Honus Wagner may not be a household name in 2016, but in the early 1900s he most definitely was. Thought of today as on of the best shortstops to ever play MLB, Honus was also the first professional athlete to receive endorsement money for using his name on a product.
Honus spent a good portion of his career playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates
The deal had its roots in 1900, when Wagner was playing for the Louisville Colonels in Kentucky. He became friends with a man, Bud, who had been producing baseball bats since 1894 with the name Louisville Slugger engraved on them. Players would engrave their own name onto their bats so they knew which was theirs, one of them being Wagner.
In 1905 Wagner signed a contract with Bud, which gave Lousiville Slugger permission to use Honus Wagner's signature on bats sold in stores, thus the first professional sports endorsement was born. What's most powerful about the story is that over 100 years later over 60 percent of MLB players use Louisville Sluggers, a nod to the longevity of sports and corporate endorsements.
Check out this ESPN 30 for 30 short on Honus Wagner and Baseball History