Honus Wagner is revered as one of the greatest ballplayers ever to grace the diamond. And this is why: eight National League batting titles, 15 straight seasons hitting .300 or better and elite-level play at shortstop on his way to lifetime totals of 3,420 hits and a .328 batting average. And the Pennsylvania-born spent nearly all of his 21-season career with his home-state Pittsburgh Pirates.
Just how integral is Wagner to the game's storied history? The Flying Dutchman, as he was known during his career for his flashy speed and German heritage, was one of the first five men to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936, alongside Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson. The Hall of Fame's actual opening ceremonies didn't occur until June 12, 1939, at which point that immortal quintet, along with six other honorees in attendance, received commemorative wristwatches marking their inductions.
With just 11 such watches in existence, the opportunity to acquire one comes around rarely. It has been nine years since any has been made available to the public, when Walter Johnson's watch drew a winning bid of nearly $57,000 in 2013, while George Sisler's found a new owner at almost $45,000.
Given Wagner's legendary stature, as a player and as the face of one of the card-collecting hobby's Holy Grails, his particular keepsake represents one of the most collectible baseball awards to emerge from the game's formative years and the players behind it.
The significant track record of Wagner memorabilia auctioned by Heritage includes two different versions of his 1909 T206 baseball card that crossed the auction block in 2021: a card once owned by ballplayer-turned-broadcaster Joe Garagiola, which sold for $2,520,000 last February; and a PSA Fair 1.5 edition that earned a final bid of $2,280,000. The next chapter of Wagner's Heritage legacy comes in the Feb. 26-27 Winter Platinum Night® Sports, which will present Wagner's commemorative wristwatch at auction for the first time.
The story of how the current owner, who is choosing to remain anonymous, came to possess Wagner's watch started in the same Carnegie, Penn., area where the Hall of Famer was born and spent essentially his entire 81 years before he died in 1955. Many of Wagner's descendants also settled in the same Pittsburgh suburb, including his nephew, Bill Gallagher, and Gallagher's sister, Marie. Neither was ever married or had children.
The watch's consignor lived down the block from Bill and Marie, and, while still a kid in the early 1970s, mowed their lawn and helped with tasks around the house. They shared a love of the game that made Wagner famous, and Bill spoke often of Uncle Honus' playing days.
Marie and Bill "really appreciated this young man and all the help he gave them, and had a real fondness for him," says Joe Piszczor, a Pittsburgh-area financial advisor and close family friend of the consignor who is advising on the sale of the watch. "Bill liked baseball and went to watch this kid play American Legion ball, and as they got older, they gave all their uncle's baseball stuff to him."
That includes the watch, originally given to Marie and Bill by Honus' wife Bessie upon his death. It remained in the consignor's possession for decades. His wife, who worked for the local historical society following a move to the country, knew the items should be carefully preserved.
The watch' consignor "had a good job, and he didn't need money, but knew he had something special," Piszczor says. "He just knew it was important, especially the watch. With all the other stuff, there were a lot of cool family tchotchkes and such. But he knew that the watch was very important and should be protected and kept in his farmhouse outside the city."
A stylish Gruen Curvex timepiece, the watch is stamped "14K Gold Filled" on case verso, where the historic engraved text reads, "Presented to Honus Wagner, Member of The Hall of Fame, Baseball Centennial, 1839-1939." The original crystal is clear and uncracked, and the dial is beautifully accented with golden numerals. A brown calfskin bracelet with a gold buckle replaces the original delicate model that was lost over the passage of time, and a letterof provenance accompanies the treasure.
According to Piszczor, preserving such an amazing piece of history is an obligation the consignor has taken very seriously over the years. His decision to make the watch available to the public at auction represents the next chapter in its story and that of the Wagner family.
"He's is an engineer highly analytical, very particular and in some respects this was put on his shoulders," Piszczor says. "The responsibility to preserve this history of a person from his hometown that was very important to Pittsburgh, that was a burden to him for many years in some ways. So it's cleansing for him to make sure it gets back in the public domain appropriately. It's great that we can get it out and back into the public eye and make sure this gets celebrated. Hopefully this helps to tell the Honus Wagner story a little bit better.
"It's a feel-good kind of thing: He kept it all these years, and it's finally the right time. You just never know what's in a barn in southwestern Pennsylvania."