January 14, 1988: Cardinals sign Bob Horner despite Herzog’s initial concerns

When the idea of signing Bob Horner to replace Jack Clark was first broached, Whitey Herzog didn’t pull any punches.

“I don’t like Horner,” the Cardinals manager said. “Of his lifetime homers, about 70% were hit in Atlanta. He never could hit in St. Louis. He can’t hit and he can’t field, and he wants $1.4 million for three years.”[1]

“I just don’t think (Horner is) the answer,” Herzog continued. “I don’t know what he’d hit in our ballpark. He’s a flyball hitter. He never did hit much on the road. You play him 81 games in our ballpark and then in other ballparks and he’s got nothing left. He never plays when he’s hurt. I just don’t know.”[2]

In nine seasons with the Braves, Horner had hit 215 home runs. Of those, 142 (66%) came at the launching pad at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. He had homered once every 12.6 at-bats in Atlanta compared to just once every 24.6 at-bats on the road.[3]

The 1978 National League Rookie of the Year as a 20-year-old, Horner went directly to the big leagues out of Arizona State University and hit 23 home runs in 89 games. In 1980, he hit a career-high 35 homers, and in 1982 he appeared in the all-star game on his way to 32 homers and 97 RBIs.

Though he was productive when on the field, Horner was plagued by injuries. He suffered a season-ending right wrist fracture that cost him the final 43 games of the 1983 season, and in 1984 he played just 32 games before he broke his left wrist, once again ending his season.

Following the 1986 season, Horner and agent Bucky Woy asked for $2 million per season. They turned down a three-year, $4.5 million offer from the Braves and, after that offer was pulled off the table, declined a three-year, $3.9 million deal on the final day that free agents could re-sign with their teams without missing a month of the season.[4]

When no one else offered him a contract, Horner signed a $2 million deal with the Yakult Swallows of the Japanese League, where he hit 31 homers in 93 games (17 years later, Horner received more than $7 million from the players’ collusion lawsuit against the owners[5]).

Despite his success in Japan, Horner wanted to return home. After Clark signed with the Yankees on January 6, 1988, Cardinals general manager Dal Maxvill reached out to Woy, who told him that Horner was interested. However, Woy suggested that the Cardinals’ offer should match the $1.75 million they offered Clark.[6]

“Horner’s a better first baseman than Clark,” Woy said. “With the rabbits they’ve got there in St. Louis, he could drive in 130, 140, 150 runs. He’s a better contact hitter than Clark. I’m not knocking Clark, but Horner has a pure stroke.”[7]

Woy then told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “If Whitey likes him, I think we can cut a deal.”[8]

That was when Herzog listed his concerns with a potential Horner signing.

“I expressed to Bucky Woy that our interest is not high, to say the least,” Maxvill said. “Whitey doesn’t have a great deal of interest in him. He mentioned a lot of points, but he was most concerned with the money.”[9]

Instead, the Cardinals made a brief pivot to Twins third baseman Gary Gaetti, but he told the Cardinals that he wasn’t interested in moving to first base.[10]

Meanwhile, Horner, who was born in Junction City, Kansas, wasn’t ready to give up. He called Maxvill and Herzog to express his interest in playing for the Cardinals.

“I didn’t want to let this thing die,” Horner said. “I didn’t want to let it slip under my fingers.”[11]

Horner’s perseverance – along with his willingness to come down from his initial asking price and the Cardinals’ lack of viable alternatives – ultimately proved the difference.

“A week ago, I wasn’t so sure we would be able to put it together, but that changed when Bob called me and informed me of his desire to play for the Cardinals,” Maxvill said.[12]

On January 14, 1988, eight days after Clark signed with the Yankees, Horner became the first player the Cardinals had signed from another team since Darrell Porter more than seven years earlier. Horner had come down considerably from his initial demands, accepting a one-year, $950,000 contract with $150,000 bonuses to be paid for reaching 125, 130, and 140 games played. He would earn an additional $140,000 for being named to the all-star team or earning regular-season or playoff MVP honors.[13]

“A long time ago, my dad had a chance to try out with a Cardinals farm team, but it was set aside when he had to go back to the farm,” Horner said. “He’s always had a dream of me playing for the Cardinals. When the family hears about this, they’re going to go crazy.”[14]

Horner had chosen the Cardinals over a $900,000 offer from the Braves and $650,000 with incentives from the Rangers.[15]

“I didn’t think Dal and Whitey liked him that much,” Braves general manager Bobby Cox said. “I’m very shocked. I don’t understand it, but good for Bob. If that’s what he wants to do, fine. We’ll go on.”[16]

“Sayonara,” said Braves president Stan Kasten. “That’s fine for Bob. I’m glad he finally found a place where he can be happy.”[17]

Horner’s former teammate, Dale Murphy, was less caustic than Kasten in wishing Horner good luck in St. Louis.

“It’ll be a little different, but it’s good that a player of Bob’s talent will be back in the National League,” Dale Murphy said. “I was hoping Bob would come back with us, but he’s going to a good organization and a good city. I’m sure he’s excited.”[18]

Horner also turned down a three-year, $10 million contract from the Yakult Swallows.

“I’ve been in this business 23 years and I never thought I’d turn down $10 million,” Woy said. “Horner really wanted to get back.”[19]

“It’s been a dream of mine to play for the Cardinals,” Horner said. “This is an absolute perfect fit for me. It just makes all the sense in the world for me right now. I turned down a lot of money from Japan, but I’m glad for this opportunity.”[20]

Herzog said he planned to bat Horner cleanup, with either Tom Herr or Terry Pendleton ahead of him in the lineup.

“Right after I talked to (the Post-Dispatch), I said to myself that I’ve only seen him play in two ballparks,” Herzog said. “I’ve always known him as a lot better player in Atlanta than he was in St. Louis, but when I found out he wanted to get back and play and show me that he’s a lot better hitter than I thought he was, I thought we’d make a hell of a deal. I’m kind of looking forward to having a guy who wants to play and a guy who wants to hit in St. Louis. And we had to do something.”[21]

“One of Whitey’s concerns was the length of the contract,” Maxvill said. “When that changed, our interest increased a considerable amount.”[22]

Nonetheless, even after the Cardinals signed Horner, Herzog continued to express concerns regarding the way Horner’s offensive skill would translate to St. Louis.

“I know he can put a charge into a ball, but sometimes when you play in a certain ballpark, people pitch you different,” Herzog said. “At Atlanta, we tried to jam him inside. If we put a fastball out over the plate, he’d hit homers to left-center and right-center. In our park, when we got to 2-0 and 3-1 in the count, we’d pitch him away. He’s got a good home-run swing, but will he be able to hit the ball out of the park in right-center and left-center field?”[23]

Meanwhile, Horner looked at the 1988 season as an opportunity to prove Herzog and others around the league wrong.

“If I go out there and have the kind of year I’m capable of having, I can see getting a three- or four-year deal,” Horner said. “Sometimes you’ve got to bite the bullet and stand up for yourself. I want to prove to all those teams that didn’t offer me a contract last year that they made a big mistake.”[24]

Cardinals reliever Ken Dayley had played alongside Horner in Atlanta from 1982 until he was traded to St. Louis in 1984.

“He can play, there’s no doubt,” Dayley said. “When he gets hot, he can carry a ballclub. I know Danny Cox will be happy to see him on the ballclub.”[25]

In May 1985, Horner hit two homers off Cox in a single game, blasting one shot off the Anheuser-Busch eagle on the left-field scoreboard.

 “That cost me a couple of grand, getting that thing fixed,” Cox said.[26]

Unfortunately, Horner’s two home runs at Busch Stadium that day proved to be just one shy of his total wearing the birds on the bat. Horner appeared in just 60 games for St. Louis in 1988, batting .257/.348/.354 with three homers and 33 RBIs before a shoulder injury ended his season. He was second on the team in RBIs at the time of the injury.

In August, the Cardinals traded John Tudor to the Dodgers for Pedro Guerrero. With Guerrero installed at first base, the Cardinals did not offer Horner a new contract. Horner was invited to Orioles camp for spring training in 1989, but his injured shoulder – a chronic condition he had been playing through almost his entire career –  forced him, at age 31, to retire before the season began.

“I felt in my heart it was over,” Horner said. “It’s this pressure, this weight you’re carrying around on your shoulders, and I had carried it around for so long. The shots and pills and x-rays and operations and six months of therapy … it was too much.”[27]

Horner finished his career with 218 home runs and 685 RBIs over 10 major-league seasons. He took more than 500 at-bats just once in those 10 seasons.


Enjoy this post? Find similar stories listed by decade or by player.


[1] Rick Hummel, “Herzog: Thumbs Down On Bob Horner,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 8, 1988.

[2] Rick Hummel, “Herzog: Thumbs Down On Bob Horner,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 8, 1988.

[3] Rick Hummel, “Cards Sign Horner For Year,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 15, 1988.

[4] Rick Hummel, “Cards Sign Horner For Year,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 15, 1988.

[5] I.J. Rosenberg, “Whatever happened to: Bob Horner,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 19, 2016.

[6] Rick Hummel, “Herzog: Thumbs Down On Bob Horner,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 8, 1988.

[7] Rick Hummel, “Herzog: Thumbs Down On Bob Horner,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 8, 1988.

[8] Rick Hummel, “Herzog: Thumbs Down On Bob Horner,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 8, 1988.

[9] Gerry Fraley, “Cards: Horner not worth asking price,” Atlanta Constitution, January 9, 1988.

[10] Rick Hummel, “Herzog: Thumbs Down On Bob Horner,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 8, 1988.

[11] Rick Hummel, “Cards Sign Horner For Year,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 15, 1988.

[12] Rick Hummel, “Cards Sign Horner For Year,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 15, 1988.

[13] Rick Hummel, “Cards Sign Horner For Year,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 15, 1988.

[14] Rick Hummel, “Cards Sign Horner For Year,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 15, 1988.

[15] Rick Hummel, “Cards Sign Horner For Year,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 15, 1988.

[16] Gerry Fraley, “Horner back in majors with Cardinals,” Atlanta Constitution, January 15, 1988.

[17] Gerry Fraley, “Horner back in majors with Cardinals,” Atlanta Constitution, January 15, 1988.

[18] Gerry Fraley, “Braves adjusted to lineup without Horner,” Atlanta Constitution, January 15, 1988.

[19] Rick Hummel, “Cards Sign Horner For Year,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 15, 1988.

[20] Rick Hummel, “Cards Sign Horner For Year,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 15, 1988.

[21] Rick Hummel, “Herzog Changes Tune To Cautious Optimism,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 15, 1988.

[22] Rick Hummel, “Cards Sign Horner For Year,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 15, 1988.

[23] Rick Hummel, “Herzog Changes Tune To Cautious Optimism,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 15, 1988.

[24] Rick Hummel, “Cards Sign Horner For Year,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 15, 1988.

[25] Rick Hummel, “Herzog Changes Tune To Cautious Optimism,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 15, 1988.

[26] Rick Hummel, “Herzog Changes Tune To Cautious Optimism,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 15, 1988.

[27] “Early Retirement,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 16, 1989.

2 thoughts on “January 14, 1988: Cardinals sign Bob Horner despite Herzog’s initial concerns”

  1. Pingback: January 6, 1988: Jack Clark signs with the Yankees – STLRedbirds.com

  2. Pingback: January 6, 1988: Jack Clark signs with the Yankees - STLRedbirds.com

Leave a Comment