Sunday, April 27, 2008

Honus Wagner T206 SGC 10 Poor 1 Up For Auction

Heritage Auctions is putting up a Honus Wagner T206 for auction. The trading card portion of the auction will end on Friday, May 2nd in an Extended Bidding format, each lot closing individually after thirty minutes of bidding inactivity following the 9 PM CST cut-off.


1909-11 T206 Honus Wagner SGC 10 Poor 1:

MINIMUM BID: $31,250 - View Auction Site

Even though the minimum bid started at $31,250, the current price is already $150,000. How much is the card worth? In 2005, a PSA 1 Honus Wagner T206 sold for $110,000. It looks like the pricing will be breaking new ground with this new auction!

According to the Heritage Auctions description:
"There is something Lincolnesque about him," Pulitzer Prize-winning sports journalist Arthur Daley once wrote, "his rugged homeliness, his simplicity, his integrity, and his true nobility of character." Hall of Fame manager John McGraw considered him the greatest ballplayer of all time, and Ty Cobb recalled him as the one man he couldn't intimidate. Yet despite the universal high praise from friends and foes, and his membership in the 1936 inaugural class of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Honus Wagner is best remembered today as the face on the most valuable and coveted of all baseball cards.

While there is some truth to the argument that Wagner's greatness plays a role in the importance of this ultimate collecting rarity, one must acknowledge that it's a supporting role only. An equal print run to contemporaries like Cobb, Young and Mathewson would almost certainly have found Wagner's value equivalent to those legends' as well. But it was Wagner's refusal of the American Tobacco Company's request for permission to use his image that set him apart and above.

The most popular story to explain this refusal is that Wagner wished to play no role in the promotion of the use of tobacco, though it has been justly stated that he was himself a user, and had appeared in advertisements for many tobacco products previously. Another theory notes Wagner's reputation as a fierce negotiator, arguing that it was nothing more than a case of a failure to agree upon a dollar figure that led the ATC to end production of Wagner's card almost as soon as it started.

This unsolved mystery has only served to further enhance the mystique of the treasure presented here, one of just a few dozen examples of the famed Honus Wagner T206 known to exist. A colorized version of a studio portrait by celebrated early baseball photographer Carl Horner, the unmistakable image on the card face finds the superstar shortstop gazing into the middle distance, set against a backdrop of solid orange. The early spelling of his hometown "Pittsburg" is applied across the chest of his high-collared jersey, and again beside his block lettered surname at the bottom border. The verso provides an advertisement for Sweet Caporal Cigarettes, and the trading cards within, noting "Base Ball Series, 150 Subjects."

Condition is admittedly imperfect, though this is the case for all but a few of the tiny supply of surviving examples. Several creases thread their way through the ancient cardboard, and the passing decades have rounded the corners smooth like water polishing stones in a riverbed. Black fountain pen ink blotches the verso, yet remains mercifully clear of the front. Though the card comes by its Poor rating honestly, it retains a dignified countenance, presenting wonderfully despite its faults.

The opportunity to play a role in the history of a piece such as this is one that should appeal to true collectors of any discipline, not just those with a particular affinity for the sporting world. Stamp collecting has the Inverted Jenny, and comics has Action #1. For baseball card collecting, the T206 Honus Wagner will always hold that special distinction as the ultimate prize, and will establish its owner as one the world's elite hobbyists.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Why is the T206 Honus Wagner Worth So Much?

The T206 Honus Wagner is the most expensive baseball card in history (complete history of the Wagner T206) - but why is it worth so much?

The card was created by the American Tobacco Company (ATC) between 1909 and 1911. ATC used the cards as a promotional tool to help sell their cigarettes. ATC required the permission of the players to create the cards and Wagner was highly sought after due to his status as one of the game's greatest players.
Wagner, however, refused to let the production of the card continue and only 50 to 200 of them were put into circulation.

According to an October 12, 1912 edition of "The Sporting News", Wagner responded to ATC's request by writing that "he did not care to have his picture in a package of cigarettes."He further threatened to sue ATC if they produced the card.

There are a few theories as to why Wagner pulled the plug on ATC. The two leading ones are that he didn't want children to buy cigarettes to get his card and that he wanted more compensation from ATC.

Theory #1 - Children Buying Cigarettes

Although Honus Wagner chewed tabacco himself, he cared for his young fans and did not want them getting hooked on cigarettes and having his name associated with ATC. According to his granddaughter Blair, "He loved children. He wanted to teach kids good sportsmanship. When it came time for that card to come out, it wasn't that he wasn't paid. He didn't want kids to have to buy tobacco to get his card."

Another supporting fact was that Wagner's manager, Fred Clarke, and Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss both hated cigarettes. Dreyfuss actually passed on signing Tris Speaker, a future Hall of Famer, early in his career because Speaker was a smoker. It therefore seems likely that Wagner would not want to be associated with the tobacco industry.

Theory #2 - Compensation From ATC

Others have speculated that ATC did not offer Honus Wagner enough money and he refused to go ahead with the card production. The theory has its flaws, however, as Wagner sent a check to the ATC representative, John Gruber, for $10, a substantial amount of money at the time, to compensate Gruber for the fee ATC would have paid him if Wagner agreed to create the card. Pundits ask why would Wagner have sent Gruber the money if he was holding out for more? Gruber, incidentally, never cashed the check and, instead, saved and framed it.

Whatever the reason for Wagner refusing to cooperate with ATC, the card certainly would not have been as valuable if it has been put into full production. The limited number printed combined with the popularity of Honus Wagner and the story behind the ATC / Wagner battle have made it the most expensive baseball card in history.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

New Honus Wagner Blog Header

I'm pleased to launch a new header picture for the Honus Wagner Blog!

When you look at your website long enough things start to bother you. For me it was the header picture. While the first header served its purpose I found that the main picture on the right made Honus Wagner look too old and tired. The background I also found to be uninspiring so both have been replaced!

I hope you enjoy the re-design!

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Sunday, April 6, 2008

How Good Was Honus Wagner Compared To Today's Players?

Professional baseball has been with us for over a century and Honus Wagner was one of the sport's earliest stars. But how good was he compared to the players in today's game? How can you compare players from one generation to the next?

Bill James, one of baseball's most famous historians, recently came up with a framework for measuring the effectiveness of players from different eras in his book "The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract." (As a side note Bill James was named to TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People list in 2006 for the work that he did). To rank the greatest baseball players of all time James used two key ratings: Runs Created and Win Shares.

Runs Created

Bill James maintains that a batter's job is not to get hits but to create runs. You could get all the hits you want but if they are not translating into runs for your team, does it matter? His argument is that the job of the batter is to generate runs which is how a hitter's value should be measured. The formula to figure out how many runs are created by each batter is:
(Hits + Walks) x (Total Bases) / (At Bats + Walks)
Win Shares

Bill James also create the Win Shares system which assigns a numerical figure which represents the value that a player brings to his team in any given season. It is a more complicated formula that looks at the number of wins that a single player is responsible for bringing to his team. In other words, if Honus Wagner were replaced with a league average shortstop, how many fewer wins would Pittsburgh have had?

How Does Honus Wagner Fare?

According to career Win Shares, the top 10 list are:
  1. Babe Ruth - 758
  2. Ty Cobb - 726
  3. Honus Wagner - 655
  4. Henry Aaron - 641
  5. Willie Mays - 641
  6. Cy Young - 635
  7. Tris Speaker - 633
  8. Stan Musial - 604
  9. Eddie Collins - 572
  10. Mickey Mantle - 565
If you look at Win Shares over five consecutive seasons, Honus Wagner actually leads the list:
  1. Honus Wagner - 1904-1908
  2. Babe Ruth - 1920-1924
  3. Ted Williams - 1941-1948
  4. Walter Johnson - 1912-1916
  5. Mickey Mantle - 1954-1958
  6. Ty Cobb - 1907-1911
  7. Tris Speaker - 1912-1916
  8. Willie Mays - 1962-1976
  9. Eddie Collins - 1911-1915
  10. Stan Musial - 1944-1949
The Greatest Players Of All Time

Bill James concluded his book by creating a list of the 100 Greatest Players of All Time. The top 10 were:
  1. Babe Ruth
  2. Honus Wagner
  3. Willie Mays
  4. Oscar Charleston
  5. Ty Cobb
  6. Mickey Mantle
  7. Ted Williams
  8. Walter Johnson
  9. Josh Gibson
  10. Stan Musial
Conclusion

According to Bill James, one of baseball's greatest historians, after years of research and analysis, his conclusion was that Honus Wagner was the second greatest baseball player of all time, behind only the legendary Babe Ruth.

Among baseball fans, the discussion of who is the greatest player of all time is one that will continue for decades to come but if anyone was going to put together an accurate framework for measuring players across different eras, James is the man for the job.

For more information, please refer to Bill James' book "The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract."

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