What I’m Reading: Rogers Hornsby by Charles C. Alexander

In a lot of ways, Rogers Hornsby is the greatest St. Louis Cardinal that no one ever talks about.

This is partly because the high point of his career with the Cardinals came in 1926, almost 100 years and 10 world championships ago. It’s also, at least partially, because Rogers Hornsby didn’t have the type of personality that endears one to fans or teammates. When you consider the beloved Cardinals of yesteryear – men such as Dizzy Dean, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and Stan Musial – we love them just as much for their force of personality as for their on-field accomplishments.

With Rogers Hornsby: A Biography, Charles C. Alexander paints a well-researched picture of Hornsby’s life and personality. Famously dedicated to his craft, Hornsby refused to smoke or drink for fear of their impact on his game. He was highly protective of his eyesight and cautioned his fellow players not to watch movies or read for fear that they would harm his eyesight.

He also had an abrupt personality and in many cases destroyed relationships with others throughout the sport because he was unwilling to compromise or consider the perspectives of others. In addition to being inflexible, he never hesitated to criticize others, whether they were team owners, teammates, or players he was managing. As a result, as he aged and was unable to continue as an everyday player, he often outstayed his welcome with teams after just a year or two. In other cases, such as his tenures with the Cubs and Browns, the passing of the team owner changed the direction of his baseball life and left him looking for a new job.

Ironically, considering his single-minded focus on baseball, Hornsby’s career also was harmed by his passion for gambling on horse racing. In the wake of the Black Sox scandal in 1918, the baseball establishment wanted to stay as far from the gambling world as possible, but the National League’s biggest star unapologetically refused to stop. As Hornsby gambled away tens of thousands of dollars at the track and was sued for a failure to pay his gambling debts, the negatively publicity contributed his struggles to maintain employment as a major league manager.

All that being said, no one could take away from Hornsby’s talents at the plate, or the fact that after taking the manager’s position from Branch Rickey, he guided the Cardinals to their first World Series championship in 1926. A seven-time batting champion, Hornsby earned his moniker as the best right-handed hitter in baseball.

Alexander covers all of these items in his meticulous biography. This is a book that documents Hornsby’s many accomplishments, but isn’t afraid to point out his flaws. Along the way, highlighting both the good and the bad, it re-introduces readers to the Cardinals’ first true superstar.

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