Who Can It Be Now?
James Robert Horner was born in Junction City, Kansas, on August 6, 1957. Horner moved to Arizona as a child and graduated from Apollo High school in Glendale, Arizona. Straight out of high school, Horner was selected with the 357th pick overall in the 1975 June draft (15th round) by the Oakland Athletics. Of course, he turned the A's down and decided instead to attend Arizona State University.
Horner had an incredible career at ASU, leading him to be awarded the first-ever Golden Spikes Award by USA Baseball and the MLBPA. Horner's success led the Atlanta Braves to select Horner first overall in the 1978 June Draft. Considering that the Braves other options at third base were Rod Gilbreath (lifetime .248/.320/.329) or putting outfielder Barry Bonnell there, the Braves decided that they had nothing to lose and plugged Horner into their major league lineup immediately on his signing.
Based on his 23 homers in 89 games, Horner was named as the NL Rookie of the Year in 1978, beating out Padres shortstop Ozzie Smith and Pirates pitcher Don Robinson. Based solely on their statistics and using WAR, Robinson should have been named as the Rookie of the Year, but certainly some of the hype going from college to the majors directly had to help Horner's candidacy. That season, the player that similarity scores put as most similar was a 21-year-old Miguel Cabrera. Yeah, it was a very good year.
Horner always had excellent power, and over time his batting eye developed reasonably well also. The problem he had was staying healthy. He played over 140 games in a season just twice -- in 1982 and again in 1986. He was an All-Star once -- in 1982 -- and received votes for the MVP award three times (1979, 1980, and 1983). Yet the question with Horner was always why he did not live up to the first-overall-pick hype. Certainly, some of that had to do with Horner's less-than-good conditioning, and some of it was just bad luck.
After the 1986 season, the owners' collusion led Horner to get his best contract offer from the Yakult Swallows in the Japanese Central League. In 93 games there, Horner smacked 31 homers and hit .327/.423/.683. Horner came back from Japan after one season -- leaving a number of very derogatory remarks about Japanese baseball in his wake -- and played 60 games for the St. Louis Cardinals before everyone in the major leagues made it clear to Horner that his big-league career was over.
Nope, the 23-year-old Horner did not join in the spirit of the day and remained clean shaven.
Horner has a few great trivial points about him.
- He is, to my knowledge, the last player to come directly out of college and play in the major leagues.
- He famously never appeared in a minor league baseball game.
- He hit four home runs in a game on July 6, 1986, at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium against the Montreal Expos. In typical Braves fashion for the mid-to-late 1980s (and probably for 2015 too), the Braves lost the game 11-8.
- He was, as mentioned above, the first winner of the now very prestigious Golden Spikes Award.
- Along with Jason Jennings and Buster Posey, he was one of three Golden Spikes winners to be Rookie of the Year. He's the only one to do it in the same year.
A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Of course I knew who Bob Horner was in the early 1980s. His exploits of coming straight from college to the major leagues made everyone who was a baseball fan aware of him. A fun fact for me from the back of this card is that Horner is listed as living in Dunwoody, Georgia. Dunwoody is where my wife and I call home now, so that is pretty cool to me.
I met Horner once in my life. He was signing autographs at a construction-industry even on behalf of the Siemens Corporation about 12 or 13 years ago. He was in a reasonably jovial mood at the event. To be fair, it wasn't a big line or anything either, since the event required registration fees to be paid, so perhaps that had something to do with it as well.
Horner no longer lives in Dunwoody (otherwise, I might pop over to his house...so that is lucky for him, I suppose). Horner lives now in Irving, Texas, and has for over thirty years now. When asked in 2010 "What are you up to these days?" in an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution, his reply was, "I don't do anything." Another website I found indicated that he does do some things around Irving, though -- he is a food pantry volunteer there.
At least he's not just playing golf.