Dusty Relics of Arkansas History
December 4-10, 2017
Honus Wagner and Hot Springs High
By Bob Denman
In 2008 a near mint condition Honus Wagner baseball card was sold at auction for a record $2.8 million to Ken Kendrick, owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team, making it the most expensive and famous baseball card in history. Only 56 Wagner cards in various conditions are known to exist and even a worn card commands a six-figure sum.
Wagner was one of major league baseball’s greatest shortstops. He played in the majors from 1897-1917 and most all of those years for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He had a remarkable lifetime batting average of 0.329 and won eight hitting titles during his 21-year career. He was one of the original five members of the baseball Hall of Fame along with Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.
He spent 21 seasons spring training in Hot Springs. His Pittsburgh Pirates used the Whittington Park Field for spring
games and workouts and it was at Whittington where most of the locals would ride out on streetcars to catch Wagner, a member of baseball’s royalty, for an afternoon game.
What most don’t know is the long lasting impact he had on the history and traditions of Hot Springs High School.
Basketball, invented just six years before Wagner’s major league debut, was making its way to Arkansas High Schools in the early part of the 20th century, the same time Wagner was spring training in Hot Springs. In 1909 he read in the Hot Springs Sentinel Record that Hot Springs High was forming a boy’s basketball team and needed a volunteer coach. Wagner and a few of his team mates stayed in shape playing basketball in the off season on an exhibition basketball team called the Hans Wagner’s. Wagner was very civic minded and volunteered to coach the team. He was a terrific choice … after his baseball career he went on to be the men’s basketball coach at Carnegie Mellon University.
The boys honed their skills under Wagner, including a young Leo P. McLaughlin who would become the famous Hot Springs Mayor who all but turned the city into the personal playground for the mob in the ‘30s and ‘40s. After a series of practices at the old Bijou Skating Rink at the corner of Central Avenue and Olive, the boys were ready to schedule games.
They had a problem though; Hot Springs High School didn’t own any basketball uniforms. Wagner had the solution. He owned a sporting goods store back in Pittsburgh and requested uniforms and shoes be shipped immediately to the Spa City for the team. They arrived by train and coming from Pittsburgh and Wagner’s store, they arrived of course in the Pittsburgh Pirate colors of black and gold.
The Hot Springs High Trojan colors, originally cardinal and white, have been black and gold ever since thanks to baseball Hall of Famer Honus Wagner ... a Dusty Relic of Hot Springs High and Arkansas History.
Honus Wagner, Pittsburgh Pirates, c. 1902 (Photo by Carl Horner via Wikimedia Commons)