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Echoes of the Rajah

Rogers Hornsby

We’re in the midst of baseball’s off-seasonal affective disorder: By and large, the sport has gone on hiatus, and the baseball world preps for 2015. Jesse Goldberg-Strassler mulls what this means for the average baseball fan.

There’s a Rogers Hornsby quote that you might be familiar with.

Any ballplayer that don’t sign autographs for little kids ain’t an American. He’s a communist.”


Ah, here we go…

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.”

It is ubiquitous this time of year, blared across Twitter timelines and Facebook walls as if it were “Auld Lang Syne” at the stroke of midnight. You can picture Hornsby’s words on a poster, the font striking against a wintry (or spring) backdrop, sold alongside portraits of Belushi, Che Guevara, and Einstein with his tongue sticking out, a must-frame for the right living or working space.

You needn’t know who this Rogers Hornsby fella might have been. The name carries just the right hint of old-timey baseball yore, and the sentiment is universal. It’s baseball off-seasonal affective disorder: Outside of Australia and the Caribbean, the sport has gone on hiatus. The weather is cold, hostile, and merciless, forcing us to that spot at the window, inside, staring and wishing for warmer weather and sunnier pursuits.

But if you do know who Rogers Hornsby was, there’s an added dimension. He was The Rajah: a grizzled, mean, baseball-obsessed old soul who dominated the National League as an offense-first second baseman and freely declared that his batting eye was too important to damage by reading a newspaper or seeing a movie. He was called a grouch at best and far uglier names at worst, and just the sort of person you could attribute a great line to — “Rogers Hornsby was my manager,” growled Tom Hanks’s Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own, “and he called me a talking pile of [deleted]. And that was when my parents drove all the way down from Michigan to see me play the game.” — while not having anyone bat an eyelash.

(Jimmy Dugan didn’t cry, that was the important thing.)

I’d argue that it is important that Rogers Hornsby is the person attached to the quote. If those words had been said by Ross Moschitto, who suited up for the Yankees from 1965-1967, either the quote would have soon been ascribed to an Anonymous Ballplayer, or we never would remember the words at all. Consider Yogi Berra, whose pickled logic and screwballed cliches were enhanced by a Hall of Fame playing career. Baseball has been filled with many a wag and a fool before and after Yogi, yet very few left any of their witticisms in our consciousness.

How did the quote come to be so well-known? Did Rogers say it, or write it, often? Did a writer take it down from a conversation, scrub it up, and post it in a visible place, the better to be remembered? It’s tough to get a quote to stick.

(I have a button from a Neil deGrasse Tyson lecture with the words, “Knowing how to think empowers you far beyond those who know only what to think.” I agree with the sentiment whole-heartedly, but I couldn’t be trusted to accurately pass the thought along — and properly sourced, at that — without the button at my side. Well played.)

The time has also come to ask: Do we need a new mantra for these hot-stove months? Do we need Joey Votto or Adam Jones or Zack Greinke or someone else, talented and intelligent and blunt, baseball-obsessed, to describe the current landscape, livelihood, and philosophy for the modern baseball lifer?

Or are The Rajah’s words, like the trees that comfort us during these harshest of seasons, evergreen?

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