Honus Wagner “The Flying Dutchman”
Honus Wagner, born under the name Johannes Peter Wagner, grew up in the late 1870s in rural Pennsylvania to his German family with nine siblings. Often called Hans by his parents, the nickname Honus followed suit. Wagner’s family were hard workers, as Honus himself would drop out of high school in his early teens to work in the coal mines where his father and several of his siblings worked for minimal wages. Like many children in the late 1800s, Honus and his siblings developed a liking to baseball they often played with other members of the community at local sandlots. Honus and his siblings found success in baseball, as not only he but three of his brothers would have professional baseball careers. This would give him the opportunity to also get access to major league tryouts, and he would quickly be placed in multiple semi-professional leagues until finally reaching the MLB in 1987. In these semi-professional leagues, Wagner would earn the nickname “The Flying Dutchman”, a tribute to his German Heritage as well as his scary ability in the sport of baseball.
Honus Wagner would get his MLB start on the mediocre Louisville Colonels of the National League. In his first season, Wagner batted almost .340 in 61 games played at the third base position. His second season would be better, as he would record ten home runs and 171 hits. Wagner was already being recognized not only as one of the best batters in the National League but as the best fielder as well, as he could play all infield positions (except catcher) and the outfield very successfully. Wagner would be a very important player as the Colonels were relegated due to a downsizing of the National League that would lead to him ending up in Pittsburgh.
In Pittsburgh Wagner would really begin to make a name for himself. In his first season with the Pirates, Wagner would lead the league in batting average with .381 while also leading the league in extra-base hits and SLG%. Honus Wagner, while not known for extreme power, would always be known for his consistent hitting and high batting averages throughout his career. Wagner would reach his first world series with the Pirates in 1903, where they would lose to Cy Young and the Boston Red Sox. Wagner would struggle immensely in this series, only batting .222 throughout the series (though many say he was still suffering through prolonged injuries and not at full strength). Wagner would be criticized greatly for his performance in this world series, but his greatest critic may have just been himself, as he readily admitted to his shortcomings in the series. He longed for a chance to make it up to his city and team.
After moving throughout the infield in his career, Honus Wagner would be placed permanently in the shortstop position in 1904 where he would cement his legacy as the greatest shortstop to ever play the game of baseball.
In 1909, a year where Wagner lead the league in RBIs for the fourth time in his career, Wagner would once again get the chance to compete in the world series at the age of 35 against Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers. Despite his age, Wagner was able to steal a then record of six bases in the series while also hitting .333 throughout the World Series. More importantly, the Pirates would be able to overcome the Red Sox in seven games. Wagner was able to make up for his subpar world series performance in 1903 and finally capture a championship.
In the tail end of his career, Wagner would reach more landmarks such as being one of only two players at the time to reach the 3000 hit mark. He would be on and off from retirement and would eventually retire totally in 1917.
Wagner would become a member of the Hall of Fame inaugural class in 1936, as he would receive the same amount of votes as Babe Ruth to be inducted. Wagner is widely regarded as the best shortstop to ever play the game of baseball and one of the best fielders and well-rounded players that the sport has ever seen.
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