Paul Waner, who played before televised baseball, is a player whose name is not remembered as well as some of the greats. But he deserves to be. A three-time National League batting champ and a member of the 3,000-hit club, Waner played at an elite level for many years.
He played most of his years with the Pittsburgh Pirates, although he also spent time at the end of his career with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Boston Braves and New York Yankees. His career spanned from 1926 to 1945, with his seasons with the Pirates running from 1926 to 1940.
Waner and his brother, Lloyd, both played outfield for the Pirates. Waner became known as Big Poison, while Lloyd became known as Little Poison.
Paul Waner Early Life
Paul Waner was born in the small town of Harrah, Oklahoma, on April 16, 1903. He played baseball in school, but after graduation from a high school in Oklahoma City, his parents wanted him to become a teacher.
Waner had the ambition to play baseball and had already established himself as a good pitcher. However, he finished college first, then played minor league baseball for the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League. The manager there moved him into the outfield after he developed a sore arm.
From there, his batting exploded. He hit .378 for the Seals over three seasons.
The Major Leagues
Waner fooled many people initially because of his size. He was about 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed about 155 pounds.
But when the Pirates brought him up in 1926, he didn’t fool people for long. Waner hit .336 his rookie season and scored 101 runs. In his 15 seasons with the Pirates, he hit below .300 only twice, in 1938 and 1940.
During his seasons with the Pirates, Waner hit an astounding .342. He also led the league in hits (2,868), doubles (558) and triples (187).
His teammates said he was a threat to break up a no-hitter but never a party. The legend is that the team asked him to stop drinking during the 1938 season, which was the first time he hit below .300.
Waner played in the 1927 World Series as the Pirates won the National League pennant but were swept in the series by the Yankees. Waner won the National League batting title in 1927, 1934, 1936 and lead the National League in RBIs in 1927.
Later Career and After Baseball
Released by the Pirates in 1940, Waner signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. However, the team released him after just 11 games. He then signed with the Boston Braves, He went back to Brooklyn in 1943 and 1944, before pinch-hitting just once for the New York Yankees in 1945 and retiring.
In his retirement, Waner liked to golf, fish and hunt. He also worked as a part-time hitting coach for the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals and Braves.
In 1952, Waner was elected to the Hall of Fame, saying he had “almost given up hope of ever making it.” In 1967, his brother, Lloyd, was voted in by the veteran’s committee. Big Poison and Little Poison, who once patrolled the outfield together in Pittsburgh, are now enshrined in Cooperstown. The Waners hold the record for most hits by brothers at 5,611.
Waner died on Aug. 29, 1965, in Sarasota, Fla., at the age of 62 from respiratory arrest brought on by emphysema. His brother, Lloyd, died in 1982.
Largely forgotten by many fans because he played before the era of television, Waner has been remembered by the Pirates, who retired his number in 2007.