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July 27, 2013

Rogers Hornsby, Baseball Hall of Famer, played in Oneonta in 1923

By Mark Simonson
The Daily Star

---- — This weekend, 12 members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame will be honored during ceremonies at the Clark Sports Center grounds in Cooperstown. The dozen inducted members were never previously honored in a public ceremony due to restrictions caused by World War II.

One of those members, Rogers Hornsby, was inducted in 1942, around the time nationwide gasoline rationing was being implemented. While the Hall of Fame thought highly of Hornsby, Hornsby and his team of St. Louis Cardinals also thought highly of our area, specifically Oneonta when they barnstormed here in August 1923.

“The St. Louis Cardinals, with Rogers Hornsby, the costliest player in the national game, offers of $300,000 having been refused for him, will oppose the Oneonta Giants at Neahwa park on Tuesday afternoon at 3 o’clock,” The Oneonta Star reported on Monday, Aug. 13, “and indications are that the crowd which will attend this game will be the largest which has ever assembled at the diamond.” The ballpark is where Damaschke Field is today.

“Tickets have been on sale for some time and are being taken up in increasing numbers but there is still a choice selection to be obtained,” the Star added. This might have been because these tickets were a bit on the pricy side, at $1.25 and $1.75 reserved. An inflation calculator shows the tickets would sell for $17 to $24 respectively in today’s dollars.

The Cardinals, managed by Branch Rickey, were expected to arrive in Oneonta from Herkimer at 10:40 a.m. Tuesday by bus, and a sizable crowd was expected to gather to “watch them alight.”

Game time was 3 p.m. “Just as the game started the flock of kids outside the gates with insufficient funds to pay the toll past the gate tender were chased into a position at the end of the third base bleachers. These future stars of the game were more anxious than their elders, if that was possible, to get a glimpse of the players whom they have previously known only by name.” The article did not say what the consequences were for the young gatecrashers.

It was a well-played game and Oneonta gave their all against the Cardinals, but lost 2-1 after a two-run ninth inning rally.

“Though the Oneonta Giants failed to win the game,” the Star wrap-up read, “the crowd was more than satisfied with the exhibition. From the expressions on the faces of the westerners as they came in from the field in the latter innings, one could determine that they were more or less worried for fear that they might fail to capture the game with the bush team.” Approximately 1,500 attended.

Dr. Francis A. Marx, president of the Giants baseball club, secured the ball that Rogers Hornsby caught one-handed for the final out and had it autographed. For days later it could be seen by all, displayed in the front window of Herrieff’s Clothes Shop on Main Street, which had been at a few locations during its history. 

After the game, Rogers Hornsby, who went three-for-four at the plate, had nice words to say about the town and the ballpark, but more so about the Giants, managed by Al Bridwell. 

“It is very seldom that we find such a team out of the big leagues, and there are many who do not play as good baseball as was played today. McAuliffe is there and he kept us on our toes.” 

Burt Shotton, assistant manager of the Cardinals, was full of praise. “You have a great town, a great ball park and a dandy team. Our visit here was a most pleasant one, and I can recommend this town to any big league team.” Shotton compared the Oneonta ballpark to be as nice as their home field.

According to Bob Whittemore’s book about Oneonta, “Baseball Town,” a great deal of work was done around the ballpark in 1923. Water mains had been tapped to bring in fresh water to the park, a substantial board fence was constructed around the perimeter, parking space was graded, and a sidewalk was constructed “from the bridge to the grandstand.”

Oddly enough, that 1923 team disbanded before the end of the scheduled closing date because opponents were difficult to come by and fan interest waned.

On Monday: A reading club in Franklin turns 100.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.