Friday, October 30, 2009

How Hans Wagner Almost Became A Brown

Twenty-five years ago Chris Von der Ahe, owner of the pennant-winning Browns of (St. Louis), had a chance to buy Hans Wagner from the Louisville Club for $500. Today Wagner draws a salary of $10,000 a year, and could not be bought from the Pirates for any price...

"I thought it was a joke when Louisville asked $500 for Wagner," said Von der Ahe. "Why, I told them 'that bow-legged fellow couldn't catch a pig.'"

"Wagner was new to the Louisville Club, and the owner didn't know much more about him than I did. I watched him play a few games, and when I saw the style of his play I realized I had overlooked something good. Then I very adroitly tried to buy him, but Louisville had found out something. I was told the price was $5,ooo."
-Mixer and server, Volume 20

I've seen the Von der Ahe quote about Honus Wagner being bow-legged before but I don't remember it being in the context of Von der Ahe passing on the greatest shortstop of all-time. Considering that this quote was published in 1911, I'm not certain how true the story is. It might just be Von der Ahe talking out of his hat years later but the idea that the Browns could have gotten Wagner in 1897 or 1898 is intriguing. Not to get too carried away with it but if the Browns had gotten Wagner it would have had a serious impact on the history of St. Louis baseball. The Browns and (later) the Cardinals were not good during Wagner's entire career but adding the best player in baseball would have changed that. It probably wouldn't have been enough to save Von der Ahe in 1898 but Wagner would have been enough to make the 1899 Perfectos and the 1901, 1904 and 1911 Cardinals pennant contenders.

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