Politics Magazine

April Not the Cruellest Month

Posted on the 29 March 2015 by Erictheblue


I know the entire blogosphere is eagerly awaiting the latest report on my wife Amanda's standing in the Scott County employee NCAA basketball bracket contest.  I'll get to that.  First, though, isn't this a great time of year?  Just as the college basketball season is concluding with a raft of exciting games, the major league baseball season is poised to begin performing the slow daily unwinding of its half-year coil:  something to look forward to every day.  I own The Baseball Encyclopedia, which I used to get off the shelf from time to time just to get the answer to a single question--and then find myself putting it back in its place about three hours later.  Now of course the same trove of player data is online, and, swimming around in it the other day, I came to the conclusion that Rogers Hornsby is (to coin a new oxymoron) the most underrated superstar in the game's history.  One of only two players to win the Triple Crown more than once (Ted Williams is the other), Hornsby, a second baseman, was a kind of ancient prototype of the modern, big-hitting middle-infielder.  But, as a hitter, you can hardly compare him to anyone, of any position.  His Triple Crown years were 1922 and 1925.  I suppose you could say he was lucky in that, being a National Leaguer, he did not have to compete with the Babe for homers and RBI.  His numbers, however, are eye-popping: in '22, he hit .401 with 42 home runs and 152 RBI; when he repeated the feat three years later, the figures were .403, 39, and 143.  (For what it's worth, Williams's Triple Crown numbers, achieved five years apart in the 1940s, were comparatively modest: .353, 36, and 137 followed by .343, 32, and 114.)  An oddity: in 1929, Hornsby hit .380 with 39 homers and 149 RBI--and was not the league champion in any of these categories (Lefty O'Doul batted .398, Chuck Klein hit 43 homers, and Hack Wilson drove in 159 runs). Hornsby's lifetime batting average, over 23 seasons, was .358, second only to Ty Cobb's .367.   Starting in 1920, he led the National League in batting average six seasons in a row (he had a total of seven batting crowns).  His .424 average in the 1924 season has not been matched now for more than 90 years.  It probably never will be matched, since Hornsby had the advantage of playing before sophisticated analyses of players' tendencies made it possible to position fielders more strategically.  Still, Hornsby's stratospheric batting averages were accompanied by a lot of home runs.  You can't position your outfielders on the other side of the fence.

As with many others, his prowess on the field does not appear to have made for a contented life.  From the Wikipedia article on him:

Hornsby married three times, in 1918, 1924, and 1957, and had two children, one from each of his first two marriages.

Known as someone difficult to get along with, he was not at all well-liked by his fellow players. He never smoked, drank, or went to the movies, but frequently gambled on horse races during his career.

It is said that he abjured the movies on the theory that they would damage his eyesight.  It's almost axiomatic, I'm afraid, that people who attain unparalleled eminence in a particular field tend to be unpleasantly one-sided.  Hornsby's failure as a big-league manager was surely due in part to poor interpersonal skills.

Which does not remind me of my wife, but I know you'd be interested to learn that she's riding the Michigan State Spartans to the top of her work's bracket competition.  As of this moment, she's tied for first, and it appears that the fellow she is tied with cannot finish ahead of her: both have Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Iowa State in the Final Four, with Kentucky winning it.  Amanda has Michigan State, he has Oklahoma.  If the Spartans beat Louisville this afternoon, she moves ahead, and, if they don't, she and the principal competition are headed for a tie.  I'm not sure whether someone might be lurking within range who has Wisconsin or Duke--or, as anything can happen, Gonzaga or Louisville!--winning it all. 

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