Rogers Hornsby of the St. Louis Cardinals seemed to have a knack for finding trouble.
In part two of this five part historical series, Andrew Martin takes a look at some of the trouble Hornsby ran into over the course of his life. You can read more of Andrew’s baseball history on his website.
With his .358 career batting average, Rogers Hornsby rates as one of the greatest baseball players of all time. While the “Rajah” dominated on the field, his life was full of struggles and controversy. In particular, he was a regular in the legal system, constantly popping up in investigations and law suits. As the years have passed, much of his troubles have been forgotten. However, it is a fascinating study to explore the near constant nature of his connection with trouble.
Cases 5 & 6: 1927 was not a good year for Hornsby when it came to lawsuits. He was also sued for $5,250 in unpaid attorney fees by Frank J. Quinn, who claimed he was retained in 1923 to represent Hornsby against the Cardinals, who had fined him $3,000 for insubordination. Hornsby dismissed the allegations, saying he couldn’t figure out “what Quinn’s idea was.”
The suit dragged on, as Hornsby dodged appearing in court. Finally on September 5, 1929, Hornsby was cited for contempt of court and sentenced to city jail by Andrew H. Watson, a notary public. However, the citation was unenforceable without a duplicate order from the circuit court, which was not forthcoming. Nonetheless, Watson filed the citation against Hornsby after he twice failed to appear on a summons to take his deposition.
Watson made no sentencing recommendation and later said he imposed it to preserve the jurisdiction in the event it was decided it should be enforced. Hornsby’s lawyer had telephoned for a continuation until September 4th, but Hornsby still didn’t show even after that had been granted.
Nothing ever came of the citation or the suit. Hornsby never spent any time in jail, and settled the case quietly out of court. It was another example of him being able to evade serious trouble with little consequence.
Case 7: Hornsby’s involvement in gambling came close to catching up with him for good in early 1928. A plot to kill or cripple him because of his alleged welching on betting debts was uncovered by the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, which reported that $10,000 to $25,000 was supposedly offered by a prominent bookmaker who sought his death as revenge for non-payment.
Hornsby called the plot “hokum and propaganda,” scoffing, “So far as ‘welching’ is concerned, if the truth were known, Frank L. Moore, who recently brought suit against me for $90,000 owes me plenty of money himself. I carried him long enough.” Naturally, if the plot was real, Hornsby was not going to air his dirty laundry in the press and admit that it had substance.
The veracity of the plot was never determined, but at the least, was likely based in some truth. Hornsby’s propensity for gambling and history of not paying his debts give a lot more substance to this story in hindsight. Much like his other instances of bad behavior, Hornsby escaped peril, probably thanks in large part because of the media reporting on the plot before it could be put in motion.
For as successful as Rogers Hornsby was on the baseball diamond, his life off the field was one of trouble and scandal. Although his legacy has notoriously labeled him as a hard man who thought of little else other than baseball, his personal issues have largely been ignored. While many of the cases he was involved in were personal in nature, he has not received the same amount of scrutiny as other Hall of Fame players with their own issues. Hornsby was a fantastic player who had a much more interesting and troubled life outside of the game than he is typically attributed, which deserves to be part of his story.