Today marks the 106th birthday of Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Fame outfielder Lloyd Waner. He gets his own post for the day, while the other players born on this date, will get a group post in the afternoon. For now we concentrate on the man known as “Little Poison”, the younger brother of another Pirates all-time great, Paul Waner.
Lloyd began his pro career playing for San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League in 1925. That first year, the 19 year old Waner got into 31 games, hitting .250 in just 44 AB’s. His brother Paul was in his third season with San Francisco and he hit .401 in 174 games(he had 280 hits and 75 doubles). While Paul joined the Pirates for 1926, his brother remained in the minors, playing most of the year for Columbia of the South Atlantic League. He hit .345 in 121 games and won the league MVP award. The Pirates had signed him during the 1926 season and they invited him to spring training the following year with a chance to win the backup outfield job. He impressed the Pirates so much that he beat out veteran Clyde Barnhart for the starting left field job.
Waner had an impressive rookie season, hitting .355 with 133 runs scored. He tied Rogers Hornsby for the league lead in runs scored and finished third in batting behind Hornsby(.362) and his brother, who posted a .380 average, the third highest total in Pirates history. The Pirates won the NL title that year, their sixth NL pennant. Lloyd hit .400 in the World Series, scoring five runs in four games. He finished sixth in the MVP voting, an award won by his brother that season.
In 1928, Lloyd hit .335 with 221 hits and 121 runs scored. He led the league with 659 AB’s and added a career high 40 walks while driving in 61 RBI’s. In 1929 Lloyd set career highs in RBI’s with 74, runs scored with 134 and hits with 234. It was the third straight season he topped 220 hits. He also set a career high with 20 triples, a total that led the NL. Waner led NL outfielders in both assists and putouts in 1929, while finishing second in fielding percentage.
The 1930 season was a tough one for Waner. He hit a career high .362 but was only able to play 68 games due to stomach problems and appendicitis. He returned healthy in 1931 and led the NL in hits with 214 and AB’s with 681, the third and last time he would lead the league in at bats. His defense was also up to 1929 standards, leading the league in both assists and putouts again, while finishing second in fielding percentage.
In 1932 he hit .333, led all center fielders in putouts and was the toughest batter in the league to strike out, going down swinging 11 times in 565 AB’s. In 1933 Lloyd’s batting average really dropped, all the way down to .276 which was 38 points lower than any previous season. He was still very difficult to strike out, going down just eight times in 500 AB’s but nothing was falling in for him all season. His bat was barely any better the following year, hitting .283 in 140 games, although he hit for a little more power than in 1933 and he was able to score 95 runs. The 1933-34 Pirates had five future Hall of Famers in their everyday lineup, the Waner Brothers, Pie Traynor, Arky Vaughan and Freddie Lindstrom.
Lloyd finally got his average back over the magic .300 mark in 1935, batting .309 with 14 triples and 83 runs scored. That year, for the first time, he led all NL center fielders in fielding percentage. The 1936 seasons saw him make contact at the plate like never before and his average reflected that, rising for the third season in a row since his poor 1933 season, up to .321 in 1936. He struck out just five times all year, giving him an K/AB ratio of 82.8, and while it isn’t a record, it is a mark that no one else has reached in the 75 seasons since 1936.
In 1937-38 Waner had very similar seasons, he scored 79 runs one year, 80 the next, batted over .300 both seasons and led NL center fielders in fielding percentage each year. He made his only all-star game appearance in 1938, although the game didn’t exist his first five seasons and they were easily his best stretch of years, so one all-star appearance isn’t as bad as it sounds.
The 1939 season saw the decline of Waner. He hit .285 and was moved to a backup role the following year, getting only 166 AB’s in 1940. Early the next season, with his playing time almost non-existent, he was traded to the Boston Braves for 26 year old pitcher Nick Strincevich. Before the season was over, Lloyd would be traded to the Reds and in 1942, as a free agent, he signed with the Phillies. Brooklyn traded for him in early 1943 but he retired for one season. Returning in 1944, he played just 15 games off the bench before the Dodgers released him. He signed with the Pirates six days later and was used very little and strictly off the bench. Waner played one more year before retiring, getting into 23 games over the entire 1945 season. In fact, despite being on the active roster all of 1944-45, he did not make one start either year.
His final stats show a .316 career average in 1993 games with 2459 hits and 1201 runs scored. He struck out just 173 times in his career in 8334 plate appearances. That strikeout total doesn’t include the 1941 season because in 234 PA’s that year, he never struck out. In Pirates history, he ranks tenth in batting average at .319, eighth in games played with 1803, seventh in runs scored with 1151, sixth in hits with 2317 and ninth in triples with 114. Lloyd was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967 by the Veteran’s Committee, joining his brother, who had been elected by the writers 13 years earlier.