April 27, 1896 – January 5, 1963
Rogers Hornsby’s family moved to Fort Worth in 1903 because of job opportunities on the growing North Side. By the time he was 15 (1911), he had quit school, found a part-time job, and begun playing baseball in the amateur city leagues. Older brother Everett “Pep” Hornsby played in the Texas League and during 1914 took the 140-pound Rogers with him to spring training.
Hornsby did not make a Texas League team but he won a shortstop position with Denison of the Texas-Oklahoma League. He had a decent glove, but an awkward batting stance resulted in a .232 average during the 1914 season. At the end of the season, the St. Louis Cardinals faced a dilemma, either release Hornsby or try to rebuild his swing.
The Cardinals called up Hornsby late during the 1915 season, and the right-hander batted a meager .246 in limited action. Manager Miller Huggins tried to straighten Hornsby’s stance and refine his swing. Hornsby’s decision to spend the winter working hard labor on his uncle’s dairy farm paid greater dividends as he became stronger and gained twenty-five pounds.
Increased strength permitted Hornsby to swing a heavier bat, and during 1916, his first full season with the Cardinals, he averaged .313, fourth highest in the majors. During the next four years he played a number of positions before finding a permanent home in 1920 at second base. With position stability, Hornsby’s batting average soared. During a five year period, 1921-25, he averaged a record .402.
Hailed as “Rajah—the Sultan of Swat,” in 1922 Hornsby became the only player to hit 40 home runs and bat over .400 in the same season. In 1925 and 1929 he won the National League’s Most Valuable Player, and in 1926 as a player-manager he led the Cardinals to their first World Series victory over the Babe Ruth-led New York Yankees. By the time he finished his career, in 1937, Hornsby boasted a career batting average of .358, trailing only the famed Ty Cobb’s .368. The remarkable asterisk to this record is that Hornsby was a right-handed batter and Cobb a lefty, and historically batters have faced more right-handed pitchers, thus giving left-handed hitters a statistical advantage.
Elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1942, the Fort Worth Cats hired Hornsby that spring to be the team’s general manager. The escalation of World War II soon ended Hornsby’s Fort Worth career, although he later managed and scouted for major league clubs.