John Peter Wagner, more popularly known as Honus, and also sometimes referred to as "The Flying Dutchman," was born on February 24th, 1874. Originally from Chartiers, PA, he made his first "professional" appearance in 1895 with a variety of teams in the unaffiliated Interstate League, the "C" level Iron and Oil League, and the "B" level Michigan State League, with the Adrian Reformers/Demons. He joined the Paterson Silk Weavers for two seasons starting in 1896, hitting .337 in 184 combined contests. 94 of his 262 hits were for extra bases. He made his major league debut on July 19th, 1897 with the Louisville Colonels.
Wagner played three seasons with the Colonels, appearing in 361 games prior to his Pirates career. He hit .322 with 131 extra base hits and 258 RBI. When Louisville club president Barney Dreyfuss learned that the National League would be contracting from 12 teams to eight in 1900, he bought a stake in the Pirates, and finagled his way into the Pittsburgh club presidency. He bought most of the best Louisville players to the Bucs, including Wagner.
1900 would see Wagner play in 135 games, leading the NL with a .381 average, a .573 SLG, a 1.007 OPS, 45 doubles, 22 triples, a 176 OPS+, a 6.5 WAR, and 302 total bases. He scored 107 runs (NL fifth) with 100 RBI (NL third), walking 41 times towards a .434 OBP (NL fifth) and whiffing on just 17 occasions. He also stole 38 bases (NL fifth). Defensively, he registered an NL second best .965 fielding percentage in the outfield. He also pithed three scoreless innings, and appeared defensively at first, second, and third base. Flush with the infusion of Louisville talent, the Pirates improved from 76-73 the year prior to an NL second best 79-60 record, four and a half games behind the Brooklyn Superbas.
In 1901, Wagner led the NL with 126 RBI and 49 stolen bases. He hit .353 (NL fourth) in 140 games (NL third), scoring 101 runs (NL 10th) with 37 doubles (NL third), 11 triples, and six home runs (NL ninth), drawing 53 walks (NL eighth) and striking out 39 times. He registered an NL second best 7.1 WAR, a .417 OBP (NL fourth), a .494 SLG (NL sixth), and a .911 OPS (NL fourth). For the first time, he played mostly shortstop, fielding at .918 in 61 games. He also appeared in the outfield (54 games), third base (24 games), and second base (once). Pittsburgh won the National League Pennant, finishing at 90-49, seven and a half games in front of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Wagner led the National League in 1902 with 105 runs scored, 30 doubles, 91 RBI, 42 stolen bases, a .463 SLG, an .857 OPS, a 162 OPS+, a 7.2 WAR, and even HBP, with 14. He hit .330 (NL fourth) in 136 games, with 16 triples (NL third), three home runs (NL fifth), 43 walks and 51 strikeouts. He played 61 times in the outfield with a perfect fielding percentage, going errorless with 121 putouts and 11 assists. He also spent 44 games at shortstop, with 28 errors for an .893 F%, with 32 appearances at first base and one game each at second and at pitcher. He also threw 5.1 scoreless innings, bringing his pitching career to a close with a perfect 0.00 ERA. Pittsburgh finished a ridiculous 27.5 games ahead of the second place Superbas, at 103-36.
1903 would see Wagner appear 129 times over the course of the season, scoring 97 runs (NL eighth) with 30 doubles (NL fourth), an NL leading 19 triples, five home runs (NL ninth), 101 RBI (NL second), 46 stolen bases (NL third), 44 walks, and 17 strikeouts, or once every 30.1 at bats (NL fourth). He led the NL with a .355 average and a 7.6 WAR rating, registering a .414 OBP(NL eighth), a .518 SLG (NL second), and a .931 OPS (NL fourth). He played a large majority of the season at shortstop, appearing 111 times and ranking third in the NL with a .933 fielding percentage. He had 303 putouts at SS (NL second), with 401 total assists (NL fourth). Pittsburgh won their third consecutive National League pennant by six and a half games over the New York Giants, at 91-49. They were then participants in the first ever World Series, a best-of-nine affair against the American League Champion Boston Americans. The Pirates lost in eight, as Wagner went six-for-27 (.222) with a double and three RBI.
Wagner played 147 games in 1905, hitting .363 (NL second) with 114 runs (NL fourth), 32 doubles (NL third), 14 triples (NL seventh), six home runs (NL sixth), 101 RBI (NL third), 57 stolen bases (NL third), 54 walks, and 53 strikeouts. He led the NL with an 8.4 WAR, and posted a .427 OBP (NL third), a .505 SLG (NL second), and a .932 OPS (NL second). On defense, he made 353 putouts (NL second), 517 assists (NL third), 64 double plays (NL third), and a .935 F% (NL fourth) at shortstop. The Bucs posted a 96-57 record on the season, finishing nine games behind the pennant winning New York Giants in second place.
1906 would see Wagner lead the NL with a .339 batting average, and .875 OPS, 237 total bases, 38 doubles, a 9.3 WAR, and 103 runs scored. He played in 142 games, walking 58 times with 31 strikeouts. He stole 53 bases (NL fourth), knocked in 71 RBI (NL fifth), and hit nine triples, putting up a .416 OBP (NL fourth), and a .459 SLG (NL second). He put up a .941 F% at shortstop (NL third), with 334 putouts (NL second), 473 assists (NL second), and an NL leading 57 double plays turned. Even with a 93-60 record, the Pirates finished third in the league, 23.5 games behind the first place Chicago Cubs.
In 1907, Wagner led the NL with a 187 OPS+, 264 total bases, an 8.9 WAR rating, a .350 batting average, a .408 OBP, a .513 SLG, a .921 OPS, 61 stolen bases, and 38 doubles. He scored 98 runs (NL third) in 142 contests, with 14 triples (NL third), six home runs (NL fourth), 82 RBI (NL second), 46 walks, and 40 strikeouts. He made 314 putouts (NL fourth) and 428 assists (NL fourth) for a .938 F% (NL fifth). Pittsburgh finished 17 games back, again behind the Cubs, with a 91-63 record to end the season.
Wagner appeared in 151 contests in 1908, leading the National League with a .354 batting average, a .415 OBP, a .542 SLG, a .957 OPS, a 205 OPS+, 308 total bases, 53 stolen bases, 201 hits, 39 doubles, 19 triples, a career high 11.5 total WAR, 354 defensive putouts at shortstop, and 109 RBI. He also drew 54 walks (NL 10th), made 469 defensive assists (NL fourth), and scored 100 runs (NL second), hitting 10 home runs (NL second). Pittsburgh finished 42 games above .500, at 98-56, but finished tied with the Giants for second, just one game behind the Cubs for the pennant.
1909 would see Wagner again lead the league in many categories, including 39 doubles, 100 RBI, a .339 batting average, a .420 OBP, a .489 SLG, a .909 OPS, a 177 OPS+, and 242 total bases. He racked up a 9.1 WAR (NL second), scored 92 runs (NL third), hit five home runs (NL fifth), walked 66 times (NL sixth), and stole 35 bases (NL eighth). He had 344 putouts (NL second) and 430 assists (NL fourth) for an NL second best .940 fielding percentage. After six years of above average performance but no pennant, the Pirates won it by six games over the Cubs at 110-42. The Pirates defeated the American League Champion Detroit Tigers four-games-to-three in the World Series. Wagner vindicated his poor prior Fall Classic showing by hitting .333 (eight-for-24) with two doubles, a triple, four walks, and six RBI. It was this series that provided baseball with one of it's most storied folk tales, the Wagner-Cobb incident. As recapped in Jan Finkel's fine Wagner biography at www.sabr.org:
Cobb called Wagner "Krauthead," warning him that he intended to steal second on the next pitch. Wagner told "Rebel" he'd be waiting. Then Wagner laid a tag on Cobb's mouth that-depending on the version-knocked out or loosened teeth, or opened a multi-stitch cut on Cobb's lip. There are several holes in the story. First, "kraut" and "krauthead" as slurs for people of German descent didn't arise until the World Wars. Secondly, catcher George Gibson's throw was low and late, forcing Wagner to try a swipe tag, so he couldn't tag Cobb hard. Third is Cobb's categorical denial of the incident, noting that angering Wagner would have been foolhardy. (However, Cobb also suggested to Wagner that they go into vaudeville to re-enact the play, reasoning that they might as well make a few dollars from it.) A final objection to the tale is that a month after the Series Wagner accepted Cobb's invitation to Georgia for some hunting. Honus didn't exactly say it happened, didn't exactly say it didn't-winking and never discouraging those who "saw the whole thing."
In 1910, Wagner played 150 games, leading the NL with 178 hits, ranking highly with a .320 average (NL fifth), a .390 OBP (NL ninth), a .432 SLG (NL eighth), a .822 OPS (NL sixth), 90 runs scored (NL 10th), 34 doubles (NL fifth), eight triples, four home runs, 81 RBI (NL fifth), 24 stolen bases, a 5.2 WAR (NL third), and 59 walks. He fielded at .935 (NL fourth) at shortstop, with an NL leading 337 putouts and 413 assists (NL third). Pittsburgh stayed competitive, going 86-67 and finishing the season in third place, 17.5 games behind the Cubs. It was around this time that the T-206 card was pressed. Jon Gruber, Pirates secretary sold the American Tobacco Company a picture of Wagner for $10. It was to be included in Piedmont cigarettes. When Wagner caught wind of it, he nixed the deal, preferring cigars, and not wanting to encourage children to smoke. The card sold for over $1,000,000 at auction in 2000.
Wagner won his eighth and final batting title in 1911, hitting .334 over 130 games. He scored 87 times and hit 23 doubles, 16 triples (NL sixth), nine home runs (NL eighth), 89 RBI (NL seventh), stole 20 bases, walked 67 times, and finished with a 6.6 WAR (NL fifth). The 1911 MVP Award was the first one in history, and Wagner placed third in the voting, behind Frank Schulte and Christy Mathewson. No doubt, if the award had been given prior to that season, he would have taken it home between five and eight times. He also posted a .423 OBP (NL second), a .507 SLG (NL third), and a league leading .930 OPS. The Pirates went 85-69, finishing 14.5 games back in the NL pennant race.
1912 would see Wagner finish second in the season ending NL MVP vote, just behind the Giants Larry Doyle. He led the NL with 102 RBI, and hit .324 (NL sixth) with a .395 OBP (NL eighth), a .496 SLG (NL third), and a .891 OPS (NL third) in 145 games with 91 runs (NL ninth), 35 doubles (NL third), 20 triples (NL second), seven home runs, 26 stolen bases, 59 walks, and an NL leading 8.1 WAR. He made 341 putouts (NL second) with 462 assists (NL third), leading the NL with a 962 fielding percentage at shortstop. Pittsburgh finished the season 10 games behind the Giants, with a 93-58 record in second place.
Wagner played five more seasons, hitting .300 for the final time in 1913. Although his hitting declined as he neared (and passed) his 40th birthday, his fielding got better. He led the NL in SS fielding percentage for four consecutive seasons starting in 1912.
You wouldn't know it to look at him, around 5'11", 200 pounds, barrel chested and bow legged, but the guy could run like Starling Marte. He ended his career with 723 career steals, still 10th in major league history. He played at a consistently high level for a mind-bogglingly long time, hitting .287 at 42 years of age. Long after retirement, he helped Arky Vaughan learn to play shortstop, contributing to the next generation of Pirate greatness. The baseball reference website's fan driven EloRater has him as the third best player of all time, behind only Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. He was one of five players to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in it's first ever selection, along with Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, and Cobb. His baseball career is perhaps best summed up in a quote from www.sabr.org:
Honus Wagner was no angel or saint. Some opponents thought him a fine fellow off the diamond but overly rough on it. Most umpires thought he "kicked" too much. He affected to dislike formal affairs, but he really hated the next morning. Yet he also embodied the American dream as the son of immigrants who rose from humble roots to greatness. Frailties aside, he was one of baseball's first heroes, a basically gentle, hard-working man, a loyal friend and teammate who treated young players kindly, dealt with adversity, inspired millions, and was devoted to Bessie, the "boys," and Leslie. Bill James in The Historical Baseball Abstract put it best: "[T]here is no one who has ever played this game that I would be more anxious to have on a baseball team."