Rogers Hornsby

January 20, 1942: Rogers Hornsby is elected to the Hall of Fame

On January 20, 1942, Rogers Hornsby, the greatest right-handed hitter in baseball history, was getting his hair cut when he received the official word that he had been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

“Wait’ll I get out of here and to the ballpark,” he said. “That’s the place to talk about this.”

The man who led the 1926 Cardinals to the first World Series championship in franchise history was now managing the Texas League’s Fort Worth Cats. Once he arrived at the park, he said, “Naturally, I appreciate this great honor. I am sincerely grateful to all the fellows who voted for me.”[1]

Hornsby received 182 of 233 votes, seven more than he needed for the 75% required for election. He was the only candidate to reach that threshold, as Rube Waddell and Frank Chance were the next highest vote-getters with 136 votes (58.4%). With his election, Hornsby became the first candidate to earn induction since George Sisler, Eddie Collins, and Willie Keeler were elected in 1939 and Lou Gehrig was added in a special election that December.

“It’s quite a distinction,” Hornsby said. “I certainly thank the baseball writers for voting me that distinction and I appreciate it more than I can express, but right now there’s a couple of things more important: First, winning the war. Second, baseball.”[2]

The news that he had been elected wasn’t a surprise to Hornsby that morning. The day before, the Associated Press sent a photographer to take new photos of the two-time National League MVP. Then that evening, Hornsby began to receive congratulatory phone calls and telegrams from sportswriters who knew the election results.

“I couldn’t sleep this morning, so I got up early and went to the barbershop,” Hornsby said. “I have a lot of calls to make today selling these season box seats, and now that I am in the Hall of Fame, I guess I gotta look my best.”[3]

Hornsby made his major-league debut as a 19-year-old shortstop in 1915. In 18 games, he hit just .246 and managed just two doubles among his 14 hits. At season’s end, manager Miller Huggins told him, “Kid, you’re a little light, but you got the makings. I think I’ll farm you out for a year.”[4]

At the time, minor-league farm systems were new to baseball and Hornsby mistook his manager’s meaning. Instead of returning home to his mother in Fort Worth, he went to his uncle’s farm in Lockhart, where he dedicated himself to chores, hunting, and consuming steak, fried chicken, and “all the milk I could hold.”[5] When he returned for the 1916 season, he had gained about 30 pounds.[6]

Hornsby led the league in hitting each year from 1920 through 1925. In 1922, he won the triple crown, leading the National League with a .401 batting average, an NL record 42 home runs, and 152 RBIs. Two years later, he set the modern-day record with a .424 batting average and placed second to St. Louis Browns pitcher Dazzy Vance in the NL MVP voting. In 1925, he was named the MVP after winning the triple crown for the second time in his career with a .403 batting average, 39 home runs, and 143 RBIs.

As Tommy Holmes of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote upon the news of Hornsby’s Hall of Fame election:

Probably he was the best right-handed hitter that ever lived. He didn’t look like much at the plate when he first came up to the Cardinals as a 19-year-old shortstop in 1915, but he quickly developed a unique batting style of his own that no other player has ever successfully copied. The Rajah stood far back and away in the batter’s box, stepped forward and into the pitch and met the ball with a long, smooth swing. Other players trying that style were unable to hit low, outside curves, but Hornsby could pickle that pitch.[7]

In 1925, Cardinals owner Sam Breadon named Hornsby the Cardinals’ manager, and in 1926 Hornsby led the Cardinals to their first National League pennant and World Series championship.

By season’s end, however, Hornsby’s relationship with Breadon had deteriorated due to Hornsby’s distaste for exhibition games scheduled during the regular season (a common money-making practice at the time) and penchant for betting on horse races. In the wake of the Black Sox scandal, baseball was particularly sensitive to gambling, and Hornsby was known to send clubhouse boys to the track to make bets on his behalf.

That December, the Cardinals traded Hornsby to the New York Giants for Frankie Frisch and Jimmy Ring. He played one season with the Giants, then was a player-manager with the Braves before ending up in Chicago, where he spent four seasons, including three as manager.

Hornsby returned to the Cardinals for the 1933 season but was released in July and immediately signed on with the Browns. He managed the Browns for five seasons, playing no more than 24 games in any of those campaigns. He played his final big-league game in 1937, finishing his career with 2,259 games played across 23 seasons. He retired with a .358 batting average, 301 home runs, and 1,584 RBIs.

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[1] “Rogers Hornsby is Elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 20, 1942.

[2] “Rog Grateful, Now Planning To Come Back,” St. Louis Star and Times, January 20, 1942.

[3] “Hornsby Takes New Honors In Stride,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 20, 1942.

[4] Charles C. Alexander (2013), Rogers Hornsby, Kindle Android version, Page 26.

[5] Charles C. Alexander (2013), Rogers Hornsby, Kindle Android version, Page 27.

[6] Charles C. Alexander (2013), Rogers Hornsby, Kindle Android version, Page 29.

[7] Tommy Holmes, “Hornsby Parlays Lifetime .358 Into Baseball Hall of Fame Spot,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 20, 1942.

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