Honus Wagner was a gamer | NevadaAppeal.com

Honus Wagner was a gamer

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports

Honus Wagner column

Dave Price

A shortstop with exceptional size and athletic ability, this man is regarded as one of the great baseball players of his era if not one of the best ever.

He dazzled fans, teammates and opponents with his considerable skills, both offensively and defensively. And yes, he had a highly recognized nickname.

Believe it or not, this isn’t a description of Alex Rodriguez, aka, A-Rod, instead, this is a flashback of about 100 years to look at the career at John Peter Wagner. Many baseball people at the turn of the 20th century knew him as “The Flying Dutchman.” Even more, including fans of today, recognize him as Honus Wagner.

His legend has continued to grow because of the 1909 Honus Wagner T-206 card now valued in the neighborhood of $1 million. And recently, Greg Atkinson spent $10 on a pack of Upper Deck baseball cards from Soks Sports Cards in Carson City and pulled out a one-of-a-kind Honus Wagner autograph card believed to be worth as much as $20,000.

So, just who is this legendary player?

Johannes Peter Wager was his given name at birth on Feb. 24, 1874 in Chartiers, Penn., and he passed away on Dec. 6, 1955 in Carnegie, Penn. He played 21 seasons between 1897 and 1917, hit .300 or better in 16 of his first 17 seasons (slipping to .299 with the Louisville Colonels in 1899) and he led the National League in hitting seven times. Among his career totals, Wagner hit .327, scored 1,736 runs with 1,732 RBI and 722 stolen bases.

Defensively, barrel-chested, he was capable of playing any position – he fielded .945 at every position except catcher and also compiled an 0.00 ERA in two games as a pitcher – and it was believed that he would have been the best player of his era at any position.

His list of accolades are rare, simply because awards in that era were few and far between. Wagner did finish as the runner-up in the MVP voting in 1912, at age 38, when he hit .324 with 20 triples, 35 doubles, 102 RBIs and 26 stolen bases.

To show his popularity, in 1905, Wagner became the first player to have his autograph branded into a Louisville Slugger bat.

In 1909, it is said Wagner objected to his tobacco card, since he was a nonsmoker and he didn’t want to set a bad example for children. So, the card was recalled and only a handful preserved, thus the birth of the T-206 legend.

It was also in 1909 that Wagner reached the peak of his career when the Pittsburgh Pirates won the National League pennant with a 110-42 record then defeated Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. Wagner had three hits, three RBI and three stolen bases to help the Pirates to a pivotal 8-6 win in Game 3.

In short, Wagner was a gamer.

So it came as no surprise in 1936 when Wagner joined Christy Matthewson, Walter Johnson, Babe Ruth and Cobb as the original five inductees into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936 (Wagner was selected on 95 percent of the votes cast).

Nor should it be a surprise his legend continues.

In addition to the high priced Upper Deck card that turned up in town recently, RoseLynn Mangan of Carson City also has a valuable baseball signed by Wagner. She bought the ball for $1,100 from Bill Courtney in New York, who auctioned it off on television.

Courtney’s sister, a stewardess, was laid over at an airport where the Pittsburgh Pirates and Brooklyn Dodgers were staying at the time in 1947 — and Wagner was a coach with the Pirates at the time. Courtney’s sister had a ball and had as many of the Dodgers and Pirates sign the ball as she could. Among those who signed the ball were Wagner and fellow Hall of Famers Billy Herman and Hank Greenberg. Others who signed the ball included Al Gionfriddo and Preacher Roe.

Any signature of Honus Wagner’s is considered to be worth at least $5,000, according to Scott Kirk, who owns Soks Sports Cards.

Since Wagner used either the signature J. Honus Wagner or John H. Wagner most of the time, his signature of Honus Wagner is even more valuable.

Kirk said he didn’t know how much the ball is worth, but noted the ball’s rare signatures such as “Honus Wagner” and Preacher Roe.

“That’s a very pricey ball,” he said. “Preacher Roe’s signature is unheard of. It’s in the thousands of dollars no doubt.”

For more information on Honus Wagner, see his official website at http://www.honuswagner.com

Dave Price is a sports writer for the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at dprice@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1220.