Honus returns

Honus Wagner Day celebrated in 1938; Moose Club beats Pirates in exhibition

The Honus Wagner statue outside of PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

1895 wasn’t the only time that Honus Wagner was in Warren.

Over 40 years after starting his career during the summer of 1895 in several small midwestern cities – Warren included – he returned as a legend of the Major Leagues.

And it was big news in Warren.

“Honus Wagner, baseball immortal, who will be honored here when the Pittsburgh Pirates appear for an exhibition with the Warren Moose team at Russell Field next Monday evening at 5:30 o’clock, has seen many great teams during his illustrious career in addition to those on which he himself was a star,” the Warren Times-Mirror reported on July 22, 1938. “But if there was one which he believes stood out more than any other from one particular angle, it was the one in which he got his professional start right here in Warren in the old Iron and Oil League way back in 1895.”

The story was found in the archives of the Warren County Historical Society.

The newspaper reported that “aside from the fact it was the club which launched his amazing career, Wagner thinks that (the) Warren outfit deserves a special place in baseball history because of the number of players it sent up to the major leagues.”

That total was “no fewer than six”: Honus and his brother, Al Wagner; Claude Ritchey, Harry Smith, Joe Rickert and Bill Carrick.

“Few minor league clubs of any era have been able to boast such remarkable records in the developmental minor league-starts,” the paper concluded. “There are a few fans in Warren who remember this famous old team of the Gay Nineties. Most of them are planning to be on hand to honor a member of that club – Honus Wagner – who gained immortality for himself in the baseball world.”

Honus Wagner Day was set for July 25.

“Those in charge of selling tickets for Monday’s ball game report that there is a great demand for seats and a large crowd is anticipated,” the Times-Mirror reported.

Russell field was located near Sylvania on Lexington Ave., the Historical Society’s documentation indicates. “The ticket gate was uphill on Pennsylvania Avenue about 50 yards west of Parker Street.”

Wagner was the speaker at a luncheon prior to the 5:30 p.m. contest.

The Times-Mirror dedicated resources to the day.

“Honus arrived in Warren about 11:30 o’clock this morning, was give the official welcome at the municipal building by Burgess R.W. Stever at 12 noon and was guest at a joint luncheon meeting of local service clubs at 12:15 o’clock, attended by 125 businesses and professional men of the borough.

“After that he was scheduled to great the boys and girls of the borough at Beaty playground at 2:00 and from there he was to return to the Carver Hotel where he was slated to join the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are meeting the Warren Moose baseball club at 5:30 p.m.

In that era, major league teams playing exhibitions against club or business teams in small towns wasn’t out of the ordinary.

The best players on the major league team were expected to play in order to increase revenues – which were the driving force behind the exhibitions.

“Members of the Pittsburgh ball club are going to Russell Field by bus about 4 o’clock in order to have plenty of time for batting and infield practice before the game,” the Times-Mirror reported. “Wagner was brought to Warren from his home in Carnegie, Pa., a Pittsburgh suburb, this morning by Joe Gardner, one of the members of the committee in charge of the event, and William Walters of North Warren.”

The newspaper even told its readers that Wagner stopped at the Times-Mirror, Elks Club and New Process Company throughout his day in Warren.

The Times-Mirror’s sports editor, Ed Hildum, wrote a column claiming that “today’s exhibition game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Warren Moose, honoring as it does one of baseball’s great figures, probably has done more to put this city on the map than any other event which has occurred in some time.

The day was advertised across four states, including during the broadcast of a previous Pirates game.

“In addition to the hero, beloved old Honus himself, as standout, all of the celebrated regulars in Pie Traynor’s pennant-bidding machine will be at their posts, including the renowned brother combination of Paul and Lloyd Waner, the former three-time National League batting champion…” among others.

Hildum concluded that “all around, it promises to be the greatest display of major league baseball class ever seen in this city. It will be a real major league test for the home boys against one of the most powerful clubs in the country, and as an exhibition surpassing any other of the kind on record here.”

The following day, the headline hit the press: “Warren Moose Register Surprise Victory Over Pirates.”

The Moose won 5-3 in front of 2,000 fans “in an exhibition game played in honor of Honus Wagner, all-time great of the national pasttime,” the Times-Mirror reported.

“The Warren boys were out there to honor the king of shortstops, but there was no mercy for his teammates and they slapped out eleven hits off rookie pitcher Andy Lipscomb at crucial moments to romp home with the bacon.”

The Pittsburgh regulars played three innings and were pulled for subs who “just could not get started against the local crew who played inspired ball.”

“Honus Wagner, in whose honor the event here was held yesterday, was enormously pleased with everything here,” Hildum wrote. “Just before leaving for Philadelphia with the team last night, he said that yesterday was the greatest such day he had ever witnessed.

“That’s speaking pretty well for the sponsors of the game here.”

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