Honus Wagner hit 1 walk-off HR … against guess who?

I wanted to see if I could find a 19th-century walk-off in the Newspapers.com archives and I am pleased to report that was a successful venture.

“Game is Booming. New England has a Violent Attack of Baseball Fever” read the headline on Page 5 of the Pittsburgh Press. That story is pertinent only to offer context on the condition of the sport on April 26, 1899. The article below it is more our concern, telling of how the Louisville Colonels defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in a rather exciting competition the day before.

What’s cool about this one is that the story’s hero is third-year infielder Honus “Hans” Wagner. Wagner is best known for his time as a shortstop with the Pirates, but he actually began his career with the Colonels in 1897 and was playing third base in this game. Wagner was a good player from the time of his debut, but he made the jump to true superstar, future Hall-of-Famer and baseball legend that season, with this game being one of his signatures.

As most games at the turn of the century were, this one was a pitcher’s duel between Pete Dowling of Louisville and Jesse Tannehill of Pittsburgh and was tied 1-1 after each team scored in the fourth inning. The Colonels’ run came on a long Wagner home run. Wagner had a strong defensive game too, the highlight being a diving catch on a popup that he chased down near first base after a long run and headlong dive. The Courier Journal wrote that it was “one of the most remarkable plays ever made by an infielder (in fairness that writer probably didn’t have that much baseball to draw upon). The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette preferred the leaping catch of a line drive.

Props should also go to Louisville outfielder Dummy Hoy (a pioneer – a deaf major leaguer) who made a tough catch on a line drive that he turned into a double play, squashing a Pieates threat in the eighth inning.

There is great description of the end of this game in the newspaper – When Wagner comes up in the ninth inning, Tannehill tells his left fielder to move back. The problem was that he couldn’t position the left fielder beyond the outfield fence. Because that’s where Wagner hit the ball, this home run a high pop up that cleared the wall, though not by much.

This was not necessarily a foreshadowing of Wagner’s power (he hit only seven home runs all season). But it was a foreshadowing of his greatness. He hit .341 with 114 RBIs and 37 stolen bases in 1899. The next year the Colonels went defunct. Their owner, Barney Dreyfuss, became part-owner of the Pirates.

Guess who became the Pirates’ starting shortstop? Honus Wagner, of course. He went on to record more than 3,400 hits and become the greatest shortstop of all-time.

I do think it’s cool though that Wagner, an all-time great among greats, had only one walk-off home run in his career. And it’s a great trivia question to ask which team it came against.

Minutiae
Let’s run through one item on the sports page in each of the papers I sourced that day.

Post-Gazette: An advertisement for an Andrae Bicycle. “Our Motto: Justice. ‘I see’ said the blind man after he had ridden an Andrae an entire year without a mishap. ‘Why they never disappoint.”

Pittsburgh Press: The reprint of a story from the Washington Post titled “From An Underworld. Queer Creatures Spouted From An Artesian Well Are Puzzles To Scientists. Half Fish and Half Beast …”

Courier JournalThe biggest headline on the page is “Home Cure For Blood Poison. Beware of the Doctors’ Patchwork; You Can Cure Yourself At Home.” Sounds dicey.

Turns out it’s an ad for Swift Specific of Atlanta.

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