Rogers Hornsby wins election to the Circle of Greats in the 95th round of COG balloting. In his first ballot appearance, Hornsby was the clear favorite among a host of creditable holdover candidates. Hornsby made an immediate impact in his 1916 rookie season with 4.9 WAR and 151 OPS+, totals for a rookie third baseman that have since been matched only by Dick Allen. Hornsby then moved to shortstop, posting 4.0 oWAR and 2.0 dWAR in consecutive seasons. Quiz: who is the only player since with those oWAR and dWAR totals in his first two seasons at shortstop?
More on Hornsby after the jump.
Hornsby returned to third base for the 1919 season before settling in as the Cardinals’ everyday second baseman as the live ball era started taking flight in 1920. That season was the start of a 10-year peak (yes, you read that correctly) with the phenomenal totals of 93 WAR and 73 WAA, marks surpassed in any ten year period only by Babe Ruth (though Willie Mays very nearly matched those marks for 5 consecutive 10 year spans, age 23-32 thru age 27-36). Superlatives for those seasons include 7 times leading the NL in BA, OBP and SLG, 6 of them consecutively (1920-25), and two triple crown campaigns. Hornsby’s .424 BA in 1924 has not been matched since and ranks as the fourth highest qualifying BA since the 60’6″ pitching distance was established in 1893. Hornsby’s docket of league-leading totals includes:
- 12 times – OPS+, Offensive WAR
- 11 times – OPS, WAR (Position Players)
- 9 times – OBP, SLG
- 7 times – BA, TB, WAR (All Players)
- 5 times – Runs
- 4 times – Hits, Doubles, RBI
- 3 times – Walks
- 2 times – Home Runs, Triples
Though only 29, Hornsby was elevated to player/manager when Branch Rickey was let go part way through the 1925 season. In that role, Hornsby led St. Louis to its first world championship in 1926, resulting in a demand for a 50% raise that the Cardinals were unwilling to meet. Hornsby thus moved on to the Giants in 1927, the Braves in 1928 and the Cubs in 1929, surpassing 8 WAR in each of those seasons. While Hornsby’s irksome personality was a constant clubhouse irritant, it was primarily other factors that resulted in his frequent travels, with Giant ownership not enamored of Hornsby’s racetrack gambling and the financially strapped Braves unable to resist Chicago’s offer of $200,000 and 5 players.
The 1929 season with the Cubs would be Hornsby’s last as an everyday player. A broken ankle in 1930 shelved Hornsby for most of that season. He returned to play regularly in 1931 but, supposedly unhappy with his performance, the now player/manager Hornsby stopped putting himself in the lineup the last two months of the season (Hornsby evidently set high standards for himself as his 5.2 WAR in only 419 PA has been matched since only in the strike-shortened 1981 season). The Cubs were contending for the pennant in 1932 when Hornsby was fired as manager in August for sending out a player to argue an umpire’s decision. Chicago would take that pennant but, in a show of their lack of regard for their former skipper, Cub players voted to deny Hornsby any part of their share of World Series receipts.
Hornsby returned to the Cardinals as a player in 1933 but was used mainly as a pinch-hitter before being released in July. He was picked up by the Browns where he would serve as player/manager (but mostly as manager) for four seasons until being fired partway through the 1937 season.
Hornsby’s 119.6 WAR through age 33 is the top figure for position players, just ahead of Ruth, Cobb and Mays (though, adding in his pitching WAR, Ruth easily tops that list). His major career milestones include 1500 runs, 1500 RBI, 1000 walks and 500 doubles while his 175 OPS+ is the 5th highest career mark. Hornsby’s career total of 127.0 WAR puts him just ahead of Eddie Collins, with Nap Lajoie and Joe Morgan rounding out the 100 WAR second base club. Hornsby was the third player to reach the 300 HR plateau, just after Lou Gehrig (with whom he finished the 1933 season tied with identical career totals of 299 home runs). That mark would be the standard for second baseman for 70 years, until Jeff Kent moved past Hornsby late in the 2004 season.