(HONUS, THE FLYING
Honus Wagner is still mentioned as the finest shortstop ever to play the game. In his time, the debate was whether he or Ty Cobb was the greatest all-around player. Many considered Wagner to be the absolute best because of his outstanding hitting, great defense, and base-stealing skill.
In physical appearance, Wagner did not look like a baseball star. He was bowlegged, with a thick chest and long arms. He always looked awkward at bat and certainly did not convey the image of a speedy runner. Yet Wagner, who spent all of his playing career (1897–1917) virtually with the same club (two years with Louisville, which then merged with the Pittsburgh Pirates), won eight batting titles while accumulating 3,415 hits. He batted .327 for his career, with 640 doubles, 252 triples, 1,732 RBIs, and 722 stolen bases. He also earned the reputation as a peerless fielder at shortstop.
Wagner worked the Pennsylvania coalfields as a youth before embarking on a baseball career. Despite his accomplishments, he remained genuinely humble, patient with teammates, and generous to rookies. Aware of his obligations to the nation’s children, he demanded that a tobacco company stop putting his picture in packs of cigarettes. The pictures were removed, giving rise to perhaps the most valuable baseball card in history: An American Tobacco Company 1909 Honus Wagner card sold in 1996 for $640,500. After leading the Pirates to pennants in 1901, 1902, and 1903, and a World Series triumph in 1909, Wagner returned from retirement to coach new generations of Pirates from 1933 until 1951. He was one of the five stars chosen for the original class of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936.
See also: Cards, Baseball; Cobb, Tyrus Ray-
mond; Heroes; Records Set.
DeValeria, Dennis, and Jeanne Burke DeVale-
ria. Honus Wagner: A Biography. 1996.
Reprint, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh
Gutman, Dan. Honus and Me: A Baseball Card
Adventure. New York: Avon, 1997.
Hageman, William. Honus: The Life and Times
of a Baseball Hero. Champaign, IL: Sag-
Hittner, Arthur D. Honus Wagner: The Life of
Baseball’s “Flying Dutchman.” Jefferson,
NC: McFarland, 1996.