COG Round 95 Results: Voters say Hurrah for Rajah

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.

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26 Comments on "COG Round 95 Results: Voters say Hurrah for Rajah"

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Artie Z.
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Does Ripken count as a full-time shortstop in 1982? He played 92 games at SS and 71 games at 3B, and had 4.1 oWAR and “only” 1.4 dWAR. In 1983 and 1984 he meets both criteria.

I’m guessing Ripken is being counted as a shortstop in 1982 as I see that Pesky had 4.4 and 5.5 oWAR in 1942 and 1946, to go with 2.2 dWAR each year.

Richard Chester
Guest

If I understand correctly, in Dickie Thon’s first two seasons as a SS he matched those oWAR and dWAR requirements.

Dr. Doom
Guest
Vote update! * indicates actively on the ballot; # indicates un-elected player Craig Biggio – 763 Eddie Murray – 731 Roberto Alomar – 725 John Smoltz – 658 Kenny Lofton – 608 Ryne Sandberg – 607 *Harmon Killebrew – 549 Edgar Martinez – 507 Lou Whitaker – 493 *Kevin Brown – 415 Whitey Ford – 382 Bobby Grich – 376 Sandy Koufax – 375 Tony Gwynn – 346 *Roy Campanella – 343 Willie McCovey – 336 *Dennis Eckersley – 310 #Minnie Minoso – 309 *Dave Winfield – 303 Juan Marichal – 268 Tom Glavine – 262 Alan Trammell – 239… Read more »
Dr. Doom
Guest
So, my favorite piece of Hornsby minutiae is this. Let’s assume for a moment that 19th century records don’t “count.” If that were true, then in 1922, Rogers Hornsby would have set the NL record for HR (42, topping Gavvy Cravath’s 24 in 1915). That’s pretty darn impressive to do in a Triple Crown season – to also set the HR record. But that’s not all. His 152 RBI was ALSO the NL record, surpassing Gavvy Cravath’s 128 in 1913. BUT THAT’S NOT ALL – his .401 average was ALSO the best by a member of the senior circuit in… Read more »
Artie Z
Guest

I know that batting average gets a bad rap, and that the NL batting averages from 1921-1925 hovered around the .280-.290 range, but Hornsby went 1078 for 2679 over those 5 years.

That’s a .402 batting average – over 5 seasons. 110 points or so above the league average. That’s just impressive. I looked at Gwynn from 1993-1997 and he was about 100-105 points above the NL average during those seasons (Gwynn at .368, NL average in the .260 range). Of course, Hornsby hit 42 HRs one season, whereas Gwynn hit 48 over the 5 seasons combined.

Dr. Doom
Guest

There’s a quote from Bill James’s NHBA, I believe talking about Arky Vaughan’s great year, wherein he mentions the weakness of batting average, but then says, “but .385 is .385.” The truth is, if you’re looking at a batting average that would make a good ON-BASE PERCENTAGE, the fact that it’s a batting average doesn’t mean squat anymore. Hornsby’s OBP over those 5 years, by the way? .474!

John
Guest

Rajah gets a bad rap because everybody hit a ton in the early 20’s. Well, if everybody hit a ton in the early 20’s then him leading in the triple crown categories means he hit a ton more than anybody else. And he did it twice. Only Ted Williams has won two Triple Crowns, too. And nobody give him a bad rap. What’s up with that?

e pluribus munu
Guest

Hornsby gets a bad rap, but I don’t think it’s about his hitting – at least I haven’t heard that one. It’s about Hornsby.

David P
Guest

Doom – I was actually looking Hornsby’s 1921 season earlier today. What blew me away is that he basically led the NL in all the hitting categories that people would have cared about at the time – Runs, Hits, Doubles, Triples, RBIs, BA, SLG, and Total Bases.

The one category that he failed to lead the league in was HR, falling two short of George Kelly. He had a shot though. Kelly faltered down the stretch, hitting only one home run in his final 134 PAs. But Hornsby also faded, with one home run in his final 120 PAs.

no statistician but
Guest

Here’s an easy quiz:

What live ball era player in what year duplicated Hornsby’s 1921 feat and actually bested him by losing out on the HR title by only one dinger? (He also bested Hornsby in most of the categories mentioned.)

robbs
Guest

I think Williams bad rap came in the form of MVP voting, with things like the story of writers rooting for George Kell to win the batting title last day of the season.Jim Rice took a long time for HOF partly because he was surly.

Lawrence Azrin
Guest

@15,

No, I think that Jim Rice took a long time to get in the HOF (14 years) because he was a marginally qualified candidate who benefitted from a strong, sustained campaign by the Red Sox publicity department.

robbs
Guest

Great point Lawrence about Rice being marginal. I think he is borderline now (and I’m an easy lay for HOF) but when he was first eligible I thought he was a shoe-in. I think the other reason he got in was it the was the year after no one made it in because of PED’s, so Rice’s stats looked better being untainted. I did see him scald some balls in the old Tiger Stadium, though.

Lawrence Azrin
Guest
@19; It’s not that Rice is a _terrible_ HOF candidate, more that he doesn’t distinguish himself from a number of other corner OF candidates. If you look at ‘Similar Batters’ or LFers surrounding his JAWS score (he’s #27 – I took #23-31), there are a few HOFers, but mostly guys who got only cursory HOF consideration (like Andres Galarraga, Joe Carter, George Foster, Roy White, Bobby Veach) before being dismissed. I’ve actually read comments by some Boston-area baseball writers (in particular, the “CHB” – Dan Shaughnessy) that covered the Red Sox, that they went out of their way _not_ to… Read more »
no statistician but
Guest
robbs: Re Ted Williams: Writing around the year 2001 Bill James had this to say: “This may be hard for a younger fan to understand, but Ted Williams was every bit as unpopular in his time as Albert Belle is now . . .. He took constant actions to reinforce {that opinion of himself}. He spattered water coolers, including glass ones. He made obscene gestures at fans, carried on decades-long vendettas against selected reporters, sometimes didn’t treat his family well, sometimes didn’t hustle or even make a show of hustling in the field or on the bases, was obsessed with… Read more »
Joseph
Guest

What always amazes me about Hornsby is 1921 through 1925–where his BA averaged over .400 for those five years–AND each and every one of those years he led the league in OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+, in addition to leading in a bunch of other categories in many of the years.

In a day where we doubt that we will ever see another .400 hitter–it blows me away that Hornsby did it over five full time years. (I know that Cobb came close to doing the same, but he didn’t quite make it, did he?

Hartvig
Guest
What Hornsby did is remarkable but it does require a little context as well. In 1921, 7 of the 8 Cardinal regulars and their top 2 subs all hit over .300, including 3 of them (in addition to Hornsby) that hit .343 or higher. The team batting average was .308. In 1920, playing in the same ballpark but on not as good a ballclub, George Sisler began his run of 3 seasons where he averaged .395 before running into vision problems. He was joined that year by 2 other full time regulars who hit .341 or higher on a team… Read more »
Artie Z.
Guest
While I agree that context needs to be taken into account, I think sometimes we overcorrect for context. Hornsby’s OPS+ over those 5 seasons was 204. Keep in mind that he had another 200+ OPS+ (202) in 1928. Mays – topped out at 185 in 1965. Cabrera – topped out at 190 in 2013 (his triple crown year). Frank Robinson – topped out at 198 in 1966 (his triple crown year). Hank Aaron – topped out at 194 in 1971. Jimmie Foxx – had back to back 207 and 201 in his near triple crown and triple crown seasons; next… Read more »
Joseph
Guest
Also keeping in mind the context: In those categories, Hornsby was better than any other batter in the league for five years straight. I don’t think there is anything else in the modern era of MLB that compares. I haven’t looked at the pre-1900 stats on that. Also in the context of the game during that era, Hornsby’s margin of his lead in BA (for the NL) was pretty significant in most of the years: 1921: .045 1922: .046 1923: .013 1924: .049 1925: .036 I think if you check, it’s pretty rare that the first place BA exceeds the… Read more »
Richard Chester
Guest

Other BA champs with a .040+ margin:

Nap Lajoie, Rod Carew (3 times), Ted Williams, Harry Walker, Stan Musial, Larry Walker and Rico Carty.

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