Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner
Shortstop
Batted: RightThrew: Right
MLB Debut
July 19, 1897 for the Louisville Colonels
Final game
September 17, 1917 for the Pittsburgh Pirates
Career Statistics
Batting average    .327
Hits    3415
Runs batted in    1732
Teams
Career Highlights and Awards
  • World Series Champion: 1909
  • National League Pennant: 1903, 1909
  • NL batting titles (x8)
  • NL RBI title (x5)
  • Led the NL in stolen bases (x4)
  • 200-hit seasons (x2)
Johannes Peter "Honus" Wagner (February 24, 1874 - December 6, 1955), nicknamed "The Flying Dutchman", was an American baseball player who played during the 1890s until the 1910s. In 1936, the Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Wagner as one of the first five members. Although Ty Cobb is frequently cited as the greatest player of the dead-ball era, some contemporaries regarded Wagner as the better all-around player, and most baseball historians consider Wagner to be the greatest shortstop ever. Cobb himself called Wagner "maybe the greatest star ever to take the diamond."[1]

Early life and Family

Honus Wagner was born on February 24, 1874 to German immigrants Peter and Katheryn Wagner, in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Chartiers.[1]. The town is now a part of the borough Carnegie. He was one of nine children, although only five lived past childhood. As a child, he was called Hans by his mother, which would later evolve into Honus. "Hans" was also an alternate nickname during his major league career. Wagner dropped out of school at age 12 to help his father and brothers in the coal mines. In their free time, he and his brothers played sandlot baseball and developed their skills to such an extent that three of his brothers would go on to be professionals as well. Wagner's older brother Albert Wagner is often credited for getting Honus his first tryout. In 1916, Wagner married Bessie Baine Smith and the couple went on to have three daughters, Elva Katrina (born 1918), Betty Baine (born 1919), and Virginia Mae (born 1922).

Playing career

Wagner began his career with the Louisville Colonels in 1897, and by the next season was already one of the best hitters in the National League. After the 1899 season, the NL contracted from twelve to eight teams, and the Colonels were one of the teams eliminated. Many of the Colonels, including Wagner, were assigned to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Wagner played the next 18 seasons for his hometown team.

Wagner helped the Pirates win NL pennants in 1901, 1902 and 1903. In 1903 the Pirates played the Boston Puritans (soon to be renamed the Boston Red Sox) in the first World Series, losing five games to three in a best-of-nine series to a team led by pitcher Cy Young and third baseman-manager Jimmy Collins. In 1909 Wagner led the Pirates to another pennant, and they defeated the Detroit Tigers, led by Ty Cobb, to win their first World Series.

Wagner was hailed as the best-fielding shortstop of his day, and spent significant time in the outfield as well. He would eventually play every position except catcher, even making two appearances as a pitcher.

He led the NL in batting average eight times (only Cobb and Tony Gwynn have led a league in batting that often), slugging percentage six times, on-base percentage four times, total bases six times, doubles seven times, triples three times, runs batted in five times and stolen bases five times, despite being bow-legged to the point where a contemporary sportswriter described his running as "resembling the gambols of a caracoling elephant."

His batting average peaked at .381 in 1900, his runs batted in at 126 in 1901, and twice, despite playing his entire career in the pre-1920 "Dead Ball Era," he hit 10 home runs in a season. His career totals include a .327 lifetime batting average, 640 doubles, 722 stolen bases, and a career total of 3,415 hits, a major league record until it was surpassed by Cobb in the 1920s and a National League record until it was surpassed by Stan Musial in 1961. He was the second player (since MLB officially began in 1876) to reach 3000 hits, joining Cap Anson in the magic circle.

Later life

Wagner served as the Pirates' manager briefly in 1917, but resigned the position after only 5 games. He returned to the Pirates as a coach, most notably as a hitting instructor from 1933 to 1952. Arky Vaughan, Kiki Cuyler, Ralph Kiner and player/manager from 1934-1939, Pie Traynor, all future Hall of Famers were notable "pupils" of Wagner. During this time, he wore uniform number 14, but later changed it to his more famous 33, which was later retired for him. (His entire playing career was in the days before uniform numbers were worn.)

Wagner lived out the remainder of his life in Pittsburgh, where he was well-known as a friendly figure around town. He died on December 6, 1955 at the age of 81, and is buried at Jefferson Memorial Cemetery in the South Hills area of Pittsburgh.

Honors

A life-size statue of Wagner swinging a bat, atop a marble pedestal featuring admiring children, was forged by a local sculptor name Frank Vittor, and placed outside the left field corner gate at Forbes Field. It was dedicated on April 30, 1955, and the then-frail Wagner was well enough to attend and wave to his many fans. The Pirates have relocated twice since then, and the statue has come along with them. It now stands outside the main gate of PNC Park. As that park is near the site of the Pirates' original home, Exposition Park, in a sense Wagner has come full circle.

Wagner was immortalized in the poem "Lineup for Yesterday" by Ogden Nash thus:

W, Wagner,
The bowlegged beauty;
Short was closed to all traffic
With Honus on duty.




When the Baseball Hall of Fame held its first election in 1936, Wagner tied for second in the voting with Babe Ruth, trailing Cobb. In 1969, on the 100th anniversary of professional baseball, a vote was taken to honor the greatest players ever, and Wagner was selected as the all-time shortstop. In 1999, despite 82 years having passed since his last game and 44 years since his death, Wagner was voted Number 13 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Players, making him still the highest-ranking shortstop. That same year, he was selected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team by the oversight committee, after losing out in the popular vote to Cal Ripken, Jr. and Ernie Banks.


Wagner statue at Three Rivers Stadium

Wagner statue at PNC Park (taken during a rainstorm)




Wagner is also honored in the form of a small stadium residing behind Carnegie Elementary School on Washington Avenue in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. The stadium serves as the home field for Carlynton High School varsity sports.

T206 Baseball card

Enlarge picture
Honus Wagner card


The T206 Honus Wagner card has long been the most famous baseball card in existence. Known as the "Holy Grail" and the "Mona Lisa of baseball cards", an example of this card was the first baseball card to be sold for over a million dollars.[2] Only 50 to 60 of these cards are believed to exist.[3] One theory for the card's scarcity is that Wagner, a non-smoker, requested the production of this card be halted since it was being sold as a marketing vehicle for tobacco products.[4] The problem with this theory is that Wagner appears on a tobacco piece produced by Recius in the late 1800s. Another theory postulates that Wagner was not offered any compensation for the use of his likeness. Consequently, he supposedly withdrew his permission to print any more copies.[5] At the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, it is stated that while Wagner was a smoker, he did not want children to have to buy tobacco products to get his card. Therefore, he requested it to be pulled from production.

Of these handful of existing cards, the single most famous, a nm-mt PSA graded 8 (which also was the first card graded by PSA serially numbered 00000001) card which initially broke the US $1 million barrier, sold again on February 26, 2007 at auction for US $2.35 million to an anonymous buyer in Orange County, California.[6][3] SCP Auctions, which had purchased minority ownership of the card, sold it again in September of 2007, this time to a private collector for $2.8 million, establishing yet another new record price for the card.[8]

This particular card is in the best condition compared to the rest of the existing cards, having been encased in a protective Lucite sheeting for decades. Considered the ultimate pinnacle of baseball card collecting, the card has changed hands four times in the last 10 years, doubling in value on three of those occasions while having such ownership as hockey great Wayne Gretzky, Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall, life partners Matt Kujava and Stephen Ebeck, and later Wal-Mart.[3] Wal-Mart had purchased the card in the mid-1990s to give away as part of a marketing campaign for a line of baseball cards. The winner of the give-away could not afford the taxes associated with it, and it ended up being sold at auction in the mid-1990s to a Chicago businessman and collector for $640,000.[3] In mid-2000 it was sold again for $1,265,000 to a Las Vegas-based businessman who regularly had it placed on public display at baseball games and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library before selling the card for double his purchase price in February 2007.[3] On August 3, 2007 an SGC 10 graded card offered by Mastro Auctions sold for $192,000 to Robert Klevens of Prestige Collectibles, LLC acting on behalf of a client from Japan.

See also

References

1. ^ (1961) My Life in Baseball: The True Record. Doubleday, 123. 
2. ^ [? PSA 8 T206 Wagner Sale]. Retrieved on 2006-09-20.
3. ^ Bob Pool, Honus Wagner card sells for $2.35 million, Los Angeles Times, February 28, 2007.
4. ^ Honus Wagner baseball card nets $2.35M. Retrieved on 2007-02-27.
5. ^ Compensation Theory. Retrieved on 2006-09-20.
6. ^ PSA 8 T206 Wagner New Sale Price. Retrieved on 2007-02-27.
7. ^ Bob Pool, Honus Wagner card sells for $2.35 million, Los Angeles Times, February 28, 2007.
8. ^ Sports Collector Daily, "T206 Honus Wagner Card Sold Again", 6 September 2007, retrieved 12 Sept 2007.
9. ^ Bob Pool, Honus Wagner card sells for $2.35 million, Los Angeles Times, February 28, 2007.
10. ^ Bob Pool, Honus Wagner card sells for $2.35 million, Los Angeles Times, February 28, 2007.
11. ^ Bob Pool, Honus Wagner card sells for $2.35 million, Los Angeles Times, February 28, 2007.

Further reading

  • Honus Wagner: A Biography, by Dennis DeValeria and Jeanne Burke DeValeria, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1995.
  • Hittner, Arthur D. Honus Wagner: The Life of Baseball's "Flying Dutchman." Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1996 and 2003 (softcover). Winner of the 1996 Seymour Medal, awarded by the Society for American Baseball Research.
  • Honus and Me by Dan Gutman

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