Friday, May 15, 2015

The Million Dollar face of early 20th Century Sports: "The Flying Dutchman"

Number nine, in no particular order, of my Baseball Greats drawings.
With a face and body like it was hewn from the stone walls of the coal mines of his home town of Pittsburgh, Johannes Peter "Honus" Wagner, was a gritty leader of the early generation of Baseball greats. One of the first five members to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Honus, or as his Mother, and later fellow players called him, "Hans," is considered to be the best shortstop ever by baseball historians. It's hard to compare the game today with what it was in the late 19th and early 20th Century, but, considering the "dead ball" era of the game made runs much harder to come by, Honus Wagner compiled a lifetime batting average of .329, with 3,430 hits, 1,732 RBIs, and 722 stolen bases. He was the first to ever steal second base, third base and home consecutively in August 1899 under a new rule differentiating between advanced bases and stolen bases. He also played, and played well, into his 40s. If you are not a huge baseball fan, you've probably still heard the name.
Like how his very rare, "T206" early baseball cards are selling for hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars recently at auction. The Honus face most, including myself I must admit, are familiar with, is that of a natty young, dark haired man on the 1910-1911 tobacco cards that he didn't like. Thats how they became rare as not many were made or distributed. Long before the first 1936 Hall of Fame induction, he actually refused to send his portrait to a "Hall of Fame" for batting champions because, in his words, his performance in the previous season's World Series in which his Pittsburgh team lost to a Christy Mathewson and Cy Young lead "Boston American's" was "..too bum last year." He even went on to say "I was a joke in that Boston-Pittsburgh (1903) Series", and "What does it profit it a man to hammer along and make a few hits when they are needed only to fall down when it comes to a pinch? I would be ashamed to have my picture up now." (He and his Pittsburgh team would be redeemed in the 1909 World Series, beating the Ty Cobb lead Detroit Tigers.) Refreshing character and honesty not often seen any more in the world of professional sports. Last I heard, "2.8 Million Dollar" character. Not bad for the son of German immigrants from the mines of "The Burgh."

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