Inside Pitch

Jan. 4, 1942: Rogers Hornsby is elected to the Hall of Fame


By JONATHAN COE

January 2, 2012


COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Off the field, Rogers Hornsby was tough, uncompromising and outspoken. On it, he was the greatest right-handed batter in baseball history.

Hornsby, whose season-record .424 average and .358 lifetime mark for 23 big league campaigns established him as the standard for right-handed batters, was elected to the Hall of Fame 70 years ago this week.

Rogers Hornsby was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1942. (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

He led the National League in batting seven times, including a fantastic five-year stretch from 1921 through 1925 during which he averaged .402.

In the dugout, Hornsby was also a successful manager – having led the St. Louis Cardinals to their first World Series title in 1926. Yet two months after winning the championship, Hornsby was fired.

The man who John McGraw called "a better hitter than Babe Ruth" lived by his own rules, which included not drinking, smoking or attending movie theaters (so as not to strain his eyes).

Hornsby's iron determination and belief that a ball player could achieve almost anything if he tried hard enough were the result of his own experiences. He was a skinny, 5-foot-11, 135-pound infielder when he batted for the first time in the National League on September 10, 1915. He choked up on the bat and he crouched over the plate.

He batted only .246 in 18 games that season and Manager Miller Huggins of the Cardinals told him at the close of the campaign, "I think, son, that you should be farmed out."

The modern farm system was in its infancy in 1915 and Hornsby did not understand Huggins' statement. He thought the manager meant that he should work on a farm to build up his physique.

So, he went to work on a farm that winter and built himself up to 165 pounds.

The first day the new Hornsby went to the plate, he hit the first pitch off the center field fence for a triple. It was only the beginning.

The glory years were immediately ahead – 10 years from 1920-29 during which Hornsby terrorized National League pitchers to the tune of seven batting titles, three .400 seasons, two home run titles and four RBI crowns.

For five amazing seasons in succession, his batting averages were .397, .401, .384, .424 and .403 for a composite .402. His .424 in 1924 is the highest single-season average of the modern era.

Rogers and Ty Cobb are the only modern players to hit .400 three times. He was named the National League's Most Valuable Player in the league in 1925 – and he repeated in 1929.

For Hornsby, an induction to the Hall of Fame was just a matter of time. His special day came on Jan. 4, 1942 when Rogers was voted in, becoming the 27th member of the Hall.

Jonathan Coe was the fall 2011 Public Relations intern for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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