Rogers Hornsby and José Álvarez de la Vega
Nineteen Major League managers who once played or managed in the Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL) or barnstormed in Puerto Rico, led their big league teams to a combined 27 World Series crowns, from José Méndez, who led the 1924 Kansas City Monarchs to the first Negro World Series (aka 1924 Colored World Series) title, to Bruce Bochy, who managed the San Francisco Giants to 2010, 2012, and 2014 titles, plus the 2023 Texas Rangers to their first World Series title. Part I focused on José de la Caridad Méndez, aka José Colmenar del Valle Méndez, «El Diamante Negro” (The Black Diamond), plus Frank Duncan and Quincy Trouppe. Part II covered Vic Harris, winning manager in the final Negro League World Series in 1948 between the Homestead Grays and Birmingham Black Barons. Part III transitions to Rogers Hornsby, who won the 1926 World Series as player-manager; managed the 1950-51 Ponce Lions in the PRWL; and attended the 1953 Caribbean Series in Havana, Cuba.
Rogers Hornsby’s Background and Nickname
Hornsby (April 27, 1896-January 5, 1963) was born near Winters, Texas (Runnels County) but grew up nine miles outside of Austin, the capital, per C. Paul Rogers III, Hornsby’s SABR biographer. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/rogers-hornsby/ Hornsby managed the 1950 Beaumont Rednecks—a New York Yankees affiliate—in the Class A.A. Texas League to a regular season pennant (91-62). Yankees Farm Director Lee MacPhail helped decide to send Hornsby to Ponce, Puerto Rico, to manage the 1950-51 Lions. MacPhail and the author’s mother were high school classmates in New York City and classmates at Swarthmore College, near Philadelphia, Class of 1939. Hornsby’s nickname was «the Rajah» while Babe Ruth became the «Sultan of Swat.» C. Paul Rogers III, in his excellent Hornsby SABR bio, attributed this to Rudolph Valentino’s 1921 starring role in The Sheik, a film that helped popularize «All Things Arabian.»
Hornsby with the St. Louis Cardinals (1915-1926) and Beyond
Ironically, Hornsby’s first Cardinals skipper, 1915-17, was Miller Huggins, who took the Yankees managing job in 1918 and managed versus Hornsby in the 1926 Fall Classic. Hornsby played shortstop and third base early in his Cardinals career before transitioning to second base. On Opening Day, April 12, 1916, an interesting moment was Huggins penciling in the 19-year-old Hornsby at shortstop against Pittsburgh, whose 42-year-old shortstop was Honus Wagner! Hornsby drove in both runs in the Cardinals 2-1 win. Fast forward to 1921-1925, his best five years with St. Louis, posting a composite .403 batting average (B.A.), with 1922 his most dominant hitting season with a .401/.459/.722 slash line, and 1.181 OPS. He led the 1922 National League (N.L.) in runs (141), hits (250), doubles (46), homers (42) and RBIs (152). His .424 B.A. was the best in N.L. or A.L. history two years later. Career-wise, he led the N.L. 4x in RBIs, 7x in B.A., twice in homers and triples, 4x in doubles, 9x in OBP, 9x in SLG, 11x in OPS, 12x in OPS+, and 7x in total bases (T.B.). He was the NL MVP in 1925 and 1929. His weighted on-base average (wOBA) was astronomical and the best-ever for big league second basemen in the live ball era from 1920-present. Table I has the 1920s’ top 10 single-season wOBA figures for major league second basemen. Hornsby has the nine highest statistics. Tony Lazzeri is #10. wOBA is a math formula adding more weight to doubles, triples, and homers than to singles, and it is a more comprehensive indicator than B.A., OBP, SLG, and OPS by themselves. wOBA factors in walks and hit-by-pitches (HBP), too. Regular-season intentional walks were neither included nor readily available in the 1920s. wOBA comparisons are more pertinent for players of the same era, e.g., 1920s, 1930s, etc.
Table I: Top 10 Single-Season wOBA, AL/NL Second Basemen, the 1920s
BSN: Boston Braves; CHC: Chicago Cubs; NYG: New York Giants; NYY: New York Yankees; SLC: St. Louis
Cardinals. Source: www.statmuse.com.
The 1926 World Series
On Saturday, October 2, 1926, New York won Game One, 2-1, at Yankee Stadium. Paid attendance was 61,658. Starting line-ups were:
SLC—Taylor Douthit (C.F.), Billy Southworth (R.F.), Hornsby (2B), Jim Bottomley (1B), Les Bell (3B), Chick Hafey (L.F.), Bob O’Farrell (C), Tommy Thevenow (S.S.), Bill Sherdel (P).
NYY—Earle Combs (CF), Mark Koenig (SS), Babe Ruth (RF), Bob Meusel (LF), Lou Gehrig (1B), Tony Lazzeri (2B), Joe Dugan (3B), Hank Severeid (C), Herb Pennock (P).
Gehrig drove in both runs, including the game-winning, sixth-inning hit that scored Ruth. St. Louis bounced back to take Game Two, 6-2, behind Cooperstown Hall of Famer Grover Alexander. Billy Southworth’s three-run homer in the seventh off Urban Shocker broke a 2-2 tie. Tommy Thevenow homered in the ninth for St. Louis, in front of 63,600 fans. Games Three-Four-Five were in Sportsman’s Park. Jesse Haines blanked the Yankees, 5-0, in Game Three on Tuesday, October 5, and hit a two-run homer off Dutch Ruether in the fourth. Thirty-seven thousand seven hundred-eight fans witnessed the one-hour and forty-one-minute game. New York took Games Four and Five, 10-5 and 3-2. The former contest featured three homers by Babe Ruth in Waite Hoyt’s win. The latter one went 10 innings. Tony Lazzeri’s long tenth-inning sacrifice fly drove in Mark Koenig with the game-winner. Pennock won his second game over Sherdel. The Series moved to New York for Games Six and Seven. Hornsby drove in three, and Les Bell knocked in four to support Alexander’s Game Six win, 10-2. The right-hander had a 1.50 ERA in his two starts. Game Seven was a nail-biter, with St. Louis prevailing, 3-2. Hornsby brought in an «inebriated» Alexander in the home seventh to preserve the 3-2 lead. The bases were full with Combs on third, Meusel on second and Gehrig on third. Lazzeri nearly hit a grand slam off Alexander but the ball drifted foul down the left-field line. The game ended when Ruth was caught stealing (C.S.), O’Farrell to Hornsby, with Meusel batting.
This was Hornsby’s only World Series title and the «highlight of his big-league career» per C. Paul Rogers III. Hornsby directed his pitching staff to pitch around Ruth, who received a World Series record of 11 walks and hit four home runs. The Cardinals outscored the Yankees, 31-21. Their ERA was 2.71 versus the Yankees’ 2.86 ERA. Ruth hit the Yankees’ only homers, so both teams had four round-trippers. Hornsby went 7 for 28 with a stolen base, double, two runs, and four RBIs. Ruth was 6-for-20 with six runs, four homers, five RBIs, 11 walks, one S.B. and one C.S. St. Louis won their first World Series in 1926 and are 11-7, .618 PCT, in 18 Fall Classics compared to the Yankees 27-13, .675 PCT. Each has won more Fall Classics than any other teams in their respective leagues.
1950-51 PRWL Season
Lee MacPhail, Yankees Farm Director, 1949-1958, when the Bronx Bombers won nine A.L. pennants and seven World Series, was pleased with Hornby’s efforts managing the 1950 Beaumont Rednecks (91-62), who topped Bobby Bragan’s Fort Worth Cats (90-64) for the Texas League pennant. The San Antonio Missions eliminated Beaumont in the semi-finals. Ponce Lions owner Martiniano García made contact with MacPhail so that Hornsby could manage Ponce. García, a «tightwad,» experienced success with the Ponce franchise in the 1940s, winning five PRWL titles with George Scales as his manager. Surprisingly, García signed Hornsby to the most lucrative PRWL managing contract of the 1950s and probably 1960s: $10,000 for three months. Hornsby alerted García he had Stateside commitments in late January and February 1951 such as attending his Hot Springs, Arkansas Baseball School and the 75th Anniversary Celebration of the N.L. García also signed Benny Huffman to serve as Hornsby’s coach and manage the ballclub at season’s end and in the post-season. The bottom line for MacPhail was that extra seasoning would benefit Beaumont catcher Clint «Scrap Iron» Courtney and 19-year-old prospect Bill Skowron, whom Hornsby penciled in at third base.
Mayagüez hired Wayne Blackburn as their 1950-51 manager after Happy Chandler, Commissioner of Baseball, disallowed Jackie Robinson to manage the Indios, via a technicality on September 12, 1950. (Historian Jorge Colón Delgado reported this fact in his 2019 book on this PRWL franchise.) Blackburn—who led the Carta Vieja Yankees to the February 1950 Caribbean Series title in San Juan’s Sixto Escobar Stadium—ensured that Yankees prospect Lew Burdette reinforced Mayagüez despite MacPhail’s concerns. Burdette replaced Wilmer Fields on Mayagüez’s roster. Blackburn alerted the author that he «he prevailed over MacPhail’s objections.» Blackburn wanted prospect Mickey Mantle to play for Mayagüez but the Indios management preferred to go with proven veterans Alonzo Perry, Wilmer Fields, and Class AAA imports. Blackburn fondly recalled that he outwitted Hornsby early in the 1950-51 campaign by stealing his signs, thanks to Fields and Perry. Other 1950-51 PRWL skippers were: George Scales (Santurce), Luis R. Olmo (Caguas player-manager), Rollie Hemsley (San Juan), and Al Cihocki (Aguadilla player-manager). Hemsley was well-acquainted with Hornsby, as the St. Louis Browns catcher between 1933-37. Hornsby managed the Browns those five seasons. And Benny Huffman, Hornsby’s 1950-51 Ponce coach, also caught for the 1937 Browns in his only big-league season.
Ponce (43-35) finished third behind Caguas (57-20) and Santurce (48-30). San Juan (34-44) was fourth, followed by Aguadilla (25-51) and Mayagüez (24-51). In the semi-finals, the Lions fell to Santurce, four games to one, under Huffman. Santurce’s Rubén Gómez won two semi-final games versus Ponce. Huffman and Hornsby lived in the Torres Apartments, from where they rode bicycles to-and-from Ponce’s Paquito Montaner Stadium. Huffman noted: «At that time, Puerto Rico was better than AAA, the fans were excitable people, and something different happened every night.» (In 1976, Huffman scouted Harold Baines in Maryland’s Eastern Shore—for the White Sox—and recommended his selection as the number-one pick in the 1977 draft.)
PRWL Players Opine on Hornsby and Vice-Versa
Rudy Hernández, Ponce’s rookie outfielder, became the first Dominican-born hurler to play in the majors with the 1960 Washington Senators, preceding Juan Marichal by 16 days. He remembered that Hornsby was so annoyed with the team’s lack of production that he called them in for a 3:30 p.m. batting practice session before an 8 p.m. game. Hornsby had player-coach Pancho Coímbre pitch to him and proceeded to hit 20 rockets. Then Foca Valentín pitched to Coímbre, who impressed onlookers with his drives. Hernández lived in the same building with Courtney and Skowron. Hernández’s paternal grandfather was Trujillo’s top general in the Dominican military. Rudy’s mom came from Puerto Rico, qualifying him to play as a league native.
Natalio «Pachy» Irizarry, 1949-50 PRWL Rookie of the Year with Mayagüez (8-7 W-L, 2.94 ERA) and future owner, albeit briefly, of the Mayagüez Indios, was a University of Dayton (Ohio) student in the late 1940s when Hornsby and Huffman, came looking for baseball talent on the campus. Hornsby suggested that Irizarry attend his Hot Springs Baseball School. Irizarry recalled: «Hornsby liked my stuff and arrangements were made to join the Abbeville, Louisiana team—my first pro team. I later played in the Florida League with Baton Rouge and St. Petersburg.»
Jim Rivera, 1950-51 Caguas outfielder, was Hornsby’s biggest fan and vice-versa. Before a Ponce-Caguas game, Hornsby spoke to Rivera in the dugout to arrange the meeting at a Ponce hotel where the outfielder signed a AAA contract with the 1951 Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League (PCL). Hornsby managed Seattle to the 1951 PCL title with a 99-68 mark, and league MVP Rivera posted a league-leading .352 B.A., 135 runs, and 231 hits. Rivera also played the outfield for Hornsby with the 1952 St. Louis Browns, after Hornsby convinced Bill Veeck to acquire him. Circling back to Caguas, Rivera led the 1950-51 PRWL with 76 runs scored; had a .306 B.A. with six homers and 51 RBIs, with 13 steals, equivalent to 26 S.B. and 102 RBIs in a 154-game season.
San Juan backstop Joe Montalvo stole 10 bases for the Senators with a .332 B.A. Montalvo and Jim Rivera were born in New York City of Puerto Rican descent. Hornsby also signed Montalvo to catch for the 1951 Rainiers. «Hornsby liked my demeanor and hustle,» stated Montalvo. «We got along just fine. Hornsby was a good fellow, and I enjoyed playing for him with Seattle.»
José «Pantalones» Santiago, right-handed ace of the 19501-51 Ponce staff, 11-6, 2.69 ERA, with 111 strikeouts in 140.2 innings, was grateful to Hornsby for «putting a good word for him with 1962 New York Mets manager Casey Stengel, resulting in Pantalones serving as batting practice pitcher for the 1962 Mets. «Hornsby showed me loyalty,» recalled Pantalones. «I heard he was difficult to deal with, but that was not the case with me.»
Luis «Tite» Arroyo, left-handed ace with 1950-51 Ponce (13-8, 2.48 ERA, with 93 strikeouts in 178 innings, noted that Hornsby was «much more preoccupied with Ponce’s lack of offensive production.» Ponce only hit 12 homers in 78 games. Skowron led them with three homers. Arroyo stated that Hornsby never sent anyone to the mound to remove a pitcher. «He just walked in front of the dugout and said, ‘You’re in and you’re out.’»
Casey Stengel took time off from his February 1952 U.S. Virgin Islands vacation to watch Rubén Gómez blank San Juan, 1-0, Game Two of the finals, February 12, 1952. Gómez signed with the Yankees and was assigned to their 1952 Kansas City Blues club. «I pitched a game for Kansas City…they didn’t use me for a month,» said Gómez. So I went to pitch for Licey in the Dominican Republic.» (Gómez gave $3,000 to another person who gave the cash to the Yankees for his release.) In late February 1953, Hornsby saw Gómez star for undefeated Santurce (6-0) in the 1953 Caribbean Series. Hornsby alerted Casey Stengel during 1953 spring training that «The Yankees made a huge mistake letting Gómez go.» Hornsby was managing Cincinnati then. His final baseball job was as a 1962 Mets coach under Stengel.
With gratitude to Luis “Tite” Arroyo, Wayne Blackburn, Rubén Gómez, Rudy Hernández, Benny Huffman, Pachy Irizarry, Lee MacPhail, Joe Montalvo, Jim Rivera, Paul C. Rogers III, and José “Pantalones” Santiago. Jorge Colón Delgado did the editing and photo placements.