's end, the Cardinals, at Connery's recommendation, bought Rogers's contract for $600.
  • He was ordered to join the ballclub immediately in Cincinnati. He would receive $200 for the rest of the season.
  • Why did the Cardinals, who would finish sixth that season, jump the newly-signed player from Class D to the big leagues? 1915 was the second season of the Federal League, which had signed many players away from the National and American Leagues. A financially-troubled team like the Cardinals literally had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to fill out their roster.
  • Like so many players of that era, the first game Hornsby played in with the Cardinals was the first major league game he had ever seen. The trip to Cincinnati also marked the first time he had ever been north of Tulsa.
  • When the Cards returned to St. Louis, the rookie repeatedly got lost in the city of more than 700,000 even though he didn't travel outside his immediate neighborhood.
  • Standing 5'11" but weighing only 135 pounds, Rogers played in 18 games the rest of the season, hitting .246 with two doubles and four RBI as Huggins gave him a good look at shortstop.
  • That he hit that much was a tribute to the work that Huggins and Connery did with him after games. They moved him closer to the plate and had him choke up on a thick-handled bat - the accepted style in that Dead Ball Era.
  • In the field, he showed the same overanxiousness and erratic throwing arm that had plagued him at Denison.

At the end of the season, Huggins summoned Hornsby and told him, "Kid, you're a little light, but you got the makings. I think I'll farm you out for a year."

  • Rogers interpreted what his manager told him literally. "I was just a country boy, with only three or four weeks in the big cities," he remembered. "So I took him at his word."
  • He worked on his uncle's farm south of Austin through the fall and winter helping with the chores and eating steak and fried chicken and "all the milk I could hold."
  • As a result, he gained 30 pounds by the time he reported to spring training in 1916.

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

Baseball Quiz
Which of these American League teams (franchises) have the Cardinals never defeated in the World Series?
  1. Athletics
  2. Indians
  3. Red Sox
  4. Tigers
  5. Yankees

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