Saturday, March 03, 2012

Honus Wagner - The Flying Dutchman

What can you say about Hans Wagner? Local boy grows up and spends the bulk of his 21 year career playing professional baseball in his home town of Pittsburgh. And what a player he was.

Wagner started playing everything but his eventual Hall of Fame career as one of baseball's greatest short stop -- mainly in the outfield. For 17 consecutive seasons, he hit over .300 with 8 batting titles including 7 out of 9 years straight and a triple crown of H/RBI/Ave (prior to home runs replacing hits).

AVG / G / AB / R / H / HR / RBI / SB
.329 / 2787 / 10427 / 1740 / 3430 / 101 / 1732 / 722

Wagner was known for his stocky and barrel-chested build and his bow-legged. He started with the Louisville Colonels (1897-1899) and after that team folded, spent the next 18 years playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates (1900-1917).

He was a home boy, a family man, loving his Carnegie home, living his entire life within a few blocks of where he grew up. He was a perpetual bachelor, not getting married until he was 40. His off-season workouts consisted of playing basketball.

He loved fishing, hunting, his dogs, his cars. He hated spring training. He threatened to quit just about every year but always was in the lineup come early April.

He hated to manage. He was forced into it and lasted 3 games. His Pirates only made it to the World Series twice, winning one and losing one. His numbers were nothing to speak about.

The book, "Honus Wagner: The Life of Baseball's Flying Dutchman," by Arthur Hittner is a decent read. I liked it because it covered every year he played, providing details about specific games, specific plays, pennant races, and general baseball knowledge.

He shared much of his career with two Hall of Famers: the left fielder/manager Fred Clarke and long-time Pirate owner and baseball pioneer Barney Dreyfuss. The on-field action took place in two historic ball parks: Exposition Park and Forbes Field.

Wagner joined Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson as the original five in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Wagner was not only a great player but a great ambassador of the game and seemingly a fine man, one anyone would be proud to have as a friend.

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