Top 100 Baseball Blog

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Troubled Life of Rogers Hornsby: Part II

Continued from Part I

Case 8: Finances were just not Hornsby’s forte. He was sued by Dr. John H. Barto alleging that he had not been paid $387, dating back to January through March, of 1925, for the ongoing treatment of Hornsby’s pregnant wife, Jeannette. Barto obtained a judgment in his favor from a justice of the peace court in 1928, but Hornsby’s attorney later secured a reversal in a city circuit court on a technicality.

Case 9: Another accusation about a failure to pay a debt came in 1929. Hornsby had done improvements on his farm near Anglum, Missouri, and employed contractor Fred Newhausen to help with some specific projects. Hornsby changed his mind on the location of nests in a hen house, requiring extra work to be done. The lawsuit charged that he did not pay for the extra work, and asked for $500 in restitution. Newhausen claimed that the additional money was owed because the changes to the hen house were not part of the original contract he had agreed to with Hornsby. Keeping in line with previous lawsuits, this one was also settled out of court.

Case 10: In May, 1931, Hornsby and his wife Jeannette were named as co-defendants in a damage suit brought by Mrs. Rebecca Winner, who sought $15,000 in damages. Winner claimed she had been struck by a car driven by Mrs. Hornsby on July 14, 1930. The injuries she suffered incapacitated her, preventing the continuation of her occupation as a mid wife. While the suit was in the papers briefly, it too disappeared as quickly as it came; suggesting yet another settlement.

Case 11: Another lawsuit alleging erratic driving was brought against Hornsby in July, 1931, Hornsby was named as defendant in suit brought by Miss Effie Blume, a nurse. David Young, the couple’s chauffeur, and Jeannette Hornsby were also named as co-defendants.

Blume claimed she suffered injuries while she was a guest of the Hornsby’s in May, 1930. A car owned by them, and driven by Young, ran off the road and overturned near Bloomington, Illinois. Blume lost an eye and suffered other devastating injuries which she said prevented her from working as a nurse. This suit also disappeared from the public view almost as soon as it appeared; presumably solved with yet another settlement.

Case 12: Hornsby’s lax habits with his finances were brought under a microscope, when the federal government went after him for failure to pay income taxes. The return in question was initially from 1927, when it was believed that Hornsby had not paid the proper amount in taxes. Hornsby asked the board of tax appeals to mediate between him and the government over the amount he owed. He had been originally assessed $2,763, but was later told he owed an additional $8,782, consisting of $7,026 for taxes and $1,756 in penalties for not filing his report on time.

In his appeal, Hornsby indicated that his home was in Forth Worth, with half of his income listed as his and half as his wife’s, in conjunction with Texas community property law. The government contacted him because their evidence contradicted his return, and showed their belief that his home was in St. Louis, Missouri, and that only time he spent in Texas were trips to visit relatives. Missouri did not have a community property law that allowed the splitting of property and income, which reduced taxes owed.

Hornsby had reported his 1927 income as $36,603, but the government doubled this and added $700 in World Series money, $300 for newspaper articles ghost written in his name, and $154 in “personal expenses.”
As the case unfolded, the government filed two income tax liens against Hornsby totaling $21,282. A lien filed on October 8, 1932 was for 12,871, representing the back taxes he allegedly owed, including interest and penalties for 1927 and 1928. Another lien for $8,412 was filed on September 13th. Examiners claimed they found additional money in the bank that was not accounted for in Hornsby’s tax returns.

As with most tax delinquency cases, there was not much Hornsby could do to help himself once it was determined he owed money. Although he avoided more severe penalties, he was made to pay back everything was claimed he owed, which took a number of years and made even more problematic because he did not have the funds to make good on his obligation. 

Case 13: The tax trouble encountered by Hornsby showed that even though he was one of 
the highest paid players in baseball, he had no money. At least there was not enough to pay his tax debts. Up until that time he had led a comfortable, yet not overly extravagant lifestyle. It is reasonable to presume that much of his earnings were lost during the course of gambling. That combined with his tax troubles painted Hornsby into a corner financially as his playing career wound down.

In December, 1932, it was determined that Hornsby’s St. Louis county home was to be sold at a foreclosure auction. A published advertisement of the auction stated he had failed to meet an interest payment from October 16th and that certain county taxes were delinquent. 

The Hornsby property consisted of 86 acres, a 14 room house, and several barns. When purchased in 1928, he had paid $40,000. A saddened Jeannette Hornsby described the sale as “another hard knock.” She pragmatically said the house was too large and cost too much to keep up. Subsequently, the Hornsby’s moved to an apartment and never fully recovered financially. Hornsby spent the rest of his days searching for a big payday, and while he did alright for himself, he never again approached the level of financial success he had experienced as a star player.

Case 14: As Hornsby’s playing career wound down, he continued to be surrounded by controversy and negativity. In 1934 his wife Jeannette petitioned the court for a divorce, claiming that on many occasions Rogers had “laid violent hands on” her and “threatened to do her bodily harm.” She claimed that he had an unpredictable temper and was very domineering, “thereby making life impossible and unendurable to this defendant.” She also alleged that he “often cast reflecting remarks upon her moral character” and accused her of being with other men.

Despite such a strongly worded petition, later that year Jeannette Hornsby withdrew her request for a divorce, telling the press that her husband was welcome to return home “if he will promise to behave.” She revealed that Rogers had aggressively attempted to win her back by calling her nightly, and trying to gain forgiveness. The divorce suit was dismissed on December 8th, and her lawyer announced a complete reconciliation had been reached.

While the couple avoided divorce in 1934, their marriage was not destined to last. In 1953, Jeannette filed again for divorce, and accused her estranged husband of spending $25,000 that she had inherited, while he was out of work. It came out that they had not lived together as a couple for years leading up to the suit, but she finally decided to make their split official once she discovered her money was gone.

Jeannette testified at a hearing that she sought $600 a month in support, but the judge felt that was an excessive number. Hornsby was ordered to pay $400 a month in alimony and $200 in legal fees. This decision helped conclude the case, and a divorce was granted to the couple. No mention was made of Jeannette’s missing inheritance.

Case 15: Perhaps the most salacious incident that Hornsby was involved in, regarded the death of Bernadette Ann Harris. The 55 year-old divorcee fell to her death from her third floor apartment in a North Side hotel in Chicago in 1953. A coroner’s inquest eventually ruled the death a suicide, and that the victim was “temporarily insane due to despondency.” Although he played no part in her death, Hornsby was dragged through the press during the investigation because of his unusual connection to the victim.

Hornsby was notified of Harris’ death after police found a card in her purse that read, “In case of accident notify Roger Hornsby.” They also found a plaque in her room reading, “Roger Hornsby, the best player of yesterday.” He came to be part of the investigation when Harris’ will named him her sole beneficiary. Her will was found by an Illinois Attorney General’s office representative in a North Side bank deposit box, which also contained $25,000 in cash, mostly in $100 and $50 bills.

Hornsby told investigators, and later, reporters, that Harris had been his good friend and secretary since 1945, and that she handled most of his financial affairs. That was partially true, but she was also his romantic companion, increasing the level of scandal over her death.
Hornsby testified in front of coroner Walter E. McCarron. When Hornsby was asked if Harris had possibly died because of violence, he responded, “Oh no. She was depressed.” Hornsby testified that Harris had been going to doctors and believed she was losing her sight, voice, and hearing. “I think she took her own life.” He further stated that “She feared she would be put in an institution. I told her that as far as I was concerned, that would never happen.” It became evident that Harris was disturbed and Hornsby in his own way had done what he could to take care of her despite her obvious issues. 

The night of her death, Harris dined with Hornsby and two unidentified men, before she accompanied Hornsby to a train station where he departed for St. Louis. Hornsby said that Harris seemed more depressed than usual that night, telling him, “I won’t be able to see you again. I am going blind.” It proved to be the last time he saw his companion alive. It was a sad tale, but because of the Hall of Fame baseball player involved, it became a prominent news story.

Case 16: The final time Hornsby’s name was involved in a legal case came in 1961, and involved a soft drink company. The 65 year-old Hornsby sued 7-Up and distributors Joyce Seven-Up Bottlers Inc. and the Chicago Seven-Up Bottling Co., for a million dollars, alleging copyright infringement. 7-Up had published a book of baseball advice, featuring Hornsby that he felt was done without his permission.

The suit charged that the firms had published and distributed since 1956, a composite of seven books Hornsby had written in 1936. Their book was titled, “7-Up Presents: How to play baseball, by Rogers Hornsby,” and was fairly popular with baseball fans. It is uncertain as to what the outcome of the suit was, but if Hornsby’s past was any indicator, a settlement of some sort may have been reached.

For as successful as Rogers Hornsby was on the baseball diamond, his life off the field was one of trouble and scandal. Although his legacy has notoriously labeled him as a hard man who thought of little else other than baseball, his personal issues have largely been ignored. While many of the cases he was involved in were personal in nature, he has not received the same amount of scrutiny as other Hall of Fame players with their own issues. Hornsby was a fantastic player who had a much more interesting and troubled life outside of the game than he is typically attributed, which deserves to be part of his story.


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