Rogers Hornsby of the St. Louis Cardinals seemed to have a knack for finding trouble.
In part four 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.
Case 11: Another lawsuit alleging erratic driving was brought against Hornsby in July, 1931, Hornsby was named as defendant in suit brought by Miss Effie Blume, a nurse. David Young, the couple’s chauffeur, and Jeannette Hornsby were also named as co-defendants.
Blume claimed she suffered injuries while she was a guest of the Hornsby’s in May, 1930. A car owned by them, and driven by Young, ran off the road and overturned near Bloomington, Illinois. Blume lost an eye and suffered other devastating injuries which she said prevented her from working as a nurse. This suit also disappeared from the public view almost as soon as it appeared; presumably solved with yet another settlement.
Case 12: Hornsby’s lax habits with his finances were brought under a microscope, when the federal government went after him for failure to pay income taxes. The return in question was initially from 1927, when it was believed that Hornsby had not paid the proper amount in taxes. Hornsby asked the board of tax appeals to mediate between him and the government over the amount he owed. He had been originally assessed $2,763, but was later told he owed an additional $8,782, consisting of $7,026 for taxes and $1,756 in penalties for not filing his report on time.
In his appeal, Hornsby indicated that his home was in Forth Worth, with half of his income listed as his and half as his wife’s, in conjunction with Texas community property law. The government contacted him because their evidence contradicted his return, and showed their belief that his home was in St. Louis, Missouri, and that only time he spent in Texas were trips to visit relatives. Missouri did not have a community property law that allowed the splitting of property and income, which reduced taxes owed.
Hornsby had reported his 1927 income as $36,603, but the government doubled this and added $700 in World Series money, $300 for newspaper articles ghost written in his name, and $154 in “personal expenses.”
As the case unfolded, the government filed two income tax liens against Hornsby totaling $21,282. A lien filed on October 8, 1932 was for 12,871, representing the back taxes he allegedly owed, including interest and penalties for 1927 and 1928. Another lien for $8,412 was filed on September 13th. Examiners claimed they found additional money in the bank that was not accounted for in Hornsby’s tax returns.
As with most tax delinquency cases, there was not much Hornsby could do to help himself once it was determined he owed money. Although he avoided more severe penalties, he was made to pay back everything was claimed he owed, which took a number of years and made even more problematic because he did not have the funds to make good on his obligation.
Case 13: The tax trouble encountered by Hornsby showed that even though he was one of
the highest paid players in baseball, he had no money. At least there was not enough to pay his tax debts. Up until that time he had led a comfortable, yet not overly extravagant lifestyle. It is reasonable to presume that much of his earnings were lost during the course of gambling. That combined with his tax troubles painted Hornsby into a corner financially as his playing career wound down.
In December, 1932, it was determined that Hornsby’s St. Louis county home was to be sold at a foreclosure auction. A published advertisement of the auction stated he had failed to meet an interest payment from October 16th and that certain county taxes were delinquent.
The Hornsby property consisted of 86 acres, a 14 room house, and several barns. When purchased in 1928, he had paid $40,000. A saddened Jeannette Hornsby described the sale as “another hard knock.” She pragmatically said the house was too large and cost too much to keep up. Subsequently, the Hornsby’s moved to an apartment and never fully recovered financially. Hornsby spent the rest of his days searching for a big payday, and while he did alright for himself, he never again approached the level of financial success he had experienced as a star player.
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.