Among the items in the current Robert Edward Auctions catalog are two personal notebooks kept by Honus Wagner. That would be enough to draw the interest of most fans of baseball history but what’s inside one of them is a fascinating and cryptic reference to fears for his life–and an informal will.
The two books date back to approximately 1904 and 1910. They are, in a word, extraordinary, and include a total of six signatures that have already been evaluated by PSA/DNA. The books include lists of names, a scouting report, and other notes. But it’s what is found in the well-worn treasure from circa 1910 that is the most interesting. That book has a brief will written by Wagner. Even more gripping, however, was why the ‘will’ was apparently being written – Wagner felt his life may be at risk.
One brief inscription alludes to this fact:
“If they get me Leave my auto and house #221 R. R. Ave. to Bessie B. Smith M_ _ _ _ Clan at Crafton, Pa. All my property to pap as long as he lives. My cash M _ _B _ _ to be used in getting square with this gang of _ _ _ols on Pas _ J. H. Wagner.”
A second further repeats the mention of a gang that could be after Wagner:
“the rest of my money to be used in getting even with this gang and Bring them all to Justice. J. H. Wagner.”
The will written by Wagner was later crossed out. However, it seems to indicate that his then girlfriend (and future wife) along with his father (pap) would get his belongings. At least part of his money was to be used in finding the gang of wrongdoers.
Much of the writing was not legible. However, these short entries give an interesting perspective on what the 36-year-old star may have been dealing with at the time.
Additionally, the timing of the writing will be of note to collectors. The journal dates to 1910 and, as the REA lot describes, Wagner performed poorly to start that season. While he did turn it around later, his (still amazing) .320 batting average that year was the lowest of his career to that point with the exception of his 1898 season with Louisville when he hit .299.
The notebooks were used by author Arthur Hittner in his biography on Wagner entitled, “Flying Dutchman.” He wrote in part,
He made the entries with the expectation that the notebook would be found on his body in the event of his death. Although much of the text has been obscured (perhaps by Wagner, when the threat had dissipated), the absence of a detailed explanation in the decipherable portions suggest that others were aware of his jeopardy. Although the circumstances surrounding the mysterious entries will probably never be known, it is not too much to assume that they played a significant role in his precipitous decline during the first ten weeks of the 1910 championship season.
While the two entries that reference the fate of his worldly possessions are separated by several months, Manager Fred Clarke didn’t believe gambling was involved. His theory, according to Hittner’s book? That Wagner was only over-anxious.
Also in 1910, Wagner’s popularity would have been arguably at its height. He had just led Pittsburgh to the World Series championship, their first. And while he had enjoyed better seasons, he was coming off of a season in which he led the league in numerous categories, including batting average, RBI, doubles, OPS, total bases, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. Honus Wagner was one of the game’s biggest stars at the time and that makes his notes on a potential life-threatening situation even more interesting.
The books carry a $5,000 opening bid.
REA’s auction ends on Sunday, October 29.