Rogers Hornsby

June 23, 1926: Rogers Hornsby tallies his 2,000th hit

Rogers Hornsby’s 2,000th career hit didn’t just mark a milestone in the slugger’s Hall of Fame career – it helped to served notice that after years of futility, the Cardinals were ready to chase the National League pennant.

Hornsby entered the game with 1,998 hits in a career that began in 1915 when, as a 135-pound, 19-year-old, he made the leap from Class D baseball to the majors. After that rookie campaign, which consisted of just 18 games and 61 plate appearances, Cardinals manager Miller Huggins told Hornsby, “Kid, you’re a little light, but you got the makings. I think I’ll farm you out for a year.”[1]

The story goes that Hornsby misunderstood and thought Huggins was telling him to spend the offseason working at a farm. As a result, he spent that fall and winter at his uncle’s farm in Lockhart, Texas, doing chores, hunting birds, and consuming a diet of steak, fried chicken, and milk.[2]

When Hornsby reported for the 1916 season, he had added about 30 pounds to his physique.[3] In his first full season in St. Louis, he hit .313 with 17 doubles, 15 triples, and six home runs. From 1920 until 1925, he led the league in hitting six consecutive years, including a remarkable 1922 campaign in which he hit 42 homers and drove in 152 runs, and a 1924 campaign in which he batted .424, setting the 20th-century major league record and earning the National League MVP Award.

Despite Hornsby’s success, the Cardinals were largely also-rans in the National League, which was largely dominated by John McGraw’s New York Giants. In 1925, team owner Sam Breadon inserted Hornsby as the team’s new player-manager, allowing Branch Rickey to focus solely on his front-office responsibilities. In 1926, Hornsby’s first full season at the helm, the move began to pay off.

Heading into their June 21-23 series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cardinals were 35-26 and tied with the Pirates for second place, one-half game behind the league-leading Cincinnati Reds. In the first two games of the series, however, the Pirates proved unwilling to welcome the Cardinals to the league’s elite. In the opener, Pittsburgh’s Paul Waner and George Grantham each drove in three runs and Cardinals starter Flint Rhem allowed six runs in the first two innings of a 13-11 loss. The following day, Pirates right-hander Lee Meadows improved to 8-0 on the season, holding St. Louis to just one run on six hits. As a result, the Cardinals entered the series finale 2 ½ games behind Cincinnati and two games behind Pittsburgh.

To avoid a sweep, Hornsby called on Jesse Haines, a knuckleballer who had won 49 games for the Cardinals between 1921 and 1923 but gone just 21-33 in the two years since. In 1926, however, Haines was regaining feel for his knuckleball and benefiting from the development of a slow ball, or change-up.

Haines retired all three batters he faced in the first before the Cardinals threatened with two outs, as Hornsby singled and Jim Bottomley doubled. Pirates left-hander Don Songer escaped the jam, however, getting Billy Southworth to hit a ground ball back to him for the final out.

After Grantham hit an RBI double to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead in the second, the Cardinals responded two innings later. Hornsby wasted no time in collecting his 2,000th career hit, leading off with an infield single to Pirates third baseman Eddie Moore. At age 30, Hornsby had become the first Cardinals player to reach the 2,000-hit milestone.

An error by Pirates shortstop Glenn Wright allowed Southworth to reach base, and with two outs, Songer walked Bob O’Farrell. With the bases loaded, Cardinals shortstop Tommy Thevenow singled into left, scoring Hornsby and Southworth to give St. Louis a 2-1 lead.

In the seventh, Haines started another Cardinals rally with a one-out single to center field. Songer, who only walked three in the game, allowed back-to-back passes to Ray Blades and Taylor Douthit to load the bases for Hornsby. As St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter J. Roy Stockton described it in the next day’s newspaper, “Stupid. Asinine. Fatal.”[4] Hornsby blasted a grand slam to left field that made the score 6-1.

The Pirates would add one more run in the top of the eighth when Wright tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Eddie Moore.

Despite walking six, Haines held the Pirates to five hits in the complete-game win, improving to 4-1 on the season and lowering his season ERA to 1.92.

“Hornsby has instilled confidence in his young machine, and let me tell you that is more than half the battle,” said Bill McKechnie, the former Cardinals manager now running the Pirates. “The Cardinals swept through the east with 11 victories and one defeat and we thought we had them on the run with our two victories, but the way they fought back yesterday and beat us proves to me that is the club that must be feared.”[5]

The June 23 win didn’t prove an immediate turning point for St. Louis. After winning two games against the Cubs, the Cardinals lost eight of their next 10. By July 6, St. Louis was six games back of the league lead.

In August, however, the team made its push, eventually capturing the National League pennant over the Reds by two games. The Cardinals went on to beat the Yankees in the 1926 World Series, four games to three.

Despite the World Series victory, Hornsby had clashed with Breadon regarding the late-season exhibitions that were mixed into the regular-season schedule and he was traded to the Giants for Frankie Frisch during the offseason. Hornsby would last just one season in New York before going on to play for the Boston Braves, Cubs, and St. Louis Browns. At age 37, he briefly returned to the Cardinals, though by that time he was primarily a pinch hitter. He finished his career with 2,930 hits.

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[1] Charles C. Alexander (2013), Rogers Hornsby, Holt Paperbacks, New York City: Page 26 (Kindle Edition).

[2] Charles C. Alexander (2013), Rogers Hornsby, Holt Paperbacks, New York City: Page 27 (Kindle Edition).

[3] Charles C. Alexander (2013), Rogers Hornsby, Holt Paperbacks, New York City: Page 29 (Kindle Edition).

[4] J. Roy Stockton, “Thevenow, Haines and Hornsby heroes as Cards start big push,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 24, 1926: Page 31.

[5] “Cardinals rated flag possibility by M’Kechnie,” Pittsburgh Press, June 24, 1926: Page 30.

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