We have posted 11 Pittsburgh Pirates Seasons articles already (all linked below), so it’s about time that we got to Arky Vaughan’s 1935 performance. The spoiler here is that Vaughan set the Pirates all-time record for single-season OPS in 1935 with his 1.098 mark. It has had challenges from Ralph Kiner, Barry Bonds and even Brian Giles over the years, but it has stood the test of time as the record.
Vaughan was in his fourth season in the majors in 1935. In his three previous seasons, he went from a .787 OPS as a 20-year-old rookie, to .866 in his sophomore season, to a .942 OPS in 1934. He was building towards his incredible 1935 season. Vaughan’s 1.098 OPS ranks 95th all-time in baseball history. If you check the 94 names ahead of him, one thing stands out. There isn’t a shortstop in that group.
The 1935 season started off strong for Vaughan. He was coming off of leading the National League with a .431 OBP and 94 walks in 1934, while making his first All-Star appearance (the All-Star Game started in 1933). Vaughan had a great April, batting .434/.531/.623 in the first 14 games, with three homers, 11 walks and one strikeout. It was great, but he had a better month in store.
May was a big month for Vaughan as well. In 28 games, he had a .385 average and a 1.124 OPS. He had six doubles, three triples, five homers and 25 RBIs.
June was off to a strong start, but a leg injury on a slide into first base on June 13th cost him two weeks of action. Vaughan was limited to 13 games in the month, though he still put up a .370/.500/.609 slash line.
July brought about the biggest month of the season for the 23-year-old shortstop. In 29 games, he hit .412/.528/.745 in 128 plate appearances. He had 11 doubles, four triples, five homers, 24 walks and two strikeouts…yes, two.
To show you just how well Vaughan did in 1935, the month of August was his fifth best monthly OPS with a 1.106 mark in 31 games. He had a .397 average, 16 extra-base hits and he drove in 26 runs.
Vaughan couldn’t keep up his pace as the season wound down. He still hit .308 in 22 games, but the OPS (.772) was well off the other months. He was hitting .401 after the first game of a doubleheader on September 10th, which was the last day he was over .400 on the season.
He finished with a .385/.491/.607 slash line in 137 games. He had 34 doubles, ten triples, 19 homers, 99 RBIs and 108 runs scored. The 19 homers might not sound impressive, but it set a Pirates team record at the time in their 54th year of existence. He led the NL in walks, average, OBP, slugging and OPS. He was also an above average defensive player at this time (with some help from Honus Wagner), posting an 0.7 dWAR.
Vaughan had 18 games with at least three hits and 66 multi-hit games, which is made more impressive by the fact that he led the league with 97 walks. He had 32 games all year in which he failed to get a hit and he drew at least one walk in 22 of those games. In other words, he reached base safely in 127 of 137 games.
As mentioned, Vaughan’s OPS is a team record. It broke the record held by Kiki Cuyler from 1925, when he put up a 1.021 OPS. That season was actually the first one we covered here (link below). His .491 OBP in 1935 is also a team record, breaking a 46-year-old record set by Fred Carroll in 1889. The closest challenge for Vaughan’s OBP record was the .456 mark put up by Barry Bonds in 1992. Vaughan also set a team record with his .385 batting average. It broke the record of his coach, Honus Wagner, who hit .381 back in 1900.
Vaughan’s .607 slugging percentage set a team record in 1935, topping Cuyler’s .598 mark put up ten years earlier. Vaughan has since dropped to ninth place on that list, first getting topped in 1947 by Ralph Kiner.
Vaughan easily led the NL in WAR (obviously not a stat then) with a 9.7 mark. Despite that number and all of the numbers that the writers knew about back then, he finished third in the NL MVP voting, trailing Hall of Famers Dizzy Dean (7.5 WAR) and Gabby Hartnett (4.9 WAR, MVP).
Here are the previous articles in this series: