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Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner: A Biography

Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 352
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    Honus Wagner
    Book Description:

    With the coming of the twentieth century, America was thinking on a grand scale. Barriers of communication and transportation were being overcome and giants such as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and William Randolph Hearst walked the land. The nation's game was baseball, and its giant was Honus Wagner. In 1996, a baseball card depicting Honus Wagner sold for $640,500 - the largest sum ever paid at auction for a sports artifact. What could possibly make that piece of cardboard, approximately one-and-a-half by two-and-a-half inches, worth more than half a million dollars? The DeValerias tell the unique story behind this now-famous baseball card and the man depicted on it. In doing so, they accurately present the local, regional, and national context so readers gain a thorough understanding of Wagner's times.Wagner's gradual emergence from the pack into stardom and popularity is described here in rich detail, but the book also reveals much of Wagner's family and personal life - his minor leauge career, his values, his failed business ventures during the Depression, and his later years. Neither the "rowdy-ball" ruffian nor the teetotal saint constructed of legend, Wagner is presented here in a complete portrait - one that offers a vivid impression of the era when baseball was America's game and the nation was evolving into the world's industrial leader.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7942-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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    (pp. 1-6)

    A group of boys dressed in knickers was playing ball in an open field. The young runner was breaking for second as his teammate cocked his bat, awaiting the delivery from the pitcher in full windup. In the distance, in the boys’ deep center field, an American flag was waving in front of a schoolhouse, symbolically flanked by a cottage, a barn, and a steepled church. It was a celebration of baseball and America, played out on a three-cent postage stamp.

    The stamp was the United States government’s contribution to the commemoration of the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of...

    (pp. 7-14)

    Upon the 1866 arrival in America of Peter and Katheryn Wagner, it was not surprising that they were quickly stirred into the melting pot that was western Pennsylvania. As industrial trade rapidly expanded during the 1800s, the country became increasingly dependent upon the resources of the region, including quality natural gas, oil, and coal. Aided in its growth by a network of rivers and railroads, Pittsburgh became the nation’s leader in iron production, earning the title “The Forge of the Universe.” Because a tremendous amount of manpower was required, disembarking immigrants were commonly recruited off the docks at Baltimore, Philadelphia,...

    (pp. 15-43)

    During the 1890s, many minor leagues lacked organization and finances, making them extremely volatile. Leagues came and went, often lasting less than a season before folding. And even if a league survived, sometimes individual clubs would not, causing the circuit to limp along with less than a full contingent. Frequently, the result was confusion over player contracts, scheduling problems, and controversy about records or standings. Storm clouds were gathering over the Inter-State League as early as February 1895, andSporting Life, a leading sports magazine of the era, called the league “a sickly babe from the start.” As the season...

    (pp. 44-70)

    A poor team to begin with, and one riddled with injuries, the Louisville Colonels’ performance so far in 1897 was inept. In mid-July when Wagner came on board, Louisville was wallowing near the bottom of the standings and recently had been slaughtered 36–7 by Cap Anson’s Chicago Colts. Calling the Colonels’ offense “the laughingstock of the league,”Sporting Lifereported, “The team seems to be in the slough of despondency, and the boys seem to … lack nerve and spirit … ‘they are very much Louisville,’ and the future … does not appear to be particularly encouraging.” Certainly, the...

    (pp. 71-108)

    The combination of the best of the Pirates and Colonels meant that Clarke had forty men to choose from, and Pittsburgh fans spent their offseason jotting down lineups, envisioning the new team as a contender. No Pirate received as much attention as Wagner. Expectations for him in 1900 were extremely high, and many felt he was on the verge of greatness. Clarke was particularly optimistic about Wagner’s future, professing, “I don’t think his equal lives today as an all-around ballplayer…. Keeler may lead him in batting when the averages are published, but Hans does not bunt them; he hits them...

    (pp. 109-138)

    Even in a day when fedorns, canes, and imported leather shoes were common male attire, Henry Clay “Harry” Pulliam was a dandy. But beyond his brightly colored waist-coats and outrageous wide-brimmed hats, the Pirate secretary was also a diplomat. He disliked confrontation and smoothed over many disagreements in the Pirate offices through his placid manner and level-headed temperament. He even served a term in the legislature of his home state of Kentucky. Pulliam numbered his friends in the hundreds and had the trust and respect of several National League magnates—not an easy accomplishment considering the immense egos involved in...

    (pp. 139-168)

    During the baseball season, Wagner frequently rode a ten-cent trolley from Carnegie to Pittsburgh and then changed cars to complete the trip to Exposition Park. He was an attraction along the entire route. Swarmed by children and adults alike, he was pumped for stories of games or the Pirates’ outlook. Wagner, still uneasy around strangers, answered politely but with little embellishment.

    At other times, he rode his horse-drawn buggy to and from the ballpark. He would bring a favorite dog or be accompanied by his father, who was employed by the Pirates as an all-important “grandstand watcher,” on the lookout...

    (pp. 169-199)

    Concerned about how the broken bones in his left hand were mending, Wagner found himself in the disagreeable role of spectator and drawing card as the Pirates barnstormed over the last few weeks of October 1907. The only bright moment in this drudgery for him was the traditional game against the Fosters of Carnegie. He was presented with a solid-gold medal decorated with a finely cut diamond in recognition of his 1907 batting title. Wagner wore the citation all afternoon, and he and Al umpired the exhibition before the day’s honoree, with his healthy right hand, capped off the event...

    (pp. 200-237)

    It was a downright hectic offseason for Honus Wagner and many of those around him. Patsy Flaherty, after spending his second season with the Boston Doves, headed for the Orient with a barnstorming troupe. Fred Clarke collected his final check for 1908 and penned a new contract with a three-thousand-dollar raise, giving him the fantastic 1909 stipend of twelve thousand dollars. It was also a profitable year for the Little Pirate Ranch—not only was wheat fetching a good price, but oil was discovered on the property.

    In addition, Clarke kept himself busy by puttering with his inventions. He had...

    (pp. 238-257)

    Just as it does today, fame in the early 1900s meant product endorsements, and Wagner had his share. His face or figure in likeness, photograph, or caricature was featured on packages or promotional items for chewing gum, candy, ice cream, baseball sweaters and gear, Budweiser beer, gun powder, and just about any item an enterprising businessman would want to hawk to the public. On behalf of Coca-Cola, Wagner asserted that the soft drink “assisted my mental and physical activity.” While there is no evidence that a player ever had a limb blown off by using the wrong ointment, Wagner and...

    (pp. 258-275)

    Upon being asked what it felt like to turn forty in February 1914, Wagner snapped, “And how should I know? I’ve never been that old before.” He was most likely thinking that it didn’t feel all that great. The winter months following the 1913 season held little joy for Wagner. On November 12, 1913, at 10:30 a.m., seventy-five-year-old Peter Wagner passed away in the family home. He had been battling an illness for some time and had recently contracted pneumonia, but his death was still unexpected. It left the three bachelor brothers, Honus, Al, and Luke, in the Railroad Avenue...

    (pp. 276-302)

    Though many players received a cut in pay in 1918, Dreyfuss had learned his lesson the previous year and offered Wagner a contract for ten thousand dollars. But his career as a major league baseball player was over and Honus knew it. For a while, his name was on the list of players to be invited to spring training, but shortly before the team headed south, the Pittsburgh club asked for waivers on him—a necessary formality. He left major league baseball and entered into a comfortable retirement in his own way—quietly.

    The construction cost of the Wagners’ new...