Baseball's 'Rajah' Gets His Due

Article excerpt

ROGERS HORNS BYLN:A BIOGRAPHY By Charles C. Alexander Henry Holt 366 pp., $27.50 His .358 lifetime average is second only to Ty Cobb's .366, his .424 mark in 1924 is unmatched in this century, and he is generally acknowledged as the greatest right-handed hitter ever to play the game. Baseball aficionados know all this and more about Rogers Hornsby, and so did the general public in his heyday, when he won several National League batting titles and was that circuit's principal answer to Cobb and Babe Ruth. But while they and others have been immortalized via print and film, "the Rajah" and his feats have been left pretty much to serious fans and historians. Now in this excellent and informative biography, Charles C. Alexander attempts to rectify the situation. Alexander, a history professor at Ohio University, has written on subjects ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to Project Mercury. Lately, however, his focus has turned to baseball, with biographies of Cobb and John McGraw, a history of the game, and this effort. He does a remarkable job of evoking a bygone era; some of the most fascinating chapters depict Hornsby's boyhood in Texas. The early 20th century was a time when baseball was woven into the fabric of American life, with millions playing the game in school, commercial, industrial, municipal, and semipro competition. Hornsby went all these routes, but despite his determination he "hadn't awed anybody with his talent." A scrawny 5 ft., 11 in. and 135 pounds, he hit only .232 and .277 in the low minors, but a series of unlikely breaks landed him with the St. Louis Cardinals anyway. …


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