The Troubled Life Of Rogers Hornsby – Part 5

Rogers Hornsby of the St. Louis Cardinals seemed to have a knack for finding trouble.
In part five 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 14: As Hornsby’s playing career wound down, he continued to be surrounded by controversy and negativity. In 1934 his wife Jeannette petitioned the court for a divorce, claiming that on many occasions Rogers had “laid violent hands on” her and “threatened to do her bodily harm.” She claimed that he had an unpredictable temper and was very domineering, “thereby making life impossible and unendurable to this defendant.” She also alleged that he “often cast reflecting remarks upon her moral character” and accused her of being with other men.
Despite such a strongly worded petition, later that year Jeannette Hornsby withdrew her request for a divorce, telling the press that her husband was welcome to return home “if he will promise to behave.” She revealed that Rogers had aggressively attempted to win her back by calling her nightly, and trying to gain forgiveness. The divorce suit was dismissed on December 8th, and her lawyer announced a complete reconciliation had been reached.
While the couple avoided divorce in 1934, their marriage was not destined to last. In 1953, Jeannette filed again for divorce, and accused her estranged husband of spending $25,000 that she had inherited, while he was out of work. It came out that they had not lived together as a couple for years leading up to the suit, but she finally decided to make their split official once she discovered her money was gone.
Jeannette testified at a hearing that she sought $600 a month in support, but the judge felt that was an excessive number. Hornsby was ordered to pay $400 a month in alimony and $200 in legal fees. This decision helped conclude the case, and a divorce was granted to the couple. No mention was made of Jeannette’s missing inheritance.
Case 15: Perhaps the most salacious incident that Hornsby was involved in, regarded the death ofBernadette Ann Harris. The 55 year-old divorcee fell to her death from her third floor apartment in a North Side hotel in Chicago in 1953. A coroner’s inquest eventually ruled the death a suicide, and that the victim was “temporarily insane due to despondency.” Although he played no part in her death, Hornsby was dragged through the press during the investigation because of his unusual connection to the victim.
Hornsby was notified of Harris’ death after police found a card in her purse that read, “In case of accident notify Roger Hornsby.” They also found a plaque in her room reading, “Roger Hornsby, the best player of yesterday.” He came to be part of the investigation when Harris’ will named him her sole beneficiary. Her will was found by an Illinois Attorney General’s office representative in a North Side bank deposit box, which also contained $25,000 in cash, mostly in $100 and $50 bills.
Hornsby told investigators, and later, reporters, that Harris had been his good friend and secretary since 1945, and that she handled most of his financial affairs. That was partially true, but she was also his romantic companion, increasing the level of scandal over her death.
Hornsby testified in front of coroner Walter E. McCarron. When Hornsby was asked if Harris had possibly died because of violence, he responded, “Oh no. She was depressed.” Hornsby testified that Harris had been going to doctors and believed she was losing her sight, voice, and hearing. “I think she took her own life.” He further stated that “She feared she would be put in an institution. I told her that as far as I was concerned, that would never happen.” It became evident that Harris was disturbed and Hornsby in his own way had done what he could to take care of her despite her obvious issues.
The night of her death, Harris dined with Hornsby and two unidentified men, before she accompanied Hornsby to a train station where he departed for St. Louis. Hornsby said that Harris seemed more depressed than usual that night, telling him, “I won’t be able to see you again. I am going blind.” It proved to be the last time he saw his companion alive. It was a sad tale, but because of the Hall of Fame baseball player involved, it became a prominent news story.
Case 16: The final time Hornsby’s name was involved in a legal case came in 1961, and involved a soft drink company. The 65 year-old Hornsby sued 7-Up and distributors Joyce Seven-Up Bottlers Inc. and the Chicago Seven-Up Bottling Co., for a million dollars, alleging copyright infringement. 7-Up had published a book of baseball advice, featuring Hornsby that he felt was done without his permission.
The suit charged that the firms had published and distributed since 1956, a composite of seven books Hornsby had written in 1936. Their book was titled, “7-Up Presents: How to play baseball, by Rogers Hornsby,” and was fairly popular with baseball fans. It is uncertain as to what the outcome of the suit was, but if Hornsby’s past was any indicator, a settlement of some sort may have been reached.
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.

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