The upcoming baseball season marks the 105th anniversary of 1909 World Series, when Honus Wagner’s Pirates took on rival Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers. That year, Pittsburgh’s slogan was “You might Ty Cobb – but you can’t Tie Wagner.”
All baseball geeks know the rest of the story: The Pirates prevailed in seven games. Despite Wagner’s somewhat advanced age for a baseball player, the 35-year-old shortstop batted .333 with 8 RBI.
Known as “The Flying Dutchman” due to his impressive speed, Wagner had a remarkable, stocky build. As part of a 1955 obituary series, Les Biederman of The Pittsburgh Press wrote, “In his prime he was a strong man. He weighed 200 pounds and his legs took off at the ankles in an outward and upward direction…”
“The bowed legs were his trademark, looking like this ( ).”
His name, Honus, wasn’t really his name. In the same obituary series, Biederman wrote, “Wagner’s full name was John Peter Wagner. The nickname ‘Honus’ came because John in German means ‘Johannes’ and by the time his friends began pronouncing ‘Johannes,’ it came out ‘Honus.’”
A Carnegie native, Wagner retired from playing in 1917 – opening one of Carnegie’s first automobile garages – but returned to coach Pittsburgh’s hitters at Bill Benswanger’s request in 1933. He was a hitting coach for more than 15 years.
Wagner died in Carnegie on Dec. 6, 1955 at age 81.
But the statue of Wagner, “The Flying Dutchman,” standing tall, bat raised, still greets Pirates fans arriving at PNC Park. The inscription on the Frank Vittor statue reads: “So that future Pirate fans will be reminded of Honus Wagner’s contributions to baseball in Pittsburgh.”
Be sure to check out Bob Dvorchak’s “Sports ‘n’at” on Honus Wagner