Greatest St. Louis Cardinal…..Rogers Hornsby?

Albert Pujols, Red Schoendienst, Orlando Cepeda, Enos Slaughter, Steve Carlton, Stan Musial, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, Bruce Sutter, Willie McGee, Keith Hernandez, Ozzie Smith and many other Cardinal greats all have a place in our hearts as providing us with Cardinal memories that will last a lifetime.  I’m 35 years old, so I didn’t have the privilege to watch Musial, Gibson, Red, Cepeda or Slaughter and was 4 years old in Brock’s last year.  I have memories of Steve Carlton, unfortunately, they were all with him wearing a Philadelphia Phillies uniform.  Not all these players are members of the Hall Of Fame, but I think that everyone on this list is at least in the hall of very good.

I feel fortunate to have been able to have watched some of the greatest Cardinals of all-time.  I can’t wait to see what the second half of Albert Pujols’ career is like, and whether he will remain a St. Louis Cardinal for the rest of his amazing career.  I’m not sure if he is appreciated for how great he has been by all Cardinal fans, and the bar is set higher every year it seems.  I have friends or relatives who have claimed a Cardinal on this list as their favorite, and it’s great that as Cardinal fans we have a long list to choose from.

There is one name that hasn’t been mentioned yet, and he may be the greatest Cardinal of all-time.  That name is Rogers Hornsby.  From what I’ve seen and heard in my life as to who is the best and why, Rogers Hornsby has to be the most underrated St. Louis Cardinal, and maybe the most underrated player in the history of baseball.  I don’t have any stories passed down to me about Hornsby, and the reason why has mostly to do with the fact that he played from 1915 to 1937, and left the Cardinals in 1926.  He did come back and had 83 at bats with the Cardinals in 1933, but then spent the last four and a half years of his career with the St. Louis Browns.

Another reason I think Hornsby gets overlooked is because the National League didn’t have an MVP award from 1915 to 1924.  Here’s a link to the history of the MVP award.  This page talks about how the award started as the Chalmers Award, and was presented in both the National and American League from 1911-1914.  There was no MVP award until 1922, and only was given in the American League from 1922-1923.  So, when Rogers Hornsby won the Triple Crown in 1922 with a line of:

Batting Average  .401

Home Runs  42

Runs Batted In  152

…he did not win the MVP award, because the National League did not have one that year.

In 1924 Rogers hit .424, with 25 Home Runs and 94 RBI’s and finished second in the MVP vote to Dazzy Vance, a pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers who was 28-6 with a 2.16 ERA.  Hornsby’s 25 HR’s may not seem like a lot, but 25 put him second in the NL that year, with Jack Fourier of Brooklyn winning the HR title with 27.  Only one player in all of MLB had more than 27 HR’s that year, and that was Babe Ruth with 46.  Rogers Hornsby led the NL with the .424 BA that year, and next best in the NL was Zack Wheat at .375.  Babe Ruth won the American League batting title in 1924 with a .378 average. 

Hornsby led all of MLB with a WAR of 13.0 in 1924, the next best is Ruth at 11.9, with Vance coming in 3rd with an 8.8.  The 13.0 WAR in 1924 is tied for the 24th best season of all-time in MLB.  While on the subject of WAR, it’s important to point out that Rogers Hornsby has 4 of the top 100 seasons in this category of all-time, and 6 in the top 150.  Besides the 13.0 WAR in 1924, he had an 11.70 in 1921, an 11.50 in 1929, and 10.70 in 1922.  For comparison, Babe Ruth has a high of 13.60 in 1921, Mickey Mantle’s high was 12.50 in 1957 and Stan Musial’s best was 11.50 in 1948.  The top two players of today in WAR are Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols.  Alex Rodriguez has a high of 11.00 and Albert Pujols best ever is 10.90 in 2003.

Here is a breakdown of Rogers Hornsby’s National League WAR Position Players statistics year by year and where he ranked:

1916—4.8—3rd

1917—9.2—1st

1918—4.8—2nd

1919—6.5—1st

1920—9.4—1st

1921—11.7—1st

1922—10.70—1st

1923—6.5—2nd

1924—13.0—1st

1925—10.0—1st

1926—4.4—6th

1927—10.3—1st

1928—8.5—1st

1929—11.5—1st

Career—127.8—8th

Here is Albert Pujols WAR Position Players statistics and where he has ranked each year of his career:

2001—6.9—6th

2002—5.8—10th

2003—10.9—1st

2004—9.4—3rd

2005—8.2—1st

2006—8.3—1st

2007—8.3—1st

2008—9.6—1st

2009—9.2—1st

2010—7.2—1st

Career—83.8—31st(2nd among active players to A-Rod—101.9)

Rogers Hornsby led the league in WAR for position players 10 times, and Albert Pujols has already led the league 7 times.

My point here is to try and find the relevance in Rogers Hornsby’s statistics and compare them with the best players of today.  We know that Albert Pujols is the best player in MLB, and has been for quite a while.  Albert has won 3 MVP awards, and if not for Joey Votto and a 2nd place finish by the Cardinals, he might have had his 4th in 2010.    However, when you consider the era the Rogers Hornsby played in when you take his power stats into account, it’s incredibly remarkable.  Hornsby’s career line is:

BA  .358

OBP  .434

OPS  1.010

HR  301

RBI  1584

Hits  2930

Doubles  541

Runs  1579

Walks  1038

Strikeouts  679

If Albert Pujols keeps up his pace, he will pass Rogers Hornsby in every category except BA.  We know how great Albert Pujols has been in his career from watching with our own eyes.  My question is since we know how great Pujols is, do we have an understanding of how great Rogers Hornsby was?

Other things to take into account are years like 1920, when Rogers hit only 9 home runs.  It may not seem like a lot, but the NL league leader had 15.  In 1919, Rogers had 8, and the NL leader had 12.  I think the NL not having an MVP from 1915 to 1923 is what separates Rogers Hornsby from people’s minds as one of the all-time greats.  You have to think he would have won the MVP in 1921 and 1922 easily, and can make a strong case for 1920.  Ted Williams is the only other player to win 2 Triple Crowns.  Hornsby hit over .400 three times, and .397 in 1921.  Considering Hornsby was a 2nd baseman, it makes his offensive numbers that much more impressive.  I don’t know if Hornsby is the most underrated player of all-time, but I’m sure he is the most underrated Cardinal of all-time.

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