Shags Horan: Challenging Ty Cobb, and living to tell the story

 

The meaningless late-season 1924 game between the Tigers and Yankees had turned into a display of old school deadball baseball vs. the new home run game. The center of it all had always been the Ruth-Cobb rivalry, but now the Georgian took his angst out on the Yank’s young first baseman, Lou Gehrig. In the 8th inning, Gehrig came to bat with the bases loaded and one out. He singled, but trying to stretch it to a double, got caught in a run down. Backing up the play, Cobb tagged Gehrig, insulting him as he did so. Gehrig hollered back and the umpires told both men to shut it down. When Gehrig continued, he was tossed from the game. The rest of the Yanks were content with baiting Cobb from their dugout – all except a 29 year-old rookie named Shags Horan. The big, gold-toothed Irishman was heralded as the right-handed Babe Ruth, but so far he mostly sat on the bench. Walking past the Tigers dugout, Horan scooped up a handful of Navin Field turf and threw it in Cobb’s face. As both teams and the crowd braced for Cobb’s expected retaliation, he merely hissed at the rookie “I’ll get you, Horan, next season! I’ll get you on waivers and I’ll send you to Toronto where they’ll make you play ball!”

Turned out Cobb didn’t have to waste his time, for this was to be Shags Horan’s only season in the big leagues.

Joseph Patrick Horan was born in St. Louis in 1896. A year later, his father passed away, and Joe and his older brother were entrusted to their grandparents. Horan turned pro in 1914, then served in the Army during WWI. He was wildly popular wherever he played, possessing a playful nature with an irresponsible attitude towards the game. He also refused to dedicate himself to just one sport – he was a gifted handball player and the star of the Ben Miller soccer club, which won the national championship in 1920. However, by 1923 he narrowed his focus to baseball when his home run tallies began drawing comparisons between he and Babe Ruth.

After a great year with the Des Moines Demons in which he hit .411, the Yankees brought him up at the end of the season. Though he batted .290 in 22 games, he hit no homers and was released. Horan played a few more seasons on the West Coast where he stayed after hanging up his spikes. He had a few bit parts in silent pictures and then made a career with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Horan passed away at the age of 73; no doubt still telling of the time he challenged the great Ty Cobb and lived to tell the tale…

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