Sunday, July 6, 2008

David Martinez on Honus Wagner

David Martinez is a member of the Society of American Baseball Research and the author of "The Book of Baseball Literacy" (published 1996 and 2000). He is also the man behind the baseball blog Baseball Mud: History, Stats, and Other Stuff, a new blog with interesting tidbits of baseball lore, literature, personalities, statistics, terminology, and more.

In one of David's posts, he discusses his opinion on how Honus Wagner is the greatest Pittsburgh Pirate of all time:
Who's the greatest? It really is no contest. Honus Wagner is not only the greatest Pirate of all time, he's one of the top five players of all time. Don't know much about Wagner? As a fielder, Wagner was the greatest of his time. As a hitter and baserunner, only Ty Cobb was better. As a positive clubhouse influence, he was unmatched. He was more beloved by fans than anybody until Babe Ruth. He was friendly with rookies and veterans alike, and he maintained his humility despite his fame.

“If I had a choice of all players who have played baseball,” long-time Yankee boss Ed Barrow, who guided Babe Ruth’s career, once said, “the first man I would select would be Honus Wagner.” And legendary manager John McGraw said: “I consider Wagner not only as the number one shortstop, but had he played in any position other than pitcher, he would have been equally great at the other seven positions. He was the nearest thing to a perfect player no matter where his manager chose to play him.”
In a subsequent post, David explains why he put Wagner on his list of the top 5 players of all time:
Other than Babe Ruth, I don't know for sure who I would list among the other top ballplayers. Probably Willie Mays, Walter Johnson, and Barry Bonds. Or maybe Roger Clemens instead of Johnson. I don't know. There are dozens of ways to crunch the numbers and each would come up with a different result.

Why Honus Wagner? He played so long ago, when the game was so different, that it seems odd to believe that a bow-legged shortstop from 100 years ago remains one of the greatest players of all time.

The way I look at it is, how much did he help his teams win and how much better was he than his contemporaries? And by that measure, Wagner is near the top of the list.

What we have is one of the greatest offensive performers of all time, playing the best shortstop, on one of the best teams of his era.

It would take a lot of convincing before I would stop revering Honus Wagner.
In his post David also compares Wagner's 1908 season to the statistics from modern day heroes like Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols to show how amazing Wagner's achievements really were.

If you haven't heard of David's blog before it's definitely worth a read - I discovered it through his Honus Wagner posts and am looking forward to future entries!

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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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