Honus Wagner (True) Rookie Card

Edward Barrow is the gentlemen responsible for noticing the talent of Honus Wagner. Realizing that Honus had what it took for the Big Leagues he contacted Louisville, Colonels, and Honus was signed in 1897. Honus Wagner has one official rookie card.

Honus Wagner the First 5 Tool Player

Wagner was one of nine children. He and his brothers would play baseball whenever possible. They helped each other develop their baseball skills and three of his brothers also went on to become professional baseball players.

For every bit of a decade, Honus Wagner dominated in just about every batting statistic in the game!

He was no defensive slouch either, in fact to this day he is regarded as the greatest shortstop to ever play the game.

For 16 years (1898-1913) Honus hit .300 or better, winning the NL batting title eight times!

Baseball historian and statistician Bill James has declared Honus as “the second-best player of all time after Babe Ruth.”

Although he dominated batting stats and fielding percentages there was another category he dominated in – the stolen base.

Collecting a career 723 stolen bases ranks him 10th all-time. In fact, it’s because of his speed on the bases, and German heritage, he was nicknamed the “The Flying Dutchman.”

Ironically, when speaking of Honus one topic keeps popping up that I find rather odd. His appearance. Could it be that door-knocker of a nose he has?

In the book titled, The Real 100 Best Baseball Players of All Time…And Why! Ken Shouler explains it best

“…his arms were so long he could tie his shoes without bending over. Barrel chested and long of limb, he was also long on baseball skill. The hulking 5 foot 11 inch, 200 pound shortstop was bow-legged and appeared ill-equipped to handle the most demanding position on the diamond. Appearances deceive, because handle shortstop he did.” 

Honus Wagner -vs- Ty Cobb

The history books show us that there was a rivalry between Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner.

It was no secret and it was in full display for the world to see in the 1909 World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers.

There were distinct differences between their temperaments; Wagner was one of the good guys, humble and kind-hearted. Cobb was aggressive, a trouble-maker, a bully type of guy.

In typical fashion Cobb makes it to first, between pitches Cobb yells to Wagner, “Watch out kraut-head, I’m coming down, I’ll cut you to pieces!”

Cobb intimidated infielders; by reputation, he was known for sharpening his spikes with a file before the game.

Wagner returns fire, “Come on ahead then!” There he goes! And when Cobb slid into second, Wagner tagged him in the face, splitting his lip!

The Pirates went on to win the World Series in 7 games.

Career Stats & Accomplishments

According to Baseball-Reference.com Honus Wagner career stats are:

WAR 130.8 | At Bats 10,439 | Hits 3,420 | Home Runs 101 | Batting Average .328 | Stolen Bases 723

Accomplishments:

  • 8x Batting Title
  • 1x World Series Champion (1909)
  • 1936 Hall of Fame Induction
  • In 1900 he won his first batting title, he hit a .381 batting average, with a .573 slugging percentage along with 45 doubles and 22 triples.
  • He was the first ballplayer to pick up an endorsement. In 1905, Wagner signed a contract with Louisville Slugger to produce the first bat with a player’s signature.
  • After retirement, Wagner was a hitting coach for the Pirates for 39 years.

Truth be Told, Honus Wagner Has a Wide Variety of Cards

Before We Begin

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True Rookie Card

Identifier (RC) Defined

A rookie card is a trading card that is the first to feature an athlete AFTER that athlete has participated in the highest level of competition within his or her respected sport. It must be licensed by both the League and the Players Association. An RC identifier is only given to cards that fit this criteria. Below is an exhaustive list of the featured players true rookie cards.

1899-1900 M101- Sporting News (RC)

Photo Courtesy of TanManBaseballFan.com

There is a hobby mindset, a fixed attitude or disposition that thinks the T206 is Honus Wagner’s rookie card.

Truth be told, that mindset is debatable. Hobby publications have never designated the T206 as the rookie card. When you look at Honus Wagner cards as a whole you may be surprised at what you see.

First, we need to take into consideration that Honus debuted in the MLB on July 19, 1897. That’s a full 12 seasons prior to the 1909 tobacco card that everyone believes is a rookie card.

As a matter of fact, there is a total of 40 cards documented that were released between 1900-1908. That’s 40 other cards prior to the 1909 T-206!

Everything from food and beverage, to postcards, and photos. One of the earliest cards of Honus is the 1899-1900 M101-1 Sporting News pictured above.

You can see it in detail and learn lots more about it as another sports card blogger known as Tan the Man Baseball Fan was able to purchase one. He wrote about it and even did a video unboxing this masterpiece.


Post-Rookie Theme

Identifier (PRT) Defined

The PRT identifier has a dual function. It’s used to identify cards that feature a player after their rookie season but in some way the card design has elements that feature a rookie theme. Also, for vintage, this identifier can be used for second year cards which are highly collectable, and often times preferred, but they are NOT true rookie cards.

1909-1911 T206, #497 (PRT)

The T206 is the most collected set of the prewar era. It’s a 524 card set and features many Hall of Famers.

Cards were inserted into packs of 16 different brands of tobacco all owned and manufactured by the American Tobacco Company.

This is a benchmark set in the world of sports card collecting. Iconic and Americana and because of its many variations has lots of hobby appeal.

1909-1911 T206 of Honus Wagner is one of the rarest and most expensive baseball cards in the hobby today. Only 57 copies are known to exist.

The American Tobacco Company stopped production of the Wagner card and it is believed that they only released around 200 to the public.

The card front features a very dignified portrait photo of Honus, and there are two different card back variants, the White Piedmont Back and the Sweet Caporal’s.

Technically Speaking on the T206

This card is Honus Wagner’s most popular mainstream card that is often identified as a rookie card. But that is not the case because in no way does it qualify as one. It’s the most collected set of the prewar era for sure but that can’t be the defining reason.

However, because its viewed as a rookie card by the hobby a proper identifier would be post-rookie theme. It was produced in Wagner’s 13 season in the league but it has a theme or a belief that it is a rookie card.

The hobby has done something similar with 1933 Goudey of Babe Ruth. Because of scarcity of all other cards the hobby has adopted the Goudey’s of Ruth as the card to own, because they’re the ones most available to collectors.

One Card Two Stories

What makes this card so rare and the reason why the card manufacturer stopped production was by Honus Wagner’s request.

There were a couple things that went against Wagner’s convictions. First, he was a non-smoker and did not want his card inside a tobacco product. He embraced his image as a role model and was concerned about how that would look.

But some say that the non-smoking story is folklore and there is another version of the story and it had to do with consent.

American Tobacco Company had to get consent from every player they pictured on their cards, Wagner considered the best player in the world in 1909 surely they had to get permission. Right? But that was not the case.

Wagner claimed he never gave his consent to print this card and threatened legal action if production wasn’t stopped.

I like to think it may have been for both reasons, I guess we’ll never know for sure. Two things remain for sure, production was stopped and scarcity is certain.

Happy Collecting Collectors,

Learn. Collect. Enjoy.

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