Year Inducted: 1942 (BBWAA, ballot #5, 182/233)
In 1921, the hit movie The Sheik debuted. It became such a hit that certain segments of the country became enthusiastic about things that sounded “Arabian”. The enthusiasm soon permeated baseball, where the top two hitters soon gained nicknames based on what was perceived as Arabian culture. One was, fairly obviously, Babe Ruth’s monicker the “Sultan of Swat”. However, over in the National League, the top slugger was nicknamed the “Rajah of Swat” was about to win the Triple Crown in 1922 with what was probably the best season ever experienced by a second baseman. That player was Rogers Hornsby.
Hornsby is widely known as the greatest right handed hitter in history. After 23 seasons, Hornsby’s career slash line was .358/.434/.577 with a wRC+ of 173. Hornsby hit over .400 three times in his career, and over .370 an additional five times. Hornsby won two Triple Crowns in his career, and finished the 1920’s with a decade Triple Crown. In total, Hornsby ended his career with 301 homers, 541 doubles and 169 triples. Hornsby generated a lot of runs, with five seasons of 100 or more RBI and five additional season of 90 or more RBI, finishing with 1584 in his career. For all of Hornsby’s greatness with the bat, he was not the best baserunner. Despite scoring over 1500 runs, he was only worth -1.1 runs as a baserunner and stole 135 bases. Early in his career he would steal more than 10 bases a season, but injuries to his knees and back curtailed a lot of his efforts as the years went on.
When he first began his career, Hornsby was a poor fielding shortstop. After adding about 30 pounds of muscle one offseason, manager Miller Huggins slotted Hornsby in at third base, where he wasn’t very good either. Eventually, under Branch Rickey, Hornsby converted to second base, where he was a very good defender and became renowned for his ability to turn the double play at a time when players were more likely to slide hard to break up the double play. Hornsby was worth over 120 defensive runs in his career, making him a very complete player when combined with his offense.
A heel injury late in his career really progressed a swift decline for the Rajah, along with many off-field issues related to his racing gambling debts. After the 1929 season, Hornsby would have only one more year where he would play in 100 games. Hornsby’s gambling issues and personality (he was very blunt and never afraid to speak his mind to anyone) saw him bounce from place to place often at this period as he couldn’t stay on the field very often.
Hornsby, like Tris Speaker and Jimmie Foxx, was one of the players that had to wait for induction due to a large backlog on the initial ballots. As such, the greatest second baseman of all-time had to wait until his fifth ballot to be inducted, which must have had more to do with his personality and gambling debts than his actual play on the field. Statistically, Hornsby’s numbers were pretty much the best of all-time for any second baseman, and most are still quite highly ranked. Hornsby may have been a rude, obnoxious person, but he was certainly the best at what he did.
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