Year Inducted: 1952 (BBWAA, ballot #6, 195/234)
Baseball has a lot of milestone clubs. Pitchers have the 300-win club and 3000-strikeout club, while hitters have the 500-homer and 3000-hit clubs. These cherished milestones are ones that all players strive to achieve in some way, shape or form, but they have recently lost a bit of luster (especially for the 500-homer club). And, every player in each of those groups can be put into one of a few categories: the absolute legends (Ruth, Young, Johnson, Cobb, Mantle, etc.), the so-called compilers (Glavine, Wynn, Galvin, Brock, etc.), and the infamous ones that baseball may or may not want to remember (Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Rose, etc.). However, a fourth group comes to light, a group of forgotten legends that seem to have slipped the public’s mind because they weren’t “absolute legends” like Ruth, nor were they infamous like Rose. And, probably the headliner of that group would be Pirates right fielder Paul Waner.
For 20 years, mostly with the Pirates, Waner was one of the finest left handed hitters in the game. Big Poison hit .333/.404/.473 with a wRC+ of 135. Waner, while not a traditional power hitter, managed to slug over 600 doubles in his career along with 191 triples and 113 homers, taking advantage of the deep valleys of Forbes Field. Waner was a strong presence in the middle of the order, spending a lot of time hitting behind his little brother Lloyd Waner and getting plenty of RBI opportunities, driving in over 1300 runs in his career while scoring over 1600. The elder Waner wasn’t very fleet of foot, but still managed to steal over 100 bases and be worth +15 runs on the bases.
Waner ranked top-10 easily in nearly every offensive stat during his career, and despite being in a lineup with three other Hall of Fame players (his brother Lloyd, Arky Vaughan and Pie Traynor) the Pirates didn’t reach the World Series very often. In fact, Waner only played in one World Series. Unfortunately, that was against the 1927 New York Yankees, possibly the best team of all-time. Waner put up a solid series, but that team was too much for anyone to beat. The lack of a championship is what really hurts Waner’s memory compared to other players in the 3000 hit club, as well as his lack of homers (despite one of the highest doubles totals of all-time).
Waner’s career started to wind down in the late-1930’s when he was going past 35 years old. Age certainly played a role, but Waner’s extra habits probably sped up a decline process as well. Waner loved to drink, and was even rumored to carry a bottle in his hip pocket while playing and would take a shot or two before each at-bat. Waner claimed that the key to hitting well was to be relaxed, and that’s what the booze did for him. Still, any player that can crank out 900 extra base hits, especially in that graveyard that Waner played in, must be one of the best hitters ever.
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