Rogers Hornsby (1892–1963)

wait-for-springAs noted in last week’s post, Red Kress wasn’t alone long in the Mets afterlife. Passing away November 29, 1962, he was followed about five weeks later (January 5, 1963) by Rogers Hornsby, the original Mets batting instructor and the first Mets Hall of Famer. He had been inducted 20 years before, garnering 78.1% of the vote of the BBWAA, though wartime concerns kept there from being an official ceremony, an omission that wouldn’t be corrrected until 2013.

Hornsby was reputedly heavily disliked in his playing days, widely regarded by history as an unreconstructed racist and gambler (but a strict avoider of cigarettes, alcohol, and the movies, which he believed would hurt a hitter’s eyes) He must’ve been an interesting figure on the original Mets, the first team ever integrated from day one. Like Kress, he was felled by a heart attack. His was apparently preceded by cataract surgery in December, and followed by a stroke, which had been presumed to be small, but I guess did heart damage.

While Casey Stengel seemed to defer to Hornsby in hitting instruction, there was a conflict between the two in their one season working together with the Mets, with Casey telling the players to hit the ball to the corners and Hornsby telling them to hit it up the middle (while I was — or would have been, had I been around at the time — telling them to stop aiming where they hit the ball and to just concentrate on hitting it hard. Anyhow, it made some sense that the legendary “Rajah” would be preaching about squaring up and making solid straightaway contact, while Casey, with his more pedestrian playing career, would be talking about finding a way to hit ’em where they ain’t.

Besides, in the Polo Grounds, if you’re going to aim, you might as well aim for the corners.

Rip Collins
Rip Collins
Lou Boudreau
Lou Boudreau
Gabby Harnett
Gabby Hartnett
Ray Schalk
Ray Schalk
Ted Lyons
Ted Lyons
Johnny Mostill
Johnny Mostill
Who’s bearing your pall?

Pallbearers at the Hornsby funeral included Ray Schalk, Ted Lyons, Gabby Hartnett, Rip Collins, Lou Boudreau, Johnny Mostill, Frank Parenti (longtime White Sox scout), and Glen Miller (Glen, the Sox farm director, not Glenn, the bandleader, who was lost in World War II). For a disliked guy, that’s a lot of Hall of Famers to have carrying your box. His last request was widely noted, that he didn’t want flowers. Apparently, he just really disliked flowers (seriously!), but he also wanted any money going to the National Heart Fund instead. Hornsby-Brusque-Hard-Bitten-Raj-LargeAmong the 12 floral arrangements that defiantly decorated Chicago’s North Shore Baptist Church anyhow, was one in the shape of baseball diamond, courtesy of the Mets.

Anyhow, the truth is, if you click to embiggen the image at right, that he was really a big softy. At least that that’s what The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Washington says, and Daddy says if it’s in The Spokesman Review… well, see for yourself.

Hornsby is buried in the family plot in (get this) Hornsby Bend Cemetery in Travis County, TX.

Cemetery 1 Hornsby-Cemetery-2Hornsby-Cemetery-3
Photos from Hornsby Bend Cemetery, Austin, TX. (These images also magically grow when clicked.) Among the small cemetery’s 200+ plots, Hornsby counts the remains of 18 Texas Rangers among his necrotic neighbors. (But not Walker. Never Walker.)

You’d think that a cemetery would have a lusher lawn around the graves of the family who apparently gave the place it’s name, but you know, it’s Texas. Growing grass is hard. I’m not sure if that glove is a permanent part of the monument. it would be cool if it were, but it looks to be an actual glove that the photographer or another visitor placed there.  The balls are a nice touch, too.  But what’s with the one that looks like a cactus?

Only speculation can tell us if Ron Hunt, Ed Kranepool, Joe Christopher, Danny Napoleon, Cleon Jones, and Ron Swoboda and all might have had developed more consistent batmanship under further tutelage from the man frequently referred to (at least up until the end of his life) as the greatest right-handed hitter of all time. So, next time you’re in Travis County (and you someday will be there, as it is the county which includes Austin and Round Rock) go visit the Rajah, the man who, along with Babe Ruth, discovered that if you uppercut on the ball, often enough, you may hit the ball really really far.

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