Honus Wagner

From Academic Kids

John Peter "Honus" Wagner (February 24, 1874 - December 6, 1955) is considered by many to have been the greatest shortstop ever to play major league baseball. He was born in Mansfield (now Carnegie), Pennsylvania. In a career that spanned 21 seasons (1897-1917), he led the National League in batting average eight times, and in RBI and stolen bases five times each.

Wagner's speed, both on the basepaths and in the field, combined with his considerable size, earned him the nickname "The Flying Dutchman", a reference to a legendary "ghost ship" of the same name. In those days, the term "Dutch" equated to "German", and the newspapers frequently tagged Wagner with Teutonic versions of his first name, such as "Hans" or "Hannes", the latter being short for "Johannes" and written down as "Honus".
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Honus Wagner

After a short stint with the minor league beginning in 1895, Wagner began his major league career with the Louisville Colonels of the National League, playing with them for three seasons. Louisville was one of four National League teams contracted out of existence in 1900, and the remnant of the Louisville team was merged with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Wagner then played 18 more seasons, all with the Pirates, winning a World Series title with them in 1909. His broad range of skills earned him the high praise of his peers, and in 1936 he was among the first five individuals ever inducted to membership in the Baseball Hall of Fame, in the select company of Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, and Babe Ruth. He won the National League batting title eight times. He retired from baseball in 1917 as the National League record holder in career hits, doubles, triples, runs, RBI, stolen bases, and games played. His lifetime batting average was .329. Famous baseball manager (and contemporary of Wagner's) John McGraw spoke for many when he said of Wagner that "while he was the greatest shortstop, I believe he could have been the number one player at any position he might have selected. That's why I vote him baseball's foremost all-time player."

Wagner was on the coaching staff of the Pirates from 1933 to 1952. He died in Carnegie at the age of 81 and is buried at Jefferson Memorial Cemetery south of Pittsburgh.

A life-size statue of Wagner, swinging the bat, was forged and placed outside the gates at Forbes Field. 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.

Honus Wagner card
Honus Wagner card

More recently Honus Wagner has regained the public's attention for being the most valuable baseball trading card ever. Known as the "Mona Lisa of baseball cards" and "The King of Cards" it was the first card to be sold for over a million dollars. The cards were printed by the Piedmont Cigarette Company without Wagner's permission, and their production ceased as soon as he found out. Fewer than 75 authentic cards are known to exist. The finest exemplar used to be famously owned by Wayne Gretzky. Today it is valued at well over one and a half million dollars.

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