Nearly 37 long years had passed since the only encounter between Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner spawned tales of competitive fire and verbal threats; some real, some apocryphal. But there they were in 1946, their spirits somewhat toned down (at least in Wagner’s case) as they “managed” opposing teams in the promotional “All-American Boys Baseball Game.” Held in Chicago, the amateur exhibition encouraged sportsmanship and competition in the wake of World War II, and while a young contest winner was successful in conveying those sentiments in a written letter, he walked away with a prize he’d remember much more than he would any of those intangible concepts.
Awarded by the Austin News and Garfieldian on Chicago’s West Side, this Official American Association baseball was autographed by Cobb and Wagner during their “friendly” showdown in 1946, well after their respective playing careers had defined them as perhaps the best to ever play the game.
Given the endorsers’ on-field exploits and roles in the meteoric rise in baseball’s popularity, this heirloom in nothing short of breathtaking. The medium-toned orb presents nicely with partially faded “Wilson” trademark stampings legible, for the most part. On the north panel, Cobb has signed in black ink and inscribed “8/6/46.” Accented by his customary paraph, Cobb’s penning maintains (“5”) strength and clarity. On the sweet spot, Wagner has signed “J. Honus Wagner” in blue ink (“5-6” strength) and inscribed “Pirates.” On the west panel, the recipient’s name (“Dennis Dean Varvel”) is penned in an unknown hand.
Cobb’s combative nature, of course, is well documented and evidenced by his actions and quotes. Among his most famous declarations is: “That God damned Dutchman is the only man in the game I can’t scare.” It was a reference to Wagner and could only have been made during or immediately following the 1909 World Series (which marked the only time the two ever met on the diamond). Wagner out-hit Cobb, .333 to .231 in a seven-game series won by Pittsburgh. As for interactions, Cobb did steal second base twice during the series. But tales of Cobb threatening Wagner and yelling “Krauthead” were likely the creation of sensationalist media.
With demeanors mellowed and the focus on youth baseball, Cobb and Wagner guided “West” and “East” rosters and, as promised, autographed this ball for a lucky Windy City native Dennis Varvel. The contest perks were plentiful. On a Thursday, Varvel was granted access to Comiskey Park for a “West” workout run by Cobb. There, he took advantage of a photo opportunity and was given the autographed ball directly from Cobb. Two days later, Varvel had a box seat at Wrigley Field, where he watched Cobb exact “revenge” with a 10-4 triumph over Wagner’s “East” stars and saw his baseball completed with Wagner’s penning. So as cooler heads prevailed (which is not to say Cobb had “forgotten” his team’s 1909 failure), youths were the focus and one particular boy was given the thrill of a lifetime. Accompanying is a full photo LOA from PSA/DNA, as well as vintage newspaper clippings from the event and an 8x10 photo of Cobb and Varvel at Comiskey Park.