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Rogers Hornsby and the Greatest Season in Cardinals History

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Ninety years ago, Rogers Hornsby put up astounding numbers, whether you're counting traditionally or sabermetrically.

The National Pastime Museum

If there is one fact associated with Rogers Hornsby, it is that he batted .424 in 1924 - the best single season average in history. For decades, Hornsby’s mark stood along Roger Maris’ home run mark, two seemingly unbreakable records in the most revered baseball card stats.

Both records have fallen. Maris’ record was broken and tainted (in the eyes of many fans) by the power surge of the steroid era. But Hornsby’s achievement - while nobody has or likely will top it - has likewise fallen in stature as better analysis has found batting average itself to be a less compelling mark of a player’s worth.

But even if we set aside batting average, Hornsby’s 1924 season was the best ever by a Cardinal, and one of the very best in all of baseball history.

Rogers Hornsby 1924

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

Runs

Hits

BB

2B

.424

.507

.696

1.203

222

121

227

89

43

What do all of those stats have in common? Hornsby led the league in every category. Whatever the slang for "sick" was in 1924 - that’s what those numbers were.

If conventional wisdom has set aside batting average, it’s generally been replaced with on-base percentage. Hornsby is one of only five players to post a single-season OBP above .500. In fact, he led the league in hits and walks, one of only four to ever pull that off in the same season.

"The Rajah" so cherished his batting eye, most every biography will mention that he refused to read or go to the movies in order to keep it sharp. He neither smoked nor drank, and followed a strict workout regimen to keep his body sharp in an era when such behavior was far from the norm. The result? He turned himself into a nearly perfect baseball machine.

In addition to his historic contact and on-base skills, Hornsby also brought power to the plate. His 25 home runs in 1924 were a bit of a dip from the 43 in his Triple Crown year of 1922 and the 39 in his Triple Crown year to follow. Still, only three players ever combined power and on-base skill to top Hornsby’s 1924 OPS of 1.203: Ruth, Williams and Bonds.

So how does WAR, the stat to end all stats, catalog Hornsby’s monster season? Baseball Reference counts it as the fifth best season in history, behind only three Babe Ruth seasons and Carl Yastrzemski's 1967 Triple Crown campaign. Fangraphs counts it as the eighth best season, behind several years of Ruth and one season each from Gehrig and Bonds.

Both systems agree that in 1924, Rogers Hornsby was worth more than 12 wins to the Cardinals, the most in team history.

In 1924, the National League presented its first "League Award," the immediate precursor of the modern MVP, to the player voted best by a panel of eight baseball writers. Hornsby had just put up a season unrivaled by any hitter in the history of the National League. The writers gave the award to Dazzy Vance of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

In 20 years, kids may not be able to rattle off Hornsby’s batting average record the way we once were. But whatever metric may be fashionable, when people look at Hornsby’s 1924 season, they will see greatness.