Honus Wagner started his career as a professional baseball player at the turn of the century. For every bit of a decade he dominated in just about every batting statistic in the game. He was no defensive slouch either, in fact to this day he is regarded as the greatest shortstop to ever play the game.
For 16 years (1898-1913) Honus hit .300 or better, winning the NL batting title eight times. Baseball historian and statistician Bill James has declared Honus as “the second best player of all time after Babe Ruth.” And although he dominated batting stats and fielding percentages there was another category he dominated in – the stolen base. Collecting a career 723 stolen bases, ranks him 10th all-time. In fact its because of his speed on the bases, and German heritage, he was nicknamed the “The Flying Dutchman.”
Ironically, when speaking of Honus one topic keeps popping up that I find rather odd. His appearance. Could it be that door-knocker of a nose he has? In the book titled, The Real 100 Best Baseball Players of All Time…And Why! Ken Shouler explains it best,
“…his arms were so long he could tie his shoes without bending over. Barrel chested and long of limb, he was also long on baseball skill. The hulking 5 foot 11 inch, 200 pound shortstop was bow-legged and appeared ill-equipped to handle the most demanding position on the diamond. Appearances deceive, because handle shortstop he did.”
The history books show us that there was a rivalry between Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner. It was no secret and it was in full display for the world to see in the 1909 World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers. There were distinct differences between their temperaments; Wagner was one of the good guys, humble and kind-hearted. Cobb was aggressive, a trouble-maker, a bully type of guy. In typical fashion Cobb makes it to first, between pitches Cobb yells to Wagner, “Watch out kraut-head, I’m coming down, I’ll cut you to pieces!” Cobb intimidated infielders; by reputation he was known for sharpening his spikes with a file before the game. Wagner returns fire, “Come on ahead then!” There he goes! And when Cobb slid into second, Wagner tagged him in the face, splitting his lip! The Pirates went on to win the World Series in 7 games.
Honus Wagner’s career stat line: Batting Average .328 | Hits 3,420 | Stolen Bases 723 | RBI 1732.
Did You Know
- Wagner was one of nine children. Him and his brothers would play baseball whenever possible. They helped each other develop their baseball skills and three of his brothers also went on to become professional baseball players.
- In 1900 he won his first batting title, he hit .381 batting average, with a .573 slugging percentage. Along with 45 doubles and 22 triples.
- He was the first ball player to pick up an endorsement. In 1905, Wagner signed a contract with Louisville Slugger to produce the first bat with a players signature.
- After retirement, Wagner was a hitting coach for the Pirates for 39 years.
ROOKIE CARD OF HALL OF FAMER HONUS WAGNER
The T206 is the most collected set of the prewar era. It’s a 524 card set and features many Hall of Famers. The cards were inserted into packs of 16 different brands of tobacco all owned and manufactured by the American Tobacco Company. This is a benchmark set in the world of sports card collecting. Iconic and Americana and because of its many variations has lots of hobby appeal.
The T206 of Honus Wagner is one of the rarest and most expensive baseball card in the hobby today. Only 57 copies are known to exist. The American Tobacco Co. stopped production of the Wagner card and its believed that they only released around 200 to the public. What makes this card so rare and the reason why the ATC stopped production was by Honus Wagner’s request. There were a couple things that went against Wagner’s convictions: he was a non-smoker and did not want his card inside a tobacco product. He embraced his image as a role-model and was concerned how that would look. But some say that the non-smoking story is folklore and there is another version of the story and it had to do with consent. ATC had to get consent from every player they pictured on their cards, Wagner considered the best player in the world in 1909 surely they had to get permission. Right? But that was not the case. Wagner claimed he never gave his consent to print this card and threatened legal action if production wasn’t stopped. I like to think it may have been for both reasons, I guess we’ll never know for sure. Two things remain for sure, production was stopped and scarcity is certain.
On October 1, 2016 a T206 of Honus Wagner sold in PSA 5 condition for $3.12 million!
Honig, Donald. Baseball America. New York, N.Y. Macmillan Publishing Company, 1985.
Shouler, Ken. The Real 100 Best Baseball Players of All Time…And Why! Lenexa, Kansas: Addax Publishing Group, 1998.
Wikipedia contributors, “Honus Wagner,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Honus_Wagner&oldid=779776565 (accessed May 14, 2017).
By unattributed (Corbis) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved April 25, 2017 from Wiki Commons
By Charles M Conlon (Heritage Auctions) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved April 25, 2017 from Wiki Commons