Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Base(ball) Oddity #27 The Sun Devil Went Down to Georgia

'I done told you once, you son of a bitch, I'm the best there's ever been'~ Charlie Daniels Band's The Devil Went Down to Georgia

'He wasn't cocky by any means. But he was confident, and rightfully so. He had to be close to that, to stay here, to make it." ~ former teammate Dale Murphy, on Horner

'Bob's so confident at what he does, baseball or gold or Space Invaders, that people get the wrong idea.'~ former teammate Jerry Royster

I wonder if Bob Horner ever felt like Johnny, the protagonist in Charlie Daniels 1979 bluegrass chart-topper. If he did, you certainly didn't hear him actually say it in public. Ted Turner, on the other hand, did- during Horner's rookie season. "Nobody's ever come straight into the majors and done what he's done," the Mouth from the South said in an August 14, 1978 Sports Illustrated article on the rookie phenom. "So all he is is the best there ever was."

Hyperbole? Yes, but here was a guy who had made the jump straight from college to the majors, one of only a few players to have never spent a day in the minors. Not only that, but the twenty-year old was learning a new position (Horner player mostly second at Arizona State) while adapting to wood bats- and still went on to hit 23 homers in only 359 plate appearances, winning the 1978 N.L. Rookie of the Year Award. And, oh, by the way, he homered off of future Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven in his first major league game. Bob Horner didn't head to Georgia to steal souls, but to crush the spirit of opposing pitchers.

2014 Upper Deck 25th Anniversary #66 Bob Horner

If there's any question about why Upper Deck would include Horner in its 25th Anniversary edition, one look at his resume as an amateur (remember, the company couldn't picture players in their major league uniforms) would leave no doubt that he was worthy of inclusion.

Bob earned All-WAC honors in each of his three seasons in Tempe- twice being named 1st Team All-American. He holds the Sun Devils record for career Home Runs with 56. He led the Devils to the College World Series in each of his three seasons- winning the National Championship in 1977, when he was named the Most Outstanding Player for the tournament (hitting .444 with 2 HR and 9 RBI). In his junior season (final collegiate year), he hit .412 with 25 homers and 100 runs driven in, winning the very first Golden Spikes Award, as well as being named the Sporting News Player of the year. In 1999, Baseball America ranked Horner second (behind Pete Incaviglia) on their College Player of the Century list. For his accomplishments, Bob was part of the inaugural class inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame, 2006. Pretty high accolades, indeed.

Once a Sun Devil, Horner became known as Aka-oni (The Red Devil) during his one season in the Land of the Rising Sun. The nickname was meant as high praise.

Horner followed up his rookie campaign in an even more impressive fashion. Despite suffering an injury in the opening game of the season which caused him to miss the next 32 games, Bob's stats on August 25, 1979 (the day that Daniel's song hit #1 on Billboard's Country charts) read .317/.353/.559 with 25 Homers and 77 RBI. He would finish his sophomore year hitting .314/.346/.552 along with 33 HR and 98 RBI.

By 1981, lofty expectations had been placed on Horner: former Braves minor league hitting instructor and MLB Hall of Famer Luke Appling predicted that the third baseman would hit 70 home runs in a season; Bobby Cox saw him as a future Triple Crown winner; Hank Aaron declared that Horner would break some of his records.

It seems the only thing broken was Bob. Broken wrists (twice); fractured ankle; separated shoulder; hyperextended elbow. He played only seventy-nine games in 1981, one hundred and four games in 1983, thirty-two games in 1984. And not to take anything away from Horner's career, but it certainly didn't go the way that many of us fans expected.

Bob's Hall of Fame induction speech can be viewed here.

He was also inducted into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame:


  1. I'm sure this study has been done before, but I'd like to see the recent won-loss records of teams who call up players to the majors without minor league experience. For the '70s, I'm thinking of Horner, as well as Winfield with the Padres and Clyde with the Rangers. Those were all bad teams. I'm guessing it's more likely with lousy teams than teams with solid lineups and farm systems.

  2. You're right- had they been on good teams there's no way they would have went directly up, there would have been no reason to rush them that fast (except in Clyde's case, being used for the draw at the gate). L.A. wasn't very good when Dreifort came up (.500) and Cincinnati sucked the year before Leake was drafted & made jump. Of course, they won the division his first year, but that could have been accomplished apart from him. Those were the last two I remember.