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Honus Wagner: A Biography

Devaleria, Dennis; Devaleria, Jeanne Burke

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ISBN 10: 0805037500 / ISBN 13: 9780805037500
Published by Henry Holt & Co, U.S.A., 1996
Used Condition: Very Good Hardcover
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Bibliographic Details

Title: Honus Wagner: A Biography

Publisher: Henry Holt & Co, U.S.A.

Publication Date: 1996

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition: Very Good

Dust Jacket Condition: Very Good

Edition: 1st Edition.

Book Type: Book

About this title


With the coming of the twentieth century, America was thinking on a grand scale. Barriers of communication and transportation were being overcome and giants such as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and William Randolph Hearst walked the land. The nation’s game was baseball, and its giant was Honus Wagner. In 1996, a baseball card depicting Honus Wagner sold for $640,500 - the largest sum ever paid at auction for a sports artifact. What could possibly make that piece of cardboard, approximately one-and-a-half by two-and-a-half inches, worth more than half a million dollars? The DeValerias tell the unique story behind this now-famous baseball card and the man depicted on it. In doing so, they accurately present the local, regional, and national context so readers gain a thorough understanding of Wagner’s times.Wagner’s gradual emergence from the pack into stardom and popularity is described here in rich detail, but the book also reveals much of Wagner’s family and personal life - his minor leauge career, his values, his failed business ventures during the Depression, and his later years. Neither the rowdy-ball” ruffian nor the teetotal saint constructed of legend, Wagner is presented here in a complete portrait - one that offers a vivid impression of the era when baseball was America’s game and the nation was evolving into the world’s industrial leader.


The first decade of baseball in the 20th century witnessed the ascension of two stars who stood above the rest: Ty Cobb in the American League and Honus Wagner in the National. If Cobb was the game's tortured bully, Wagner was the anti-Cobb. He was kind and quiet, the most beloved figure in the game before Ruth, the local boy from the coalfields of western Pennsylvania who made good on the green fields of Pittsburgh's ballparks. Despite terribly bowed legs and freakishly large hands, he patrolled the shortstop slot with remarkable dexterity; he may not have been as acrobatic as Ozzie Smith, but no shortstop was steadier defensively. Offensively, he was a genius, winning eight batting crowns, four in a row between 1906 and 1909, and he remains, almost a century later, among the all-time top 10 in hits, doubles, triples, and stolen bases. Cobb, who rarely complimented anyone, considered Wagner "the greatest ballplayer that ever lived." Yet more than 40 years would pass after his death before any biographer seriously went to bat with his life.

In Honus Wagner, the DeValerias have produced a clean hit, maybe not a home run, but, befitting a star of the dead-ball era, a well-placed, well-struck double. As solid as Wagner himself--and at 5'11" and 200 pounds, he was solid--the "Flying Dutchman" emerges as a shy man who loved the game and loved to play it, and that's about the extent of it. He was a regular guy, no tormented Cobb, no educated Mathewson, no flamboyant Ruth. There are simply no strikes against him; he was unfussy, immensely likeable, anxious to please, tremendously supportive of his friends and teammates, and, while inordinately polite on the field, off of it he rarely pulled his punch lines. If anything haunted him, it was his poor performance against the Red Sox in the 1903 World Series, which he more than made up for against Cobb and the Tigers six years later. He may have led a simple life, but he wasn't exactly a simple man; his biographers treat him with the same respect he treated the game, and propel themselves with the same thoroughness, doggedness, and care that Wagner displayed on the field. --Jeff Silverman

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