When looking at the Pittsburgh Pirates all-time leader list in hitting categories, both single season and career, one can’t help but notice the name Waner listed over and over in many categories. The Pirates, from 1927 until 1940, had both Paul and Lloyd Waner in their outfield, the brothers from Oklahoma known to Pirates fans as Big Poison(Paul) and Little Poison. Born on April 16,1903, Paul spent 15 seasons in a Pirates uniform, roaming around right field at Forbes Field, setting team hitting records along the way.
Paul started his pro career playing for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League, where he was managed by Dots Miller, a star infielder for the Pirates during their 1909 World Championship season. Waner was a pitcher by trade at the time, but he was also a good hitter. An arm injury, before he ever pitched a minor league game, changed the fate of the Pirates. The Seals had purchased his contract from another minor league team and they were ready to send him back once he hurt his arm but Miller convinced them to give him a try in the outfield and he hit right from the start.
In his first season in 1923, playing 112 games, Waner led the team with a .369 batting average. The next season, playing in 160 games, Paul hit .356 with 209 hits and 46 doubles. Those two seasons were just a glimpse of the great hitter he would be for so long. In 1925 he was joined on the Seals by Lloyd, who was three years younger than Paul. Lloyd would play just 11 games that season and he was still a year away from establishing himself, but Paul was about to earn his way to the major leagues. That year in 174 games(the PCL played a longer schedule than the majors) Paul hit .401 with 280 hits and 75 doubles. The Waner’s had a teammate named Hal Rhyne on that 1925 squad and he was a pretty good hitting shortstop. On October 13, 1925, the same day the Pirates won game six of the World Series over the Washington Senators, they purchased Rhyne and Paul Waner for a reported $100,000 from the Seals.
It didn’t take long for Paul to prove he was a superstar in the major leagues too. That rookie season, in 144 games, he hit .336 with a league leading 22 triples and he scored 101 runs. His brother joined the team in Spring Training the next season and won a starting outfield job. Lloyd had a great rookie season, collecting 223 hits, while batting .355 and scoring 133 runs. It was Paul who won the National League MVP though, leading the Pirates to the World Series for the second time in three seasons. He batted a career high .380, winning his first batting crown. He also led the league in another Triple Crown category, driving in a career high 131 runs. That season Paul set a Pirates single season record with 237 hits, a total that has been topped just 20 times in baseball history. In the WS, Waner hit .333 with three RBI’s in four games. It would turn out to be his only post-season experience.
Paul may have been even better in 1928, when he scored a career high 142 runs, the fourth highest single season total in team history and one that hasn’t been topped since. He batted .370, drew 77 walks and hit 50 doubles, helping him to a career best .992 OPS.
The 1929 season saw Paul reach 200 hits for a third straight season and he walked a career high 89 times. He also set a career best with 15 homers, scored 131 runs(9th best in team history) and for the second time, he reached the century mark in RBI’s, finished with 100 exactly. Paul hit .368 in 1930, collecting 217 hits and scoring 117 runs. That team also had Pie Traynor, who batted .366 and Paul’s brother, who batted .362, albeit, in just 62 games for Lloyd, who missed time due to illness.
In 1931, Paul failed to reach 200 hits for the first time since his rookie season and he didn’t score 100 runs for the first time in his career. He still had a good year, batting .322 with 73 walks, 70 RBI’s and 88 runs scored, but it was still a down year compared to the start of his career. The following season, he rebounded and in the process, set another Pirates all-time mark. His 62 doubles in 1932 beat his own team record set four years earlier and it is the fifth highest total of all-time in baseball history. Paul finished fourth in the NL MVP voting that year.
In 1933 he was a member of the first NL all-star team. He had a down year at the plate though, batting .309, which was a career low to that point. It was 42 points below his career batting average going into the season. Paul was all business at the plate in 1934, winning his second batting title(.362) while leading the league with 122 runs scored and 227 hits. He also made his second all-star team and he finished second in the NL MVP voting to Dizzy Dean, who won 30 games for the Cardinals.
After a third straight all-star season in 1935, Paul failed to make the team in 1936 but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. He won his third batting crown that year, hitting .373 while driving in 94 runs and scoring 107 times. He also collected 53 doubles, the second highest total in team history(tied by Freddy Sanchez in 2006).
Paul was 34 years old in 1937 and had his last real strong season at the plate. He made his fourth and final all-star appearance, thanks to a .354 batting average, 94 runs scored and 219 hits. It was the eighth time he collected 200 hits in a season for the Pirates, no one else has more than four in team history.
In 1938, Waner hit .280, ending a 12 year streak of batting over .300 to start his career. The amazing thing about his career up to that point was how often he was out in the field. He played at least 139 games in every one of his first 13 seasons, during an era when they played a 154 game schedule. Three times he led the league in games played.
Paul’s playing time began to slow down in 1939, getting into 125 games that year but he was still able to hit .328 in 461 AB’s. He hurt his knee during the 1940 season and played just 89 games, hitting .290 in 238 AB’s. It would mark the end of his career with the Pirates. They released him on December 5, 1940 and he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers one month later. Not even a month into the season, the Dodgers released him due to his .179 batting average. He signed quickly with the Boston Braves and saw regular time in their outfield.
In 1942, Waner played 114 games for the Braves and while he hit just .258 on the year, he collected his 3,000th hit during the season, the seventh player to accomplish that feat at the time. Paul resigned with Brooklyn for 1943, playing almost two full seasons there as a backup outfielder/pinch hitter. He finished the 1944 season with the Yankees, then finished his career with one final AB with the Yankees in 1945, drawing a walk as a pinch hitter. He was released a week later without playing another game. It marked the end of his major league career but in 1946, he played in the minors, where he hit .325 in 62 games for the Miami Sun Sox of the Florida International League.
Paul retired with a .333 career average, 1627 runs scored, 3152 hits, 1091 base on balls and 1377 RBI’s. With the Pirates, he ranks first all-time in batting average with a .340 mark(Jake Stenzel hit .360 but had less than 2000 PA’s). He also ranks first in doubles with 558 (career he ranks 11th all-time). He is sixth in games played, second to Honus Wagner in both runs scored and triples, third in hits and walks and fifth in RBI’s. When he left the Pirates, he was the team’s all-time leader in home runs.
Despite the fact I basically covered only his hitting, Paul was a solid right fielder. Only Roberto Clemente and Mel Ott had more assists as a right fielder than Waner. Clemente played more games in right field than Waner and Ott played in the Polo Grounds, which was very short to RF and allowed for some easier assists. Three times Waner led the league in fielding percentage among right fielders and no one playing the position recorded more putouts than Waner, who tops the second place Clemente by 356.
Paul was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1952, then was joined there by his brother in 1967, although Paul had passed away two years earlier. In a long overdue ceremony, the Pirates retired his jersey number 11 in 2007.