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Honus Wagner - Breaks Into Major Leagues

Famous Sports StarsBaseballHonus Wagner Biography - Born In Western Pennsylvania, Breaks Into Major Leagues, Retires From The Pirates In 1917, Chronology

Breaks Into Major Leagues

On July 19, 1897, Wagner made his major league debut for the Louisville Nationals, playing center field, and occasionally filling in at second base. In the sixty-one games he played for Louisville in 1897, Wagner compiled a batting average of .338. His batting average slipped a bit in 1898, falling to .299, but Wagner proved his versatility, playing first, second, and third base. His batting average bounced back in 1899, when he hit .336. However, at the end of the season the Louisville team disbanded, and Wagner, along with his close friend Fred Clarke, signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Clarke played left field for the Pirates and also managed. In 1900, Wagner won the first of eight batting championships with an impressive batting average of .381. Happy to be playing near his hometown, Wagner resisted tempting offers from American League teams to lure him away from Pittsburgh.

Wagner in 1901 began playing shortstop, the position for which he became best known. He also led the National League in doubles and runs batted in with an average of.353 and won the first of five stolen-base titles. His ungainly appearance was deceptive, for as awkward as he looked, Wagner could turn on the speed when it was needed. He established a career record of 722 stolen bases, a record that stood until it was eventually broken by Ty Cobb. The Pittsburgh Pirates, thanks in large part to Wagner's superlative batting, was the strongest club in the early days of the National League, finishing first in 1901, 1902, 1903, and 1909. In the very first World Series, a best-of-nine series in 1903, Pittsburgh faced off against Boston of the American League. It was not Wagner's finest moment, however, and he batted only .222 during the series. Boston took the series, five games to three.

Despite his less-than-stellar performance in the first World Series, Wagner led the National League as its best player for the next eight seasons, his batting average never dipping below .320. He acquired a reputation as one of the game's best bad-ball hitters, and this in an era when the rules allowed pitchers to hurl spitballs and battered, muddy balls usually stayed in the game for lack of replacements. In the World Series of 1909, the thirty-five-year-old Wagner and the Pirates faced off against the Detroit Tigers and their twenty-two-year-old wunderkind, Ty Cobb. The Pirates took the series, and Wagner outbatted Cobb .333 to .231.

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