Paul Waner

Always a threat to break up a ball game but never a party, Waner had the sharpest bloodshot eyes in baseball. He hit doubles and triples during games and drank them after. Nonetheless, he amassed 3,152 hits with good power. One year he announced he was on the wagon, but when his batting average hovered around .250, his manager personally shepherded him to his nearest watering hole. Within a few weeks, he was back over .300.

Waner’s merchant father wanted him to be a teacher, but he dropped out of college to join San Francisco (Pacific Coast League), where he compiled batting averages of .369, .356, and .401. In 1926 the Pirates purchased his contract in a $100,000 deal ($40,000 for Waner, $60,000 for second baseman Hal Rhyne). Paul broke into the NL with a .336 batting average and led in triples (22). The next year, he was joined by his brother Lloyd in the Pirate outfield. Together they paced Pittsburgh to the 1927 pennant. Right fielder Paul led the NL in hitting (.380), base hits (237), triples (17), and RBI (131) and was named NL MVP; centerfielder Lloyd hit .355 and led the league in runs scored (133). Between them, the Waners totaled 460 hits.

They starred for the Pirates throughout the 1930s, continuing their yearly assault on pitchers. Paul led the league in hitting again in 1934 (.362) and 1936 (.373). One day a frustrated Brooklyn fan complained: “Them Waners! It’s always the little poison on thoid and the big poison on foist!” From then on Paul and Lloyd were Big Poison and Little Poison. Both were speedy outfielders, and Paul possessed perhaps the strongest arm seen in a Pittsburgh outfield until Roberto Clemente arrived.

After the Pirates released him, Paul played into WWII with the Braves and Dodgers, pursuing 3,000 hits. In 1942 the Braves visited Forbes Field with Waner at 2,999. The shortstop knocked down a drive but Paul beat it out. It might have been a hit, but Paul quickly and openly signaled he didn’t want a tainted 3,000th. The scorer obliged by charging the shortstop with an error. On June 19, 1942 he lined the ball off Forbes’s right-field wall to become the sixth player ever to reach 3,000 hits.

Waner found steady employment as a hitting coach after his retirement as a player, but his distaste for discipline made him an inappropriate candidate for managing.