Saturday, February 18, 2017

Mr. Wagner, will you kindly step outside for a moment?

As a George Gibson fan, I find myself reading a lot of books about the Pittsburgh Pirates. Inevitably, you'll cover much of the same games and seasons, but I do find it interesting to read from the perspective of different players. Plus, each new book seems to find one or two things that were completely unknown to me previously.

Last year, I finally got around to reading a biography about Honus Wagner. It's been on my to-do list for awhile. This past Summer, I was ordering some books from McFarland Publishing (I get a lot of baseball books from these guys; they're an awesome company to deal with) and decided to finally pickup the Wagner bio. They actually had a couple to choose from and for reasons I don't actually remember I went with Honus Wagner - The Life of Baseball's "Flying Dutchman" by Arthur D. Hittner.

In short, I really enjoyed the book. For anyone looking to read a biography of one of baseball's all-time greats, you won't go wrong with this one. This post isn't a book review, to be clear, but there was a particularly interesting story covered in the book that I wanted to share.
Here's a snippet of the book from page 192:
    For the first time in three years, Wagner attended the Pirates' training
camp in Hot Springs. He arrived late, his brother Al in tow. Now over 40 and
out of the game for two years, the elder Wagner worked out with the club and
played a creditable shortstop for the second stringers.
    Wagner disliked the public attention which he inevitably attracted at the
Arkansas resort. One day a photographer sought him out at the hotel. A clerk
directed the young man toward Wagner, who was chatting in the lobby with
teammate George Gibson. Uncertain which of the two was the legendary Pirate
star, the photographer took a chance. "Mr. Wagner," he inquired tentatively,
"will you kindly step outside for a moment? I want to take your picture."
Instantly, the camera-shy Wagner turned to Gibson. "Go ahead, John," he
motioned to Gibson. "All right," smiled Gibson picking up on the ruse, "come
on, take my picture until you drop." The Pittsburgh backstop then escorted
the photographer to the lawn outside the hotel where he posed for several
pictures as the Pirate shortstop. The cameramn returned the following
day with a cache of "Wagner" picture postcards, which he offered at a nickel
This story, regardless of who played the role of Wagner during the photo shoot, is amusing. Given the focus of this blog, it's that much more interesting that Gibson was doing the posing. And clearly required at least a little further investigation.

In the chapter notes, Hittner referenced an early 1911 edition of The Sporting News for this story, so I tracked down that copy of The Sporting News to read more.

Apparently, the story goes that a Pittsburgh newspaper ordered a photographer to head to Hot Springs in March of 1910 to take action photos of all of the Pirates. Absent that day were Gibson and Wagner, so early the next morning, the photographer headed to the hotel to complete his assignment. There is no mention of Gibson ever posing "as himself" for the photographer, but The Sporting News version of the story continues that when the "Wagner" photos of Gibson were being sold the next day, "Some of the players, to help the joke along, purchased, and it was not until several days had elapsed that the [illegible] learned of his 'mistake'."

The Sporting News copy that I'm reading (courtesy of is difficult to read, and what I am able to read does not mention the actual name of the photographer.

But suffice it to say, I'm now extremely curious if any examples of this postcard survived. Maybe more than any other season, it seems there are a number of 1910 Hot Springs photos of the Pirates in personal collections, on the internet and occasionally at auction, so it's not a complete impossibility, right? And if the photographer figured it out after a few short days, did he simply start to sell Gibson postcards?

Does anyone out there know more about these postcards?
Anyone out there have one in their collection that they can share a photo of?

That'd be awesome to see.

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