Winter is approaching, which means – pity us all – there is no baseball here. That means it’s time for an informal stroll through some rare Honus Wagner videos. We invite you to stare at the screen and wait for spring.
What follows is an interview with the brilliant Pittsburgh shortstop, and the interview recordings order some clips of Wagner taking hacks on the record and putting his position into practice.
Speaking of setting, Sherman Grinberg Film Library, where the next one comes from, informs us that the year is 1933 and the place is Los Angeles. Presumably this means that it is during spring training. Back in 1933, four teams – the Cubs, Giants, White Sox and Wagner’s Pirates – held spring training in California. Of those, only the giants camped in Los Angeles at the time, so it is possible that this will be filmed in the spring. These spring excavations were Wrigley Field – a Pacific Coast League park that first opened in 1925. William K. Wrigley owned the Los Angeles Angels of the PCL, so he named their park after him. A few years later, Wrigley’s other team, the Chicago Cubs, changed the name of the home from Cubs Park to Wrigley Field. Coincidentally A major earthquake struck the Los Angeles area on March 10, 1933, which of course would have been in reasonable proximity by the time the interview was shot.
Let’s look at that, shall we? Our guide posts are said to be the timeless practice of the YouTube timestamp, which was the method of commentary pioneered by the Ashurbanipal Library in the seventh century BC, albeit in cuneiform at the time. Further!
It’s Honus Wagner – pronounced “HONN-us”, short for Johannes, nicknamed “The Flying Dutchman.” Wagner was the best ball player of the early 20th century and one of the greatest throughout baseball history.
Wagner was born and raised just a few miles from Pittsburgh, where he authored his legendary career, and was a huge hitter and base-stealer, and in seemingly despite his curvy gait and powerful “street corner mailbox”, a smooth-fielded card stop. As the man himself tells you, he began his great league career in Louisville (appreciating his “Looey-ville” statement, which may or may not be correct), which was a member franchise of the National League in its anti-Diluvian form.
Quite early in Wagner’s major league career, the NL contracted, and the Louisville franchise was denied. Barney Dreyfuss, who owned the Louisville Squadron and whose name Wagner calls himself early in the video above, constructed a takeover of the Pittsburgh Pirates after the NL reduced the ranks. He brought Wagner with him, to the eternal lifting of professional baseball in Western Pennsylvania.
Over parts of 21 major league seasons, all with Louisville and the Pirates, Wagner hit .328 / .391 / .467 (151 OPS +) with 3,420 hits; 895 combined doubles and triples (!); and 723 stolen bases. His career WAR of 130.9 ranks seventh all-time among position players. Wagner’s entire career was pre-integration, which means we have to reduce his performance since he played against an artificially limited group of competitors. In all contexts, however, he stands as one of the best ever to sharpen his spikes.
An outgrowth of the baseball of greatness is, of course, the greatness of the baseball card, and in this connection Mr. Wagner scrapes the sky. The T206 Honus Wagner card produced by the American Tobacco Company from 1909 to 1911 has at various times been the most valuable sports card in the world. Here’s a look, via Getty Images:
Not long after the card was first issued, Wagner refused, for unclear reasons (one explanation is that he did not want to be involved in marketing cigarettes for young children), and refused to allow more runs of the card, leaving only dozens in circulation. These days it is one in the New York Public Library, and that is one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Some nuns sold another, and for a time Wayne Gretzky owned one. The Gretzky card changed hands a few times before that was eventually sold for $ 2.8 million to current Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick. The card known as “Jumbo Wagner”, so called because it was cut incorrectly during the initial run and wound up slightly larger than the typical T206 card, proved to be even more valuable. It was sold in 2016 at a price of 3.12 million dollars. Earlier this year, a Mike Trout rookie card set a new record when it was sold at auction for almost $ 4 million.
Regardless, as long as we’re on the topic of the young Honus Wagner, be aware of his resemblance to the renowned football player Rob Gronkowski:
Thanks in advance for agreeing that young Honus Wagner looks like passing football player Rob Gronkowski.
Here we see ol ‘Honus take some hacks. During the play days, he famously used a bat that weighed more than 40 grams, but it is not certain whether he still swung that timber caliber in his pension. Whatever the specifications are, Wagner here is still capable of making the boys whip and trample and huddle slogans.
As mentioned, this video dates back to 1933, when Wagner would have been 59 years old and retired from the big ones for more than 15 years. The Great Depression hit Wagner and his business interests after baseball, and Dreyfuss ‘son-in-law, who took control of the team after Dreyfuss’ death in 1932, brought the old shortstop back into a coaching role. Wagner was given the task of shaping the young Arky Vaughn into a competent big player. He did so and then some, when Vaughn would eventually be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
By the way, if you look at this black and white footage and imagine the pirates in their current colors, then please stop doing it in the name of all that is sacred. They were actually red, white and blue at the time. The black and gold did not come until 1948.
Here, Wagner declares that modern jugs compared to jugs in their day had “harder work.” That is absolutely true. The thirties were very much a hitter era, while Wagner struggled in the Deadball Era.
At the end of the nineteenth century, throwing was finally allowed to throw the upper hand without restrictions, and beaters could no longer ask the pitcher to throw to a specific place within the strike zone (yes, that was the rule until 1887). For a time, hitters were able to use flat-sided bats, and fake balls did not count as a strike until 1893. All of these structural changes plus the liberal use of Wagner’s doctor ball fields allowed Deadball Era boxes to dominate most hitters. not called Honus Wagner.
Then baseball banned the spitball and its companions – spared a handful of boxers who were grandfathers and still able to throw the court – which gave hitters an advantage. Babe Ruth came and swung for the downturns, which inspired other hitters to ape his approach. Call it the first Launch Angle Revolution, if you will. It tilted the weight further. Throw proof that the ball itself became livelier and – the prose of an upcoming virtuoso – Deadball Era was as dead as the dead ball in Deadball Era.
Huzzah to Wagner to compliment himself obliquely when he mentions that pitchers in his time had it easier. This of course means that hitters like Wagner had a more burdensome task than those who came later.
Now our husband Honus takes some time to grope lovingly about the condition of the modern baseball glove. He mentions that during the play days he wore a glove “with nothing but his fingers on”, and he tells no lies. Here is a short excerpt from Wagner’s biographical entry on SABR:
His large hands made it difficult to tell if he was wearing a glove. The glove that seemed too small for his hand was made even smaller by cutting a hole in the palm and pulling out much of the filling. Doing so, he thought, gave him better feeling and hand mobility, reasonably given the pancake-shaped glove he wore.
Meatballs? Yes and also: Honus Wagner had fleshy paws. Anyway, here’s a Library of Congress photo of the glove Wagner wore around 1911.
Buckskin middle, that. Only after Wagner’s playing career was over did ties between his fingers and the glove pocket develop.
Wagner takes the overly padded glove and gets some representatives in his old position. Let us assume for the momentum of the story that “Oh my God!” you hear the outburst of someone just outside the camera, is in response to Wagner’s still powerful throwing arm.
Nr. 20 scampering back to third base so Wagner can gamely and awkwardly pretend to train third base in a high moment of influence is none other than Pie Traynor. Traynor in 1933 was nearing the end of what would prove to be a Hall of Fame career for the pirates. He was inaugurated in 1948, 12 years after Wagner was a member of Hallen’s first class.
While looking at Traynor, we also get a glimpse of the houses outside the left field. That plus the low-rise outdoor seats on the right that were visible earlier when Wagner was in the field, confirms anything but that this really is Wrigley Field near Hollywood. There is now a public playground and a center for mental health.
Wagner takes a few more hacks, and on this mark we can see No. 10 in the background indulging in some dry turns. It would be Lloyd Waner, Paul’s brother and owner of the very good nickname “Little Poison.” The Veterans Committee installed Waner in the hall in 1967.
Wagner’s turn is much more level than what we see these days. His arms are not stacked by contact, but his hands go backwards and the lower half moves forward towards the jug. He also uses a full shoulder in the turn, so he is undoubtedly trying to ritually abuse baseball.
Your idea that 59-year-old Honus could no longer lie in one? Make a bonfire of your prerequisites and transfer it to these flames.
There’s a cloutsman who just tore one or maybe over the left field wall – LA’s Wrigley Field was 330 down the line and 380 to the left field street – and a young hunter who saw him do it contrary to his existing assumptions about what a 59 year old can do well with a reliable shillelagh in your hands.
And with that, our trip is complete. As Wagner became known for once saying, “There’s not much to being a ball player, if you’re a ball player.”
The same home-grown wisdom applies to watching videos on the internet, that’s what you and I have done instead of playing baseball in Los Angeles.