Half-Baked Hall Profile: Honus Wagner

February 7, 2015

Johannes Peter Wagner 1874-1955

Honus Wagner if one of my favorite players of all time. He may not be the best ever, but he is on the short list. He had an 11.5 win season (*rWAR) in 1908, one of only five players not named Ruth or Bonds to reach that number in a single season. By all accounts Wagner was the very definition of “strapping” in appearance, and in his 21 seasons he was one of the most respected a feared players in baseball.*

*When Ty Cobb was asked about the legend of a World Series incident in which he challenged Wagner on a stolen base and got stitches in his mouth as a result, his response was there was no way that story could be true – it would be foolhardy to anger Wagner.

Much has been written about Wagner (his SABR bio is here), and there is not much more in the way of words to add to the record. For me, however, there are two pictures of Wagner that have captured the imagination of many (myself included) that help to tell his Hall of Fame Story.

t106

The first is the famous T206 baseball card bearing his image. It makes headlines every so often when it sells for an increasingly absurd amount of money (most recently for $2.1 million in 2013). As with anything that involves this much money, there is a little bit of intrigue and controversy surrounding the cards, particularly when it comes to questions of authenticity.

There is little controversy, however, surrounding the circumstances that led to the shortage of Wagner T206 baseball cards. The card was produced as part of a 1909 baseball series by the American Tobacco Company (ATC) that wanted to use the images to help sell tobacco products in a newly competitive market following Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting. When ATC sought permission of the players, Wagner denied it.

While it is impossible to know his true motives, the most likely explanation seems to be that Wagner, a regular user of chewing tobacco, did not want his image used to sell tobacco products to kids.

ATC honored Wagner’s wishes by halting production of the card, but there were already a handful printed. Thus the shortage, and thus the million-dollar-plus price tag those that are confirmed authentic fetch when auctioned.

wagner

The second photo (bigger version here) is estimated to have been taken around 1915, which would make Wagner at least 40 years old. The image of Wagner’s hulking frame, including his legendary large hands, crouched in the dugout pondering the line of bat options has become iconic. It captures a seemingly pensive man at the tail-end of his Hall of Fame career. You can almost listen in to his thoughts as heĀ  reflects on all that he has seen in the game that was his life’s work for 21 seasons.

Honus Wagner, like all of us, was far from perfect. He was accused of overly-rough play, and when Ty Cobb takes pains to avoid angering somebody there is some evidence of a temper. Still, there is something about The Flying Dutchman that makes him stand out from other baseball stars. Perhaps it was his frame, odd even for a deadball era player. Maybe it was his unflinching loyalty to Pittsburgh when it would have been easy (and more lucrative) to jump to a different league. It may be that his workman-like qualities and longevity commanded almost unanimous respect among his peers. Whatever the reason, Wagner’s legacy holds a special place in baseball – enough to make him only the second player elected into the Half-baked Hall of Fame unanimously.

 


Interactive – Please Don’t Call Them Twinkies

June 24, 2014

First, a link to the song by Craig Finn and The Baseball Project.

Lyrics:

In 1965, I wasn’t quite alive yet
But I’m told they gave the MVP to Zoilo Versalles
Oliva hit the singles and Harmon hit the homers
Mudcat Grant won 20 games and they didn’t play in a dome yet

The Dodgers came to Bloomington to play for the World Series
The Twins took the first two, you can even ask Vin Scully
But Sandy Koufax proved to be a bit too much to crack
And the Twins went down in seven but they vowed that they’d be back

From Nicollet to Hennepin, from St. Paul to St. Cloud
The Minnesota Twins are making Minnesotans proud
And we don’t buy our titles so there are summers where we stink
But these are grown men, these are heroes
Please don’t call them Twinkies

In the fall of 87, I was pretty much in heaven
I got my license and a girlfriend and the Twins had won the pennant
I prayed more in the Dome than I ever did at church
Kirby Puckett had the smile, Kent Hrbek had the smirk

First we tamed the Tigers, then we were dealt the Cards
And they came to the Twin Cities to try to make sense of our park
It was loud and it was close and it went to seven games
But the Twins took home the title and that sweet music played

From Edina to Duluth, from the south side to downtown
The Minnesota Twins are making Minnesotans proud
So, hey, let’s make some noise, come on, wave those Homer Hankies
These are grown men, well, these are heroes
Please don’t call them Twinkies

In 1991, the Twins were once again on top
We faced Atlanta in the Series and they thought that they were hot
I’ve never seen nothing so lame as that Fondahawk chop
But we were up against the ropes when Kirby called his shot

And as he ran around the bases, smiling, pumping fists
We all knew that he had won it, though it was only just game six
And the next night, Jack Morris came and made his hometown proud
You should watch it in slow motion, Ron Gant was clearly out

From Mankato up to Brainerd, from Burnsville to Bemidji
Now we’re playing outdoor baseball and that’s the way it should be
Raise a toast to Kirby Puckett, raise another to Tom Kelly
These are Minnesota Twins, so let’s not call them Twinkies

We’ve got Justin, we’ve got Joe, that’s enough reason to party
We don’t buy our titles and we’ve still won two World Series
Grab yourself a 3.2 beer, raise a toast to Gardy
These are the Minnesota Twins, so please don’t call them Twinkies
Please don’t call them Twinkies, please don’t call them Twinkies


Don’t Call Them Twinkies

February 2, 2012


Don’t Call Them Twinkies

September 24, 2010

I’m loving this song (even though I routinely call them Twinkies).

This has been a crazy week, and I haven’t had much time to think about the events surrounding the Twins (much less write about them) – but there is a lot to be excited about right now.

Given time, I will probably write something about how, while I would like to see some success in the playoffs this year, I will not call the season a failure if the Twins are three-and-out again. 162 games is an awful lot to discard due to three or four bad games, no matter when they are played.


Is Harmon Killewbrew the Batter on the MLB Logo?

April 30, 2010

While doing some unrelated research, I found this Paul Lukas column from 2008. I had heard that Killebrew was the inspiration for the MLB logo before, though I didn’t realize it had reached “controversy” status. Here is the logo:

…and here is the inverted drawing of Killebrew from the 1963 program:

Looks pretty similar, but as Lukas pointed out, so do dozens of other baseball players. It sounds as though the true story is that Killebrew is one of many images the artist used as a composite for the logo, but I think it is a much better story to simply say that Harmon Killebrew is the Major League Baseball logo.


George F. Will’s Sports Machine

April 29, 2010

George F. Will: “In 1954, Willie Mays, in an emphatic stroke of Byzantine whimsy, made his over-the-shoulder catch off of Vic Wertz. What was it not unlike?” [ no answers ] Take it? Anyone?

Mike Schmidt: The.. uh.. the catch in Cincinnati that.. [ buzzer sounds ]

George F. Will: Sorry. “It was not unlike watching Atlantis rise again from the sea, the bones of its kings new-covered with flesh.”

George Will wrote Men At Work 20 years ago, so this video* has started popping up across the internets. I remember seeing it at the time, but not really getting the joke. Now I get it.

*You have to watch an ad at the link before the video starts.

Tim Marchman at Slate.com has an interesting article looking at Will’s book 20 years later, suggesting that perhaps Will was a little ahead of the curve in terms of statistical analysis:

Coming to Men at Work 20 years after I first read it, this wasn’t quite what I expected to find. There on the very first page, though, Will approvingly cites Bill James, described not as a computer geek or a stats guru or the resident of a dank basement but simply “the baseball writer from Winchester, Kansas.” Over the next 300-plus pages, Will mocks the notion that you can tell much about a player from a few at-bats, notes that “won-lost records are not very revealing,” chastises the reader who might think that batting average is a useful measure of a hitter’s abilities, and muses about the effects of ballpark dimensions on statistics.

Marchman also presents an interesting contrast between Will and Buzz Bissinger, who both ventured to profile Tony La Russa (the two authors, needless to say, came to a very different conclusion about the “genius” of La Russa).


“But…I’m the American League MVP”

March 12, 2010

Joe Mauer has had his share of commercials in the past few years, but lets just say the acting has left a little to be desired. I just caught his most recent offering, and noticed a little personality shining through. Here is a brief history of Joe Mauer in commericials (I was unable to find my all time favorite: “Pour it on, Minnesota”).

First, the spot that drew attention to our favorite sideburns:

Mauer on this is Sportscenter:

Take it Outside, Joe:

Finally, the new MLB 10 commercial:


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