One of the greatest hitters to ever play the game, Rogers Hornsby, or Rajah, was also one of the most blunt. Never one to keep his thoughts hidden to himself or have much diplomacy in the media, Hornsby said whatever was on in his mind at that particular time. He expected greatness from all those around him and his overbearing style often grew tiresome on both his teammates, the players he managed, and especially on his owners and those he played under.
While the old cliche is “those that can’t do, teach,” Hornsby is another example of the reverse. Often, those that can do so well, cannot teach. Hornsby had climbed to great heights with the Cardinals. His numbers were that of video games. Over a six-year period from 1920 to 1925, Hornsby hit .397/.467/.666. He took over as manager in 1925 for Branch Rickey and guided the Cardinals to a World Series victory the next year despite dealing with a variety of ailments that saw his numbers decline to just .317/.388/.463.
However, his personality had finally led Cardinals owner, Sam Breadon, to look for a way to get rid of his star. He low-balled a contract offer to Hornsby, hoping the 30-year old would become incensed at the offer. Breadon even made it a condition that Horsnby had to stay away from the race track while crossing his fingers that Hornsby would be ready to bolt. He was and Breadon sent the slugger to the New York Giants.
His time with the Giants was short-lived. He feuded with his manager, John McGraw, and Giants fixture Freddie Lindstrom. He also had his troubles off the field with a lawsuit for alleged unpaid horse-race bets and even publicly criticized his new owner. The Giants were ready to end their relationship with Hornsby after just one season and sent him to the Boston Braves.
For Boston, Hornsby continued to excel at the plate. He led the league in hitting for the seventh (and final) time with a .387 batting average. He paired with George Sisler to give the Boston Braves a Hall-of-Fame right-side of the infield, but that wasn’t enough to turn this bad team into a contender. Their pitching staff was atrocious and outside of Hornsby, Sisler, and OF Lance Richbourg, Boston’s offense was substandard. Even a move of Hornsby to the managerial position did little to improve Boston’s chances.
With Boston hemorrhaging money and looking to cut salary – Hornsby’s $40K a year price tag was hefty compared to the average – the Braves completed a deal with the Chicago Cubs to send Hornsby to the Windy City in exchange for five players and $200,000. While the date I’m using is from Baseball-Reference, the deal had been rumored since the end of the season. It was pushed back until after the 1928 presidential election. With Herbert Hoover winning in a landslide, the Hornsby transaction could be finalized.
While the Braves received a quantity of players, quality was lacking. Bruce Cunningham was a 23-year-old pitcher who would pitch in 104 games with Boston over the next four seasons with little success. Percy Jones started 22 games for Boston in 1929 before being traded for former Brooklyn great Burleigh Grimes. The latter would become a Hall of Famer, but his 49-inning run with the Braves included a 7.35 ERA. That part of the deal actually worked out okay for Boston because after dealing Grimes to St. Louis, they received Fred Frankhouse, who made an All-Star Game as a Brave.
Catcher Lou Legett played 39 games for Boston in 1929, but was sent packing. He later resurfaced for the cross-town Red Sox, though he never did much at the plate. The most interesting thing about Legett was that he was a dentist before and after his career. He was even President of the New Orleans Dental Society…which is apparently a thing.
Second baseman Freddie McGuire replaced Hornsby at second base and, over three years, hit .249/.280/.313. Hardly a real replacement to Hornsby, but who could be? McGuire’s major league career ended after the 1931 season and he finished his career by playing independent ball in Canada. The final player in the trade was Socks Seibold. a pitcher who had last appeared in the majors in 1919 for Connie Mack‘s Philadelphia Athletics. It was Mack that had given Harry Seibold his nickname. His return to the bigs is pretty interesting in that after Mack sold the rights of Seibold to Seattle in 1920, he began to meander around different independent teams rather than return to affiliated baseball? Was it arm troubles? A hot temper? Not wanting to play for a team he was assigned to? According to Seibold, it was that he made more cash in independent ball than he did in the majors or minors. He returned to organized ball in 1928 and after the season, he was sold to the Cubs, who included him in this trade for Hornsby. Seibold pitched in 141 games for Boston over the next five years before heading into retirement.
None of the five players the Braves acquired for Hornsby were big-time additions. However, there was that bit about the $200,000 in cash that the Cubs sent Boston as part of the trade. Not only did it help Boston with their many debts, it was, at that time, the largest sum ever sent to a team to acquire another player. To compare, when the New York Yankees bought Babe Ruth from the Red Sox, they paid $130,000.
Hornsby had one more great year in him before injuries and age caught up to him. He also moved to a managerial role for the Cubs, but obviously never took them to new heights. He returned to St. Louis in 1933 and would again become a manager, but the Browns never competed with Hornsby at the helm. After his playing days were officially over, he again managed the Browns and then the Reds, but struggled to find success.
Eighty-eight years ago today, the Boston Braves waved goodbye to one of the best hitters to ever play the game. If the news media of the time ever used the phrase “salary dump,” that was the only explanation for this deal – even understanding Hornsby’s faults as a person.