Baseball

Honus Wagner: The Splash 11

|
Image for Honus Wagner: The Splash 11

Even 100 years after his retirement, few players match what Honus Wagner did on the baseball diamond. He may not have the All-Star appearances, Most Valuable Player Awards, or positional awards that the last century of shortstops have, but “The Flying Dutchman” has an inner-circle Hall of Fame legacy.

Wagner with the Louisville Colonels

The Ugly History of the Colonels

The Colonels had been spiraling since they went to the 1890 World Series (tying across seven games). From 1891 to 1896, the team routinely finished with a winning percentage below .400. In 1894 and 1895, they allowed an incomprehensible 1,000 runs in just 131 and 133 games respectively.

1897

Wagner entered the scene in 1897, and the Colonels had a slight uptick. After winning 38 games in the previous season, they won 52 and added .110 points to their winning percentage. They escaped last place in the National League for the first time since 1893.

Wagner’s rookie season falls in the same vein as Wander Franco’s rookie season. He only had 263 plate appearances, but he posted exceptional numbers. He slashed .335/.376/.467, good for an OPS+ of 125. He stole 20 bases and tacked on 24 extra-base hits.

1898

His second season in Louisville was not quite as dominant, but he did post solid numbers. He slashed .299/.341/.410 for an OPS+ of 115. Wagner had 42 extra-base hits, driving in 105 runs. He stole 27 bases, and he walked more than he struck out. His 10 home runs were second in the National League, and he was top 10 in doubles and runs batted in.

1899

The Colonels had their most successful season in a decade in large part due to Wagner’s excellence. He was fourth among NL position players with a 5.8 bWAR, and he was tenth in batting average. He slugged .500 for the first time in his career, and he stole 37 bases. Wagner had an exceptional 145 OPS+ even as the Colonels lost more than they won, and the season ended with the NL retracting from 12 teams to eight.

Wagner with the Pittsburgh Pirates

In December of 1899, Wagner was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates along with 11 of his teammates. Wagner blossomed into one of the best players in baseball. In 1900, he led the league in doubles, triples, batting average, slugging percentage, OPS+, and total bases. He cracked the 200-hit and 100-RBI plateau, and he stole 38 bases. Wagner ended with a robust 6.5 bWAR, and he would have had strong chances if there was an MVP award in 1900.

In 1901, Wagner ended with a 160 OPS+, his second year in a row that exceeded that mark. The streak eventually lasted 10 seasons, peaking with a ridiculous 205 OPS+ in 1908. In his streak, Wagner led the NL in OPS+ six times while winning seven of his eight batting titles. He led the league in total bases six times, RBI four times, steals five times, and doubles seven times. From 1900-1909, Wagner slashed .352/.417/.508 for an OPS+ of 176. He led the Pirates to a pair of pennants. They lost in the inaugural World Series, but they won in 1909.

In those 10 seasons, Wagner accumulated a ridiculous 85.8 bWAR. If positional awards had existed, Wagner would have collected a bevy of Silver Sluggers, Gold Gloves, and All-MLB team selections.

After the Streak

Wagner remained an excellent player into the 1910s, but his streak came to a halt in 1910. From 1910 to 1913, Wagner continued to have success even if he was no longer the best hitter in his league. He had four seasons batting over .300, and he even led the NL in OPS in 1911.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of Wagner’s career was that only four of his 21 seasons were eligible for an MVP. He received MVP votes in 1911, 1912, and 1913, but he was past his peak and fell short each time. By 1914, Wagner was in his 40s, and he was never the same contact hitter. After sporting a .340/.403/.488 slash line in his 20s and 30s, Wagner limped to the finish line with a .269/.330/.362 slash line. However, it was good enough for an OPS+ of 111.

In 1914, Wagner became the second player to reach 3,000 hits, joining Cap Anson. Nap Lajoie joined the pair in the final days of the season.

Final Tallies

Wagner ended his career with 1,739 runs scored, 3,420 hits, 642 doubles, 252 triples, and 723 steals. His career slash line of .328/.391/.467 stands out historically, and he had a career 151 OPS+. He posted a staggering 130.8 bWAR, and he was positive as a defender and a base runner. His 638 batting runs rank 20th in MLB history.

Even 100 years later, Wagner ranks in the top 10 in bWAR, oWAR, hits, doubles, triples, steals, and putouts as a shortstop. Wagner was one of the first five players inducted into the Hall of Fame, receiving the second-most votes (tied with Babe Ruth).

Is Wagner the Greatest Shortstop of All-Time?

After decades of competition, Wagner can be no worse than second among players at his position. He had one of the most dominant decades of hitting by a player at any position, and he was a strong fielder. The power-hitting shortstops (including Alex Rodriguez and Cal Ripken Jr.) are compelling answers, but Wagner remains the most correct.


For the hub of the Splash 11, go here.

Follow me on Twitter at @MrSplashMan19 for more of my content! Don’t forget to join our OT Heroics MLB Facebook group, and feel free to join our new Instagram –  @overtimeheroics_MLB, and listen to our baseball podcast, Cheap Seat Chatter! We’ll see ya there!

Come join the discussion made by the fans at the Overtime Heroics forums! A place for all sports!

Main image credit Embed from Getty Images

Share this article

Ryan Potts is an avid football and baseball fan. He covers the NFL and Major League Baseball, focusing on the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Braves.