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Honus Wagner

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Honus Wagner, Pittsburgh Pirates baseball Chicago Daily News negatives collection, SDN-001694. Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society.

Birth:


Johannes Peter "Honus" Wagner was born on February 24, 1874 in Mansfield, now the Pittsburgh suburb of Carnegie, Pennsylvania.

Best Known For:


Honus Wagner is considered by many to have been the greatest shortstop ever to play major league baseball, and one of the best all-around baseball players of all time.

Early Life:


One of nine children born to Bavarian immigrants Peter and Katheryn Wagner, Johannes (John) Wagner was called "Hans" or "Honus" (pronounced HAH-nus) by his family. His father worked in the coal mines and, once he turned twelve, so did Honus. He also spent some time working in the steel mills, and helping out at his older brother's barber shop - when there wasn't a ballgame...
Five of the family's nine children survived - all of them boys, and all of them ball players. They played together in neighborhood games and on local squads. This soon led to more structured games for Honus - first with the Mansfield Indians, a member of the four-team Allegheny County League, and then for the newly formed Carnegie Athletic Club. He accepted a baseball scholarship to a Pennsylvania university, where he was soon the starting shortstop on the varsity team.

Professional Career:


Stories about Honus Wagner's first professional baseball contract vary, but he first entered the major leagues in 1897 with the Louisville Colonels, where he played both infield and outfield positions. In 1900, when the National League slimmed down from 12 to eight teams, Wagner came to Pittsburgh with owner Barney Dreyfuss and 13 other Colonels. It was in Pittsburgh where he first received the nickname "The Flying Dutchman," for his fast base running.
Honus Wagner wasn't able to win baseball's first World Series in 1903, but he did play a major role in the Pirates first world title in 1909, against Ty Cobb's Tigers. Wagner hit .333 and stole six bases in that World Series, setting a record that stood until 1967.

Honus Wagner retired from professional baseball after the 1917 season, but eventually returned to the Pirates as their coach in 1933, where he remained for the next 19 seasons. Honus Wagner died in 1955.

Statistics & Honors:


Honus Wagner was an eight time National League batting champion, with a lifetime batting average of .328. He also led the league five times in stolen bases, five times in RBIs, eight times in doubles and three times in triples. He played nearly 2,800 games during his career, with 3,430 hits, 651 doubles, 252 triples and 722 stolen bases. Along with Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson, Honus Wagner was one of the first five inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936.

Honus Wagner Baseball Card:


Known as the "Mona Lisa of baseball cards" the Honus Wagner baseball card was printed in 1909 by the Piedmont Cigarette Company as part of a tobacco promotion, but was recalled almost immediately at the request of Honus Wagner, who objected because he did not want to set a bad example for children. Fewer than 75 authentic Honus Wagner baseball cards are known to exist.

One of the finest examples of the Honus Wagner T-206 baseball card from 1909, previously owned by hockey great Wayne Gretzky, sold on eBay in 2000 for a record $1.265 million, and again in 2007 for $2.35 million in a private sale to Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick.

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