Sunday, February 24, 2008

W Is For Wagner - The Line-Up For Yesterday

Ogden Nash was an American poet who the New York Times called one of the country's best known producers of poetry. In 1949 he produced a poem called "The Line-Up For Yesterday" which was published in Sport Magazine.

In the poem, Nash created a list of the all time great baseball players and used one name for each letter of the alphabet. Honus Wagner made the list for W:
W is for Wagner,
The bowlegged beauty;
Short was closed to all traffic
With Honus on duty.
Here is the complete poem:
A is for Alex,
The great Alexander;
More Goose eggs he pitched
Than a popular gander.

B is for Bresnahan,
Back of the plate;
The Cubs were his love,
and McGraw his hate.

C is for Cobb,
Who grew spikes and not corn,
And made all the basemen
Wish they weren't born.

D is for Dean,
The grammatical Diz,
When they asked, Who's the tops?
Said correctly, I is.

E is for Evers,
His jaw in advance;
Never afraid
To Tinker with Chance.

F is for Fordham
And Frankie and Frisch;
I wish he were back
With the Giants, I wish.

G is for Gehrig,
The Pride of the Stadium;
His record pure gold,
His courage, pure radium.

H is for Hornsby;
When pitching to Rog,
The pitcher would pitch,
Then the pitcher would dodge.

I is for Me,
Not a hard-hitting man,
But an outstanding all-time
Incurable fan.

J is for Johnson
The Big Train in his prime
Was so fast he could throw
Three strikes at a time.

K is for Keeler,
As fresh as green paint,
The fastest and mostest
To hit where they ain't.

L is for Lajoie
Whom Clevelanders love,
Napolean himself,
With glue in his glove.

M is for Matty,
Who carried a charm
In the form of an extra
brain in his arm.

N is for Newsom,
Bobo's favorite kin.
You ask how he's here,
He talked himself in.

O is for Ott,
Of the restless right foot.
When he leaned on the pellet,
The pellet stayed put.

P is for Plank,
The arm of the A's;
When he tangled with Matty
Games lasted for days.

Q is for Don Quixote,
Cornelius Mack;
Neither Yankees nor years
Can halt his attack.

R is for Ruth,
To tell you the truth,
There's just no more to be said,
Just R is for Ruth.

S is for Speaker,
Swift center-field tender,
When the ball saw him coming,
It yelled, "I surrender."

T is for Terry,
The Giant from Memphis
Whose .400 average
You can't overemphis.

U would be 'Ubell,
if Carl were a cockney;
We say Hubbell and Baseball
Like Football and Rockne.

V is for Vance,
The Dodger's very own Dazzy;
None of his rivals
Could throw as fast as he.

W is for Wagner,
The bowlegged beauty;
Short was closed to all traffic
With Honus on duty.

X is the first,
of two x's in Foxx
Who was right behind Ruth
with his powerful soxx.

Y is for Young,
The magnificent Cy;
People battled against him,
But I never knew why.

Z is for Zenith,
The summit of fame.
These men are up there.
These men are the game.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Growing Up - Honus Wagner Biography

Growing Up

Honus Wagner was born on February 24, 1874 in Chartiers, Pennsylvania to parents Peter and Katharina Wagner who had come to America from Prussia in 1866 in search of a better life and more opportunities. Peter found work in the coal mines while Katharina became a house cleaner. They had nine children, six of whom survived (five boys, one girl, Honus was the fourth child) and were given German names with English equivalents. Born Johannes (John) Peter, his family called him by a shortened version of his name, Hans or Honus. The name stuck and he would forever be remembered as Honus Wagner.

While his parents spoke English with a heavy accent and used German in the home, Honus excelled at the language and considered himself to be American. He went to school at his local church and since there were no local schools that taught children after the age of 11, Honus did what most of the local boys did and at 12 years of age - he went to work.

Honus joined his father and older brothers in the coal mines. The minimum age allowed by law at the time for working in the mines was 12 which allowed Honus to earn an income. Reflecting on his days in the mines, Honus later said "It was hard work, but good exercise." The work in the mines would also later be credited with giving Honus such a large and muscular frame.


When the Wagner boys weren't working they played baseball. They threw a ball around whenever they could get the time to and weekend pickup games with the neighborhood kids became a tradition. Honus surprised everyone with his tremendous speed despite having bowed legs and an awkward body.

At the time, baseball was not the established sport it is today. It was often violent and seen as an uncivilized game. Honus and his two older brothers, Al and Luke, however excelled in the game. They all began to play competitively on local teams and Al recommended that Honus learn to play every position, including pitching, so that he would always have a spot on a team. His versatility would later make him an invaluable asset to his professional teams.

Bets were often placed on the games and the young Honus could make up to five dollars on a pair of games. Not wanting to miss out on a money making opportunity, the brothers would often assume each others identities and fill in for each other if one of them could not make a game with their respective teams.

In 1889, at the age of 15, Honus began hanging around older brother Al's sandlot team which played in the Allegheny County League. He started off being known as Al's little brother and was given the duties of carrying the equipment for the players. He would go on to play with the team and become a valuable on-field member.

In 1890 Honus joined St. Luke's, prominent local Catholic team and later the Carnegie Athletic Club, both in the Allegheny County League. Honus would later recall "I had as much fun in the Allegheny County League as a kid in my teens as I had in my 19 years of big league stardom. All I lived for was baseball. I played from the end of March until the end of October."

Honus and Al Wagner played again together in 1893 when they joined the Mansfield Indians in the Allegheny County League. The Indians were in last place and the brothers did not get regular starting positions but it did give them an opportunity for greater exposure in the baseball community. However, the league did not allow contracts with players - money was made through gambling provided that your team won.

Becoming A Professional

In 1894, George L. Moreland, a Pittsburgh based sportswriter wanted to create a new minor league consisting of teams from Ohio and West Virginia in time for the 1895 season. He also wanted to own and manage his own team in the league based in Steubenville, Ohio.

One of the first players Moreland wanted on his team was Al Wagner. Al managed to convince his new boss that his brother Honus would make a good pitcher on the team and could fill in as a substitute for other position players. Moreland agreed and on February 10, 1895 signed Honus to a $35 a month contract. Honus made his debut on April 20th and rotated throughout the season between being a pitcher and playing in the outfield.

Honus was now 21 years old and had a late entry to professional baseball compared to most of the other rising stars in the sport. He was, however, five feet, eleven inches and weighed 185 pounds - a giant of a man for the times and still not fully grown. More importantly, he was ready to make his mark and show the baseball world what he could do.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Honus Wagner T206 Price And Owner History

The Honus Wagner T206 is considered by collectors to be the "Holy Grail" or "Mona Lisa" of all baseball cards. There are only 50 to 60 believed to be in existence and the card has broken a number of records including:

- First baseball card to be professional graded by the PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator). The card shown on the left is marked #00000001

- First baseball card to sell for over $1 million

- Highest priced baseball card available, currently valued at $2.8 million

Here is a history as to how the Honus Wagner T206 PSA 8 came to be worth so much money.

Summary: Honus Wagner T206 Price History
  • 1930: $50
  • 1985: $25,000
  • 1987: $110,000
  • 1991: $451,000
  • 1995: $500,000
  • 1996: $641,500
  • 2000: $1,265,000
  • Feb 2007: $2.35 Mil
  • Sept 2007: $2.80 Mil

In the 1930s, according to baseball card catalogues, the Honus Wagner T206 cards were listed at a value of $50. Other T206 cards were valued at 35 cents making the Wagners a premium. Nobody, however, could have predicted that the card would come to be worth millions over 70 years later.

Alan Ray and Bill Mastro

The Honus Wagner T206 made its first appearance in the modern world of sports card collecting in 1985 when Alan Ray, a small time card collector, went to see Bob Sevchuk who owned a New York based sports memorabilia store where Ray was a regular customer.

Ray was hoping to sell his Honus Wagner T206 for $25,000 to Sevchuk. Bill Mastro, another sports memorabilia store owner and future founder of Mastro Auctions, caught wind of the card's availability and expressed an interest in buying it. He drove to Sevchuk's store and agreed to buy the card from Ray but only if he threw in the other 50 to 75 T206's that Ray had brought along as well. Ray made the deal, later saying "I had a money situation. I had to sell the card"

The origins of the card still remain a mystery and have never been disclosed. Ray has only said in 2001 that he received the card from a relative, whose name he did not divulge.

Jim Copeland

In 1987, Mastro contacted Jim Copeland, a sporting goods chain owner in California, and sold him the card for $110,000, realizing a $85,000 profit in under two years. "I called from the airport in California," Mastro says, "and ordered a Mercedes Benz."

The sale sparked a renewed interest in baseball card collecting and created an incentive for people to find and sell their cards from the T206 series.

Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall

In 1991, Copeland decided that he wanted to sell his collection of 873 pieces in a single sale. He contacted Mastro to help him sell the card. Mastro contacted Sotheby's, one of the most well known auction house in the world, to arrange the sale. Over 800 collectors showed up and the Honus Wagner T206 was expected to go for $114,000 according to pre-auction estimates.

Within minutes of opening the card soared past $228,000, double the original pre-auction estimate. There were three bidders for the card: Mike Gidwitz, Mark Friedland, and an unknown phone bidder. Gidwitz dropped out when the price hit $300,000. Friedland pursued and found that with each successive price increase he made, the anonymous phone bidder would further raise $5,000 or $10,000. Friedland finally called it off when the price hit $410,000. Sotheby's took at 10% buyer's premium on the value of the card so the final sales price was $451,000.

It was later discovered that the anonymous phone bidder was none other than NHL hockey great Wayne Gretzky who bid on the card with the financial support of Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall. Mastro continued to work for Sotheby's for the next 5 years to facilitate the sale of expensive sports memorabilia and thereby establishing himself as the expert in the industry.

Gretzky, not known at the time for being a card collector, thought it would make a good investment and that "the market would remain strong. Still, my dad told me I was an idiot for paying $450,000 for a baseball card." According to his co-owner McNall, "If you buy something that is absolutely the best in the world, you'd be okay because there is always another buyer for something at the top end."

The record-setting purchase made headlines and the card quickly became known as the "Gretzky T206 Wagner." To validate its authenticity, the Professional Sports Authenticators (PSA) chose the card to be the first that it would grade. The card received a PSA 8 - NM-MT (near mind to mint), the highest grade so far awarded to a Honus Wagner T206 baseball card. PSA President David Hall called it "superb" and a "fantastic card in every way."

Wal-Mart and Patricia Gibbs

Shortly after the PSA graded the Honus Wagner T206, Bruce McNall became the subject of a federal investigation for fraud. He was later charged in 1994 for defrauding 6 banks of more than $236 million. With his partner off to a start a 70 month prison sentence, Gretzky decided to buy him out for his share and put the card back on the auction block.

In 1995, the Honus Wagner T206 was sold to Wal-Mart and Treat Entertainment for $500,000. The companies wanted to use the card as the top prize in a promotional campaign to raise awareness about the baseball card products that Wal-Mart was selling. As part of the contest, the card traveled all across the United States and on February 24th, 1996, the 122nd anniversary of Honus Wagner's birthday, the T206 prize winner was chosen in a random draw made by Brooks Robinson on an episode of CNN's Larry King Weekend. The winner was Patricia Gibbs, a postal worker from Florida.

Gibbs could not afford the taxes on the Honus Wagner T206 so she put it up for auction with Christie's, another New York auction house. Wal-Mart benefited heavily from the exposure and sold more than 30 million packs of baseball cards in a matter of months.

Michael Gidwitz

The Honus Wagner T206 went to auction in 1996 and the top bidder was a familiar name, Michael Gidwitz, one of the men who battled Wayne Gretzky for the card in 1991 and lost. Bill Mastro was also bidding for the card but lost out this time to Gidwitz. According to Mastro, "No one ever wants to separate themselves from the crown jewel of the hobby."

Gidwitz, a Chicago based collector, had to pay a significant premium over the $451,000 1991 price tag. He ended up spending $641,500 to acquire the card in 1996.

Brian Seigel, Anonymous, Anonymous

After owning the Honus Wagner T206 for four years, Gidwitz decided it was time to sell. Instead of approaching a brand name auction house, he used technology to his advantage and made a deal with the largest online auction company in the world: eBay.

Gidwitz partnered with Robert Edwards Auctions, a division of MastroNet, to create a 10 day auction for the card. Prospective bidders had to wire a $100,000 deposit to to be pre-approved to enter the auction. According to Robert Lifson, director of Robert Edwards Auctions, "I was thinking how could I leverage the publicity value of this card. I thought it would be really something if I approached eBay with this idea."

On July 15th of 2000 the Honus Wagner T206 was sold on eBay to Brian Seigel, a California collector for a record $1,265,000. This was a the first time that a baseball card had sold for more than $1 million. At the time Seigel said "Some day I'll sell it. I guess when I get tired of it. But this was not a business move. I am a collector."

In February 2007, however, Seigel decided that it was indeed time to move on and the card was sold again, this time to an anonymous California buyer via SCP Auctions for $2,350,000. According to SCP President David Kohler, the new owner said "'Let's let the world know and have a news conference, but I don't want my name out there.' We have to respect that."

Finally, on September 6th, 2007 the Honus Wagner T206 it was sold most recently to another anonymous collector for a record $2,800,000. It is rumored that the card will be put on display at a number of upcoming conventions and events.

Who the owner is and when the famed card will next go on sale is anyone's guess. Only time will tell how high the price Honus Wagner T206 can go.

October 2008 Update: It was recently revealed that the current owner of the famous Honus Wagner T206 is E.G. "Ken" Kendrick, managing general partner of the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team. Kendrick is a veteran collector and is believed to be creating a sports museum at Chase Field where the card will be put on display.

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Sunday, February 3, 2008

Honus Wagner Videos

It's hard to find video footage of Honus Wagner so I've put together a listing of the various videos that I have come across online:

YouTube: A 31 second montage of Honus Wagner pictures put to music:

YouTube: A 30 second DHL / MLB commercial featuring a talking Honus Wagner T206 baseball card:

YouTube: A 1:28 news story about the Honus Wagner T206 baseball card:

YouTube: A 2:57 interview with former pitcher Lefty Honce. He talks about his experiences with Honus Wagner at the 1:53 mark:

Baseball Hall of Fame:
The best of all of them is the Baseball Hall of Fame video (unfortunately it can't be embedded!)

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