Apr 26, 2011

The First Mets Batting Instructor: Rogers Hornsby (1962)

Rogers Hornsby was born on April 22, 1896 in Winters, Texas growing up in the Fort Worth area. The great Hornsby, nicknamed “the Rajah” was hired by George Weiss, the Mets first General Manager in 1961. He was to serve as a scout of the other NL teams, then became a coach for 1962 Mets in their inaugural season.

Hornsby was more of a batting instructor that gave out hitting tips, rather than a hitting coach by today’s standards. There really was no such official title as a hitting coach until the mid seventies.

Hornsby’s theory was to hit the ball straight up the middle. Manager Casey Stengel would say, Hornsby could hit up the middle because he had enough power to hit it over the center field fence. Stengel believed in hitting down the lines, because that’s where the worst fielders played.

Hornsby was always tough critic on players and very outspoken. The best compliment he could come up with on his scouting reports were “the guy looks like a major leaguer”. Ed Kranepool who was only an 18 year old rookie at the time said, the only thing Hornsby ever said to him was “they don’t make them like they use to & swing at a strike”.

While coaching for the 1962 Mets, he was asked how good he thought he could hit against the pitchers of today, if he was still playing. In a classic response he said: "I guess I'd hit about .280 or .290". When asked why he'd hit for such a low average, Hornsby replied "Well, I'm 66 years old, what do you expect?". He only lasted one season as a Met coach, and in January 1963 after going for eye surgery, he died of a heart attack at age 66 in Chicago.

Before his coaching with the Mets he had been a player manager (1925-1937), then a full time manager spanning (1953-1954). He had trouble relating to his players, and they didn’t like him. He was a harsh critic, very obnoxious and outspoken of how he felt.

Winning was everything to him, at any expense. He was said to be as mean and hateful as Ty Cobb under his fake smile. He never drank or smoked, but was a big gambler, betting on horse races. 

Playing Days: During his playing days, Hornsby was one of the greatest hitters to ever play the game. He was a man obsessed with playing baseball. His .359 average is second best all time to Ty Cobb and the best ever in the NL.

He won seven batting titles, including six in a row (1920-1925). He hit over .400 three times (1922, 1924, 1925), and fell short by three points another season. He is the only player to win the Triple Crown Award twice; he also won two MVP awards as well. He led the league in runs scored five times, RBIs, hits & doubles four times each, walks three times, HRs & triples twice each.

He also has led the league in slugging percentage eight times, more than any other player. In his career he had 2930 hits (34th all time) 541 doubles (27th all time) 1584 RBIs (36th all time) 169 triples (25th all time) 1579 runs scored (49th all time) .577 slugging % (11th all time) 1038 walks (98th all time) 301 HRs (127th all time) & 2259 games played (116th all time).

He refused to go to the movies or read anything, during the season, in fear of ruining his eye sight. On the field he also considered one of the best second baseman, in baseball history. He posted a lifetime .965 fielding %, with 5166 assists (20th all time) & 3206 put outs (49th all time). He won a World Series with the 1926 Cardinals, had his name honored with them (there were no numbers to retire back then) and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1942.

"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." - Rogers Hornsby

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