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Best Cardinals Second Baseman of All-Time

by Mark Ashby Vaughan

This is the fourth in a series of ten articles counting down the best ever Cardinals players at each position.

As I said in the first article of this series, I will be going around the diamond based on the box score number of each position and picking the top two players at that position.

This being the fourth article in the series, let’s take a look at the number 4 position – Second Baseman.

Without dancing around the subject, the greatest ever, hands down, is Rogers Hornsby (1927 – 1937).

“The Rajah”, as he was called, is one of the greatest ever hitters in MLB history. Hornsby owns the highest career batting average (.358) ever for a right-handed hitter which is also good for highest average all-time for a National League (NL) player. The only player to have a higher career average is Ty Cobb at .366, bettering Hornsby by a miniscule .0079 percentage points.

Hornsby’s 1924 batting average of .424 is the highest in the past 85 years and he is the only player to win the NL Most Valuable Player (MVP) twice. His .424 mark is also the highest NL average during the 20th century.

Just 19 years old when he came to the club in 1915, Hornsby was a regular the very next year. Proving the move was the right one for the team, he hit for a .313 average which was 4th highest in the league.

Having played most of his games at third base and shortstop through 1919, he permanently switched to second base in 1920. The move to second must have been to his liking, judging by his .370 batting average for the league’s batting title that year.

In 1922, Hornsby became the only player ever to hit over 40 home runs while batting over .400 in the same season. He also won his first Triple Crown award that year.

The Rajah won his first MVP award after the 1925 season in which he batted .403 with 203 hits, 41 doubles, 39 home runs and 143 RBIs. He also led the league with a 1.245 On Base Percentage (OBP). His .756 slugging percentage that year was the highest in the NL during the 20th century.

Rogers Hornsby had one of the most incredible hitting stretches ever starting with the 1921 season and running through 1925. During that period, the Rajah hit over .400 three times and averaged 216 hits, 41 doubles, 29 home runs and 120 RBIs per year. His batting average over that five year span was an incredible .402, a mark which any serious baseball fan or statistician would consider completely out of reach for any future player.

He also won the NL batting title every year during that span and finished his career with a total of seven titles.

Hornsby dropped his average dramatically the next year (.317) but, in an ironic twist, the 1926 season was to be the first National League pennant in Cardinals’ history. The Birds also went on to beat the mighty New York Yankees, who were led by the celebrated duo of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, for the team’s first World Series title.

In the bottom of the 9th inning of game 7, one of the most bizarre endings to a World Series occurred. With two outs and nobody on, and the Cardinals leading by a score of 3 to 2, Babe Ruth walked against Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander. With Bob Meusel at the plate, Ruth attempted to steal second base. The throw from catcher Bob O’Farrell beat him to the bag and Ruth was tagged out by Hornsby to end the game and the Series. Considering the numbers of Meusel that year, a.290 average, 33 HRs and 138 RBIs, and the fact that the Babe had attempted just three stolen bases all year, the play goes down as one of the all-time blunders in sporting history.

After winning the World Series title, the Rajah demanded a higher salary and a 5-year contract for $50,000. Owner Sam Breadon was willing to offer Hornsby just a 4-year deal for $40,000. Incredibly, after Hornsby dug in his heels, he was traded to the New York Giants for future HOFer Frankie Frisch and forgettable pitcher Jimmy Ring in one of the most shocking Cardinals’ moves ever.

The only other trade more shocking, in my opinion, is the Steve Carlton to the Phillies for pitcher Rick Wise. Wise lasted just two seasons with the Birds while Carlton went on to win four Cy Young awards with the Phillies. The Birds probably would have won at least two more division titles in the 1970s with Carlton on the mound, considering that they finished in 2nd place in both the 1973 and 1974 seasons, finishing just 1 ½ games behind the division leaders those two years. Without a Wild-Card in those years, the Birds were unable to reach the playoffs for another shot at a NL and/or MLB championship title.

Rajah hit the most home runs and drove in the most runs in the NL during the 1920s. Hornsby also had the highest batting average of any NL player during that decade, making him one of just four players in baseball history to win a "decade" triple crown. The other three players are Honus Wagner, Ted Williams and Albert Pujols.

Hornsby’s seven NL batting titles set the team record until it was tied by Stan Musial (’43, ’46, ’48, ’50, ’51, ’52, ’57). The only other NL players to win more, at eight, are Honus Wagner and Tony Gwynn. The all-time leader is Ty Cobb with eleven batting titles, all in the American League (AL).

Other notable accomplishments by Hornsby: He is the only two-time winner of the NL Triple Crown (’22, ’25); He is the only right-handed hitter in the 20th century to hit .400 in three seasons and he was the first NL player ever to hit 40 homers in a season.

The only other two-time Triple Crown winner is Ted Williams (’42, ’47), who noted in his autobiography that Hornsby was the greatest hitter for average and power in the history of baseball.

Borrowing from a then aging Hornsby, a young Ted Williams spoke with him about hitting and Rogers revealed his simple secret, "Wait for a good pitch to hit" which quickly became Williams' credo throughout his HOF career.

Legendary MLB Commissioner, ‘Judge’ Kenesaw ‘Mountain’ Landis , who had already banned for life several Chicago Black Sox players for throwing the 1919 World Series, was repulsed by even the slightest suggestion of players gambling -- and Hornsby was a major player at the horse track. Landis called Hornsby into his office to reprimand him for betting on races, but he failed to frighten Rogers. Instead, Hornsby barked at Landis, accusing the commissioner of playing the stock market with funds from the Commissioner’s office. Knowing that this news would cause a major scandal if Hornsby exposed it to the papers, Landis promptly relented about Hornsby's gambling.

During his playing days with the Cardinals, Hornsby amassed a total of 5,798 at bats, 1,038 runs, 2,083 hits, 316 doubles, 143 triples, 191 HRs, 1,051 RBIs, 117 stolen bases while hitting at a .359 clip.

Quotes by Rogers Hornsby:

"I don't like to sound egotistical, but every time I stepped up to the plate with a bat in my hands, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the pitcher."

"I don't want to play golf. When I hit a ball, I want someone else to go chase it."

"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring."

The Cardinals retired Hornsby’s number is 1937.

The #2 spot on the list of Best Cardinals Second Baseman of All-Time goes to Hall of Famer Francis ‘Frankie’ Frisch (1927 – 1937) also known as ‘The Fordham Flash’.

Frisch picked up his nickname “The Fordham Flash” from his multi-sport days at Fordham University.

Frisch never played a single game in the minors. He joined the New York Giants in 1919 and was so spectacular and competitive that his manager, John McGraw, soon named him the Giant’s team captain.

Frisch was a switch-hitter who held the career record for hits at 2,880 until he was caught and passed by Pete Rose during the 1977 season.

Ironically, Frisch had a falling out with manager John McGraw as Hornsby did with the Cardinal’s owner and they were traded for each other before the 1927 season.

Frisch led the Cardinals to four National League titles and two World Series wins. In fact, the team appeared in the Series 3 out of 4 years between 1928 and 1931. After losing the first 2 Series (’28 & ’30) to the Yankees and A’s respectively, the Cardinals rebounded with wins in ’31 versus the A’s and in ’34 against the Tigers.

He was also named the NL MVP in 1931 with a .311 average, 114 RBIs and a league leading 28 stolen bases.

In 1933, Frisch became player manager of the Cardinals and led the legendary “Gashouse Gang” to the pennant and title in 1934. The Gang had the likes of Leo ‘The Lip’ Durocher, brothers Paul and Dizzy Dean, Pepper Martin, Rip Collins and Joe ‘Ducky’ Medwick.

Frisch retired after the 1937 season but stayed on as manager for another year. His managerial record with the Cardinals was 458 – 354 for an impressive .564 winning percentage. He also managed the team to a WS title in ’34. He went on to manage both the Pirates and Cubs and, reflecting his fiery temper as a player, he was tossed from games 86 times in all which places him at 5th place all-time in that category.

Honorable Mention goes to Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst (1945 – 1956, ’61 – ’63) who also managed the team from 1965 to 1976 and short stints in both 1980 and 1990. He managed the El Birdos to NL pennants in ’67 and ’68, winning the WS in 1967 against the Boston Red Sox. His overall managerial mark is 1,041 and 955 for a .522 winning percentage.

Note: The links below refer back to any previously published ‘Greatest Cardinal Player’ articles written by this author --

Pitcher: http://www.cardinalsmix.com/2009/11/best-cardinals-pitcher-of-all-time.html
Catcher: http://www.cardinalsmix.com/2009/11/best-cardinals-catcher-of-all-time.html
1st Base: http://www.cardinalsmix.com/2009/12/best-cardinals-first-baseman-of-all.html

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