HONUS WAGNER DIES AT AGE OF 81
Shortstop, one of Baseball Immortals, Made Mark With Pittsburgh Club
MANY RECORDS STAND
Played Most Games, 2,785 and Led League 8 Times - Lifetime Average of .328
PITTSBURGH, Tuesday, Dec. 8 (AP) - John (Honus) Wagner, one of baseball's greatest shortstops died today at his home in near-by Carnegie. He was 81 years old.
The bandy-legged, barrel-chested star of the early part of the century, had been in ill health for the last several years.
Ranked Among the Immortals
Baseball can be as controversial a topic as politics, especially when it comes to ranking the great players of the past and present. But, as with Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson and a select few other outstanding performers, there has been almost perfect unanimity among the experts that Honus Wagner belonged among the immortals of the game.
In fact, there are many who will argue that the "Flying Dutchman" should be placed at the top of the list. Be this as it may, there have been or are now no serious challengers to Mr. Wagner in his generally accepted designation as baseball's greatest shortstop.
It was at this position that Mr. Wagner performed for the greater part of his twenty-one consecutive years of major league service, from 1897 through 1917. In various emergencies, he filled in at other spots, in fact, playing every position except catcher. He still is regarded as the yardstick of excellence for shortstops.
Mr. Wagner also was one of the noted batsmen of his day, and many of the records he set are still on the books. He had a lifetime mark of .328, hit more than .300 in seventeen consecutive seasons. He led the National League eight times, 1900, 1903, 1904, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1909 and 1911.
Lifetime Fielding Mark of .945
His lifetime fielding mark was .945, and he was first among the National League shortstops in 1912, 1914 and 1915. In addition, he led his league in stolen bases in 1901, 1904, 1907 and 1908.
Some of Mr. Wagner's records that still are on the books are the National League marks for playing the most games, 2,785; leading the league the most times in batting, eight; hitting more than .300 the most times, seventeen; and making the most hits, 3,430; the most runs, 1,740; and most total bases, 4,878. His batting feats were all the more remarkable since he had to contend with such obstacles as trick pitches, long outfields and a "dead" ball.
Mr. Wagner was modest and good natured. He avoided disputes with the umpires and had no salary wrangles with his employers. He never was a hold-out. In fact, it is said he often signed blank contracts, leaving it to the late Barney Dreyfuss, president of the Pirates, to fill in a figure he considered fair.
His love for baseball went far deeper than the money he made in the game. He played for the love of playing and his interest in baseball survived his playing days and he retained his active connections until the very end.
Mr. Wagner was born in Carnegie, Pa., on Feb. 24, 1874. He was christened John Peter, but during his baseball career he was familiarly known as Honus or Hans. The "Flying Dutchman" sobriquet, fastened on him by the fans, was indicative of the dash and speed he displayed on the field and on the baselines.
Started career in Ohio in '95
After gaining prominence on the sandlots while earning his livelihood as a barber, Mr. Wagner broke into professional baseball in 1895 with the Steubenville (Ohio) club. He received a trial at the insistence of his older brother, Albert, also a ballplayer, who refused to sign unless the club took Honus as well.
Mr. Wagner was an immediate success at Steubenville and the next year advanced to the Paterson, N.J. club of the old Atlantic League. His play at Patterson attracted the attention of the Louisville club, then a member of the National League and operated by Mr. Dreyfuss, Louisville purchased Mr. Wagner's release for $2,200 and he began his major league career with the Colonels in 1897, winning a regular position at the start.
In 1900 the National League circuit was reduced from twelve teams to eight and Mr. Dreyfuss bought the Pittsburgh franchise, taking Mr. Wagner with him. The shortstop remained with the Pirates until he retired from active play in 1917 at the age of 43. In his final season he was made manager of the team, but the task was not to his liking and he gave it up after less than a week.
After leaving the Pirates, Wagner continued to play semi-professional baseball in the Pittsburgh system until he was well past 50. During this period he served as manager of a sporting goods store and in other ways kept in contact with baseball. He was appointed an assistant sergeant-at-arms in the Pennsylvania State Legislature in 1940 and once was nominated for the office of Sheriff in Pittsburgh.
Mr. Wagner was brought back to his old team in an official capacity in 1933, when he was appointed a coach. He had served continuously with the Pirates ever since, the sight of his rugged bow-legged figure on the field awakened nostalgic feelings among the old-timers in the stands.
Throughout his career one of the outstanding features about Mr. Wagner was his vitality. One of the strong players in the game in his active days, he weighed 180 pounds and was 5 feet 11 inches tall - he possessed an amazing vigor, even after he had passed 60 and he often set the pace for his youthful charges in the pre-game workouts of the Pirates.
During his term as coach of Pittsburgh, Mr. Wagner also served for several years as commissioner for the National Semi-Pro Baseball Congress, in which capacity he had jurisdiction over 25,000 sandlot teams.
In 1936, he was among the first group of stars named to baseball's Hall of Fame. He retired on a Pirate pension in 1951 and two years later the locker he had used as a player and coach was shipped to the baseball shrine at Cooperstown, N.Y.
At the turn of the century the bat-manufacturing concern of Hillerich & Bradsby conceived the idea of having major league ball players endorse their product with the players autographing their particular models, Mr. Wagner was the first to have his autograph appear on one of these bats. This was 1905.
Although in recent years Mr. Wagner remained confined to his home in Carnegie, honors continued to be showered upon him. On the occasion of his eightieth birthday in 1954, he was deluged with greetings, one of them from President Eisenhower.
With the opening of the 1954 season at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, the Pirates as part of the inaugural day ceremonies presented a special plaque to Wagner as baseball's Mr. Shortstop. It was accepted by his daughter, Mrs. Harry Blair. His 8-year-old granddaughter, Leslie Arm Blair, then threw out the first ball.
A bronze statue of Mr. Wagner was unveiled in Schenley Park in Pittsburgh on April 30 of this year. A public campaign had provided the $30,000 needed for the statue. The great shortstop, weakened by age, saw the unveiling from an automobile parked near adjacent Forbes Field, where he had played for the Pirates half a century before.