Honus Wagner: The Intriguing Story

Bleacher Report Senior Writer IOctober 12, 2008

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


Wagner (above) is considered one of the most complete ballplayers ever. The Pirates shortstop was a sensational shortstop, a great baserunner, flawless fielder, hit .328 for his career, and had some occasional power.


Wagner was one of nine children from a pair of Bavarian immigrants, Pete and Kathryn Wagner. Pete worked in mines and Honus did too, when he was 12. Honus also worked in steel mills and helped his brother work in a barbershop when he wasn't playing the great game of baseball.


Honus and his brothers played in neighborhood games together. Honus soon found himself on the Mansfield Indians, a member of the Allegheny County League in, what is now, the Carnegie Athletic Club. At 18, he accepted a baseball scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh. Stay at home guy, huh?


Wagner signed a contract right after college in 1897 with the Louisville Colonels. There, he played both infield and outfield.


In his career, Wagner led the league in steals six times, with 722 for his career. He retired leading the all time National League ranks in hits, runs, RBI, doubles, triples, steals and games.


After his playing career came to a close, he managed his former team, the Pirates. The Honus Wagner baseball card, one of the most valuable in existence today, was recalled in 1909. The extremely rare card was sold for $1.265M to Wayne Gretzky in 2000.


In 1909, when the card was distributed, cards were distributed along with tobacco; Wagner, a nonsmoker, objected to being included in the promotion because he did not want to set a bad example for children.


He played with Louisville in 1898 and 1899, but played with the Pirates from 1900 to 1917—the rest of his career. In 21 seasons, he hit .327 with 101 homers and 1,732 RBI.


He had nine 100 RBI seasons. His best years were 1898, 1899, 1900, 1901, 1903, 1905, 1908, 1909 and 1911. In those years, he had 100 RBI. He had RBI totals of 105, 113, 100, 126, 91, 101, 75, 101, 71, 82, 109, 100, 81, 89, 102 and 78 when at his best. His averages never dipped very much, as he had averages of .338, .299, .336, .381, .353, .330, .355, .349, .363, .339, .350, .354, .339, .320, .334, .324 and .300.




Surprisingly, Wagner never won a Most Valuable Player Award for the National League. Wagner usually won the rivalry with Ty Cobb. It was not on a personal level, though. Wagner battled Detroit in the 1909 World Series where the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated Cobb's Tigers, four games to one.


In the series, Wagner was 8-for-24 (.333) with six RBI and a .967 OPS. Cobb hit just .231 with five RBI in that series. See: the good guy always wins.


In 1909, both players battled all year for credit from the media. Wagner had five homers, 100 RBI and a .339 average. Cobb had eight homers, 107 RBI and a .377 batting average. On paper, Cobb had a better year. But, Wagner's Pirates won the championship, and that is all that really matters.


Not to mention, he had pretty good company, as the first five players inducted into the Hall of Fame were Wagner himself, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson.


Career stats:


101 home runs

1,732 RBI

.327 batting average

722 stolen bases