Baseball Digest Birthdays: Wagner & Murray

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com
February 24th is a day of Hall of Fame proportions, when you just look at the numbers. If you look at most offensive categories throughout Major League history, there are two names that quickly show up in top tier of the lists. Two players that never played together, and in fact have careers that began six decades apart. However, these two Hall of Famers have a much greater connection; they were born on the same day.

Eddie Murray and Honus Wagner combined to collect 6,675 hits over the four plus decades that they played between them. They both wore #33, though in Wagner’s case this was only in his post career as numbers weren’t worn during his playing days. They both won championships with the team they spent most of their careers with, and they were both RBI machines during their eras.

Honus Wagner was born in 1874, and began his baseball career in the Atlantic League at the urging of his brother in 1896. Before the end of the 1897 season, Wagner was roaming the outfield for the Lousville Colonels and hit .335 in 62 games. Though he spent the next 21 seasons in the big leagues, it was several seasons before he became the every day shortstop of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Before 1901, “The Flying Dutchman” played just about every position except shortstop. He had already established himself as one of the premier hitters in the league(winning the NL 1900 batting title with a .381 average!) and began a permanent transition to shortstop with his move to Pittsburgh. By 1903 he was the every day shortstop as the Pirates stormed their way into the first modern era World Series, as fans have come to recognize as the Fall Classic. Though the Pirates fell in eight games to the Boston Americans, it was not the last time Wagner’s team would reach the series. 6 years later Wagner met Ty Cobb’s Detroit Tigers, defeating the Tigers in a seven game series that capped off an 110 win season by the Pirates.

Between 1900 and 1917, Honus Wagner lit up the leader boards as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. In addition to leading the National League five times in RBIs, he won eight batting titles and led in many other offensive categories. His overall career numbers are astonishing when you consider he accomplished his feats during the Dead Ball Era. Though he last played 94 years ago, only six men have collected more hits than Honus Wagner. Only eight men have cranked more doubles than Wagner’s 643, and only two have legged out more triples than Wagner’s 252. In addition to his speed(only 9 players in history have more stolen bases), Wagner regularly ranked among the top ten in home runs during his era.

It’s fitting that, in 1936, Honus Wagner was selected as the inaugural class to enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He retired in 1917 with the most hits for a National League player, and it was 45 years later before Stan Musial broke that record. The sheer magnitude of Wagner’s career showcased exactly the kind of performances that should be expected for players to enter the Hall of Fame. He was inducted along with Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson.

In a February 1953 issue of Baseball Digest, Harry Keck profiled “Hans Wagner”. Click here to check it out!

Though Honus Wagner passed away in 1955, his legacy remains in the Hall of Fame and in the auction circles of baseball card collecting. The T206 card depicting Wagner, printed by the American Tobacco Company, is considered the rarest and most valuable baseball card. A near mint T206 card sold for nearly $3 million in 2007.

Honus Wagner played before the days of uniform numbers, All-Star Games, and the Hall of Fame. By the time Wagner died in 1955, these were the norms of the baseball world. Fans associate greatness with All-Star nods, trips to Cooperstown, NY and retired baseball numbers. Wagner wore #33 as a coach, and after his death his number was retired by the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s fitting that Wagner shares this number with a player who’s career can be attributed to All-Star nods, the Hall of Fame, and the same birthday.

Eddie Murray was born in 1956 in Los Angeles, California and was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the third round of the 1973 amateur draft. He powered his way through the minor leagues(63 homers in four seasons) before bursting onto the American League scene as the 1977 Rookie of The Year. Like Wagner with the Pirates, Murray helped push the Orioles into the postseason. Two years after he debuted, Murray hit .417 in the American League Championship Series against the California Angels. He slumped in a World Series loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“Steady Eddie” averaged nearly 30 home runs and 100 RBIs during the first seven seasons. The seventh season, 1983, proved to be the pinnacle of his career in Baltimore. A career high 33 home runs, 110 RBI and a .306 average were the precursor for the 1983 World Series Champion Orioles. In the ’83 postseason Murray hit three home runs.

Murray continued his strong offense through 1988, earning six straight trips to the All-Star Game. Prior to the 1989 season, the last place Orioles shipped Murray to his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers where he had a a resurgence of sorts by nearly winning the 1990 NL batting title with a .330 average.

Los Angeles was the first of three stops in eight seasons. Despite moving from L.A. to the New York Mets to the Cleveland Indians, the power hitter still averaged more than 20 homers and nearly 90 RBI to go along with a .277 average during that time. He also had a taste of the postseason before wrapping his career up.

In 1995, while with the Indians, Murray clubbed three homers in the postseason that resulted in losing the World Series to the Atlanta Braves. The following year, the O’s were back in the postseason hunt for the first time since Murray’s 1983 team won the World Series. In July of ’96, the O’s brought the 39 year old back to Baltimore for the stretch run. Murray hit .400 against the Cleveland Indians in the Division Series, and .267 against the New York Yankees in the ALCS, eventually won by New York. For his career, Murray hit 9 postseason home runs in 44 games.

In a December 1996 issue of Baseball Digest, Buce Lowitt wrote about the impact of Eddie Murray’s 500th career home run. Click here to check it out!

Eddie Murray played one more season, in 1997, split between the Anaheim Angels and the Dodgers. Since retirement, he has served as the hitting coach for the Cleveland Indians and more recently the Dodgers.

A year after his retirement, the Baltimore Orioles officially retired #33 in his honor. In 2003, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He is just the fourth player in history to have at least 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. He is widely considered the greatest switch hitter in baseball history. In his career, he hit home runs from both sides of the plate in the same game eleven times.

Like Honus Wagner decades before him, Eddie Murray represents the very best of not only his era, but of baseball history.

Also Born On This Day:

Bronson Arroyo(b.1977) is an eleven year veteran that may be best remembered as one of the 25 players of the 2004 Boston Red Sox that ended an 86 year World Championship drought. A mainstay of the Cincinnati Reds rotation, Arroyo has won at least 15 games in each of the last three seasons.

Mike Lowell(b.1974) just ended a thirteen year career spent mostly with the Florida Marlins and the Boston Red Sox. A testicular cancer survivor, Lowell may be best remembered as a ‘throw in’ with the trade that sent Josh Beckett to the Red Sox. The ‘throw in’ was a key part of the 2007 World Championship season, including earning Most Valuable Player honors in the World Series.

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