Johannes Peter “Honus” Wagner was born in Mansfield (now Carnegie), Pennsylvania on February 24, 1874. HIs parents had immigrated from Germany, and his mother called him “Hans.” He was one of nine children; three died as infants. Honus dropped out of school at age twelve to work in the coal mines with his father and four brothers. He also worked in the steel mills and helped his oldest brother, Charley, in a barber shop. He and his brothers loved baseball.
Honus began playing professional baseball in 1895 with the Steubenville, Ohio club. His older brother, Albert, had refused to sign unless the club also took Honus. His older brother, Albert was nicknamed “Butts,” and he played in the big leagues for one season. Honus played shortstop for the Louisville Colonels until the National League changed from twelve teams to eight. He then became part of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He batted and threw right-handed. His nicknames were “The Flying Dutchman” because of his speed on the field and “Hans.”
Honus is considered by many to be baseball’s greatest all-around player: a sensational hitter, a brilliant base-runner and a flawless fielder. Honus retired with more hits, runs, RBIs, doubles, triples, games and steals than any other National League player.
• His batting average was .300 or more for 17 consecutive seasons. With a career average of .328.
• He won 8 NL batting crowns.
• He held the record for stolen bases five seasons, with a career total of 722 steals.
• Records that he still holds are most games played (2,785); most years with MLB batting record (8); most times with batting average more than .300 (17); making the most hits, 3,430; the most runs, 1,740; and most total bases, 4,878.
• The Honus Wagner T-206 baseball card printed by the Piedmont Cigarette Company was purchased for $2.8 million by Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick. In 1909, the cards were distributed along with tobacco and Wagner asked for his to be withdrawn because he was a nonsmoker and didn’t want to set a bad example for children.
• Although he was primarily a shortstop, he played every other position except catcher.
• He loved hunting and fishing in the Pennsylvania mountains in the off-season and played basketball for local teams in the winter.
• Honus also tried different businesses in the off-season: real estate, construction, an auto dealership, and even a circus that closed before its first show.
• Honus played in what is called “the dead-ball era” of baseball. Pitchers were allowed to throw spitballs and muddy, battered balls because teams didn’t have replacement balls.
• He had the palm cut out his glove for better control.
Honus retired from professional baseball after the 1917 season. After his career as a player, Honus coached football and basketball at Carnegie High School, then became athletic director and baseball coach at Carnegie Tech. He also ran a sporting goods store. In 1933, he began working as a coach for the Pirates. Honus was one of the first five players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame – along with Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson. Honus died December 6, 1955 in Carnegie, Pennsylvania.