March 30, 2006
Paul and Lloyd Waner
Big Poison and Little Poison
By Neal A. Waner
Assembly Room, A.K. Smiley Public Library
This paper is a biographical sketch of Paul and Lloyd Waner, two baseball playing brothers. They played the majority of their career with the Pittsburgh Pirates each distinguished enough to be voted into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame. This paper covers their upbringing, rise to baseball stardom and stories from more than two decades of playing major league baseball including the 1927 World Series. It is a story of their personal triumphs and tragedies as prepared and read by a relative, two generations hence.
Wednesday, October 5th 1927. It was a mild day, with a clear blue sky in western Pennsylvania. The temperature was in the mid 70’s when the contest began. The contest was game one of the World Series. This series would showcase the New York Yankees against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sports writers billed the 1927 series as the clash of baseball titans, large and small. Large were the New York Yankees led by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, small was the “Waner Act” of Paul and Lloyd Waner, also known as Big Poison and Little Poison. Who would prevail? The mighty 1927 Yankees with their long ball hitters, or the scrappy Pittsburgh Pirates led by two young brothers, small in stature but fleet of foot?
That World Series was but one highlight, in long and distinguished careers for the Waner brothers. Each in their respective career would enjoy enough success to be selected to Major Leagues Baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Many records would be set between them, the most significant of which may never be broken; it is the most hits by brothers in major league history. Together they belted out 5,611 hits; 517 more than the three Alou brothers, 758 more than the three DiMaggio brothers, and 1,400 more than the five Delahanty brothers. The Waner brothers patrolled the Pittsburgh outfield for 14 seasons from 1927-1940, usually with Lloyd in the center and batting first and Paul in right field and batting third. Lloyd was a better outfielder with more speed, but Paul had a stronger arm. Lloyd was faster, and Paul hit for more power. Paul would enter the hall of fame in 1952 with a lifetime batting average of .333. Little brother Lloyd would follow in 1967 with a lifetime batting average of .316. This American baseball tale begins on a small farm in Okalahoma at the turn of the century.
Paul and Lloyd Waner were born in a modest but comfortable farm house outside Harrah Okalahoma. As the crow flies, Harrah is about one half hour east of Okalahoma City. The homestead was originally acquired by their father Ora in the 1889 Oklahoma Land Rush. The gentle streams and wooded rolling hills made for good farming in the warmer months and plenty of hunting all year around. Their upbringing was rustic and simple. Paul was born April 16, 1903. Two years and eleven months later, in March of 1906, younger brother Lloyd joined him. The family had five children; Ralph an older brother, two sisters, Alma and Ruth, and Paul and Lloyd.
The early 1900’s were a time of innovation in the young United States. The Wright brothers made history with their first powered flight at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina and the U.S. Congress approved an ambitious plan to build the Panama Canal.
Back on their farm, the Waner brothers learned to hit with corn cobs. Imagination knows no limits in a childs mind on the plains of Okalahoma. At his hall of fame induction in 1967, Lloyd recalled that his father once carved a bat from a 2x4 and the brothers hit with it for years. Other times they would make a bat out of a tree limb, whittling it down to smooth perfection and allowing it to harden. Said father Ora Waner, “Well I heard the two kids playing around the side of the barn and I took a peak and I sure was amazed. There was Lloyd throwing corn cobs at Paul and Paul was smacking those corn cobs and sending them out on a line. He never missed one and he was using a hoe handle for a bat. Then came Lloyd’s turn and Paul would pitch to him. Same thing all over. Now I was considered a mighty good hitter myself, but when I saw those kids cracking away at corn cobs I new I was never in their class”. Interestingly enough, these images of corn cobs and branch made bats, later fueled the popular misconception that the Waners were “barefoot Oakies” and “dirt poor”. They were neither and in later years both of them resented this stereo type fostered mainly by eastern sports writers who understood little about the mid west.
Paul and Lloyd developed their leg muscles from farm work and from walking nearly three miles to the one room school house in the Dewy district. Paul must have looked somewhat scholarly as he sometimes wore glasses when reading and doing homework. At age 14 Paul abruptly ended wearing glasses. He stuffed his glasses in his back pocket and while playing ice hockey he slipped, fell, and broke them. Even though he would use glasses for reading, he would not use them while playing any sport until age 37. Life on the farm was hard, but there was time for music. Lloyd learned to play the violin, Paul the saxophone and each played well into adulthood. The farm had 20 cows that needed daily milking, years later Lloyd would say that milking and other farm chores helped strengthened their hands making them better hitters. As the Waner boys grew older they impressed their father with their bat control and running ability. Their father could hardly ever throw a ball past them. Their left handed swings were sweetly precise. Paul was left handed in both batting and throwing, Lloyd threw right handed but batted from the left. In addition to baseball Paul and Lloyd excelled in track at their high school in Harrah.
After high school Paul and Lloyd attended East Central State Teachers College in Ada Okalahoma. Paul’s specialty was pitching and his performance in Ada raised eye brows. In 1922 his record was 24 and 3 with 278 strike outs and only 29 walks with a 1.7 ERA. In one 19 inning game he struck out 36 hitters with 29 of those successive strike outs. With scouts taking interest in Paul an offer to play professionally seemed immanent. While there was pressure to play pro ball, Ora Waner wanted his boys to finish their education. Ora had worked himself up from a laborer to land owner and he was not about to toss adrift his sons after so much upward mobility. By the time the boys were born, the Waner family was established landed gentry. Not even the dust bowl of the 1930’s knocked them from their social and property mornings in Okalahoma. However, human nature tells us that money talks so at age 19, in 1922, Paul Waner confronted his father. “My father was a farmer and he wanted his sons to get a good education, but they sent the contract back to me and even upped the anti some. So I said, ‘Dad, I’ll ask them for $500 per month and if they give it to me will you let me go?’ He thought about it awhile and finally said, ‘Well if they give you $500 a month and if you promise me that if you don’t make it good you’ll come right back and finish college, then its okay with me.’ Why surely I’ll do that I said”. Paul would never finish college, although in a way he did earn a degree in hitting.
The early 1920’s were a time of jazz, prohibition was tongue in cheek, Jack Dempsey was the heavy weight champion of the world and Babe Ruth was king of the New York Yankees. Baseball was tarnished when eight players from the Chicago White Sox were banned from baseball for life for fixing the 1919 World Series. But on the west coast, a scrawny 19 year old hopped off the train in San Francisco after a 1,000 mile trip from his native Okalahoma. Paul had signed with the Pacific Coast League San Francisco Seals. San Francisco was the 9th largest city in America by then. It was a wealthy cosmopolitan metropolis with the busiest port on the west coast. Paul would later say “So I went out to the west coast and I am an old country boy. When I got there I didn’t even know they had a boat going across San Francisco Bay to downtown San Francisco. Well my ticket didn’t include a boat trip from Oakland, to me that ferry was as big as an ocean liner, I had never seen anything like it”.
Now remember, Paul was a pitcher. So there in the spring of 1923, his first day of practice with the Seals, he was throwing as hard as possible to impress the coaches. Paul began to tire, but the coaches would not let him rest. He felt something snap. It never was clear if Paul suffered ligament damage or nerve damage, but in any event he could not throw. He was devastated, and so were the Seals. Few teams would wait for an un proven pitchers arm to heal. Expecting to go home, instead he was allowed to stay. Lame armed, he stood in the outfield shagging flies and lobbing the balls back under handed. Knowing he was a good hitter, he was hoping to show this skill but he had been hired as a pitcher so he just patiently waited. Finally a veteran coach took pity on him and asked him if he wanted to hit. It turned out that his ailing arm was the best thing that ever happened to him.
Said Paul later “So they threw and I hit. They let me hit and hit and hit and I really belted the ball. There was a carpenter on a house out just beyond the right field fence about 360 to 370 feet from home plate. He was pounding shingles on the roof and he had his back to us. Well I hit one and it landed on the roof pretty close to him, he looked around wondering what the devil was going on. First thing you know I slammed another one out there and darn near hit him. So he put his hammer down and just sat there and watched and I kept right on crashing line drives out there all around where he was sitting. Of course they were lobbing the ball in just right and heck I swished and away it went”.
After those fireworks, manager “Dots” Miller decided to convert him to the out field. While he had the support of Dots Miller, Paul didn’t have the support of the Seals front office. Said Paul later “Nobody was much impressed with me except Dots Miller. The top brass on the seals was all for giving me my release before I started costing them any salary but Miller had such faith in me that he offered to pay me out of his own pocket. Finally, the first month of the season Dots played me in a double header in Seattle, I got 8 hits in 10 at bats. After that he finally convinced Charley Graham, owner of the Seals that I might make a ball player”. The Seals would use him as a pinch hitter, and while his first pinch hit he lined out, the second was a grand slam over the right field wall, a nice way to start a professional career. By seasons end Paul had the highest batting average on the Seals at .369, and was second in the entire Pacific Coast League. San Francisco won the PCL pennant that year; it was a good first season for Paul.
In the off season back home in Oklahoma, he encouraged younger brother Lloyd, knowing that Lloyd had the same capability. Paul’s second season was also good. He finished with a .356 batting average, 6th best among PCL players. With two seasons to his credit Paul had some capital with the Seals and lobbied them to sign younger brother Lloyd, whom they did, although Lloyd’s playing time with the Seal’s would be limited and his success not as great. The Pacific Coast League was really a showcase for the majors and come the spring of 1925 several major league teams were interested in Paul, but not Lloyd.
In July 1925 Paul got his break. Pittsburgh Pirates owner Barry Dreyfus paid the seals $100,000 in cash for Waner and Hal Rhyne; $60,000 was ear marked for Rhyne and $40,000 for Paul. $100,000 was an eye popping figure to pay for major league players back then.
In Pittsburgh Paul found the world vastly different than the harsh range lands of the southwest. Pittsburgh was the nexus of steel manufacturing in the grand blue collar tradition. Sprawled over a hilly area in the Appellation Mountains, Pittsburgh sits in the convergence of the Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio rivers, the latter of which spills far down stream into the mighty Mississippi. It was the perfect place to move steel throughout America as the county flexed its industrial age muscles. In the mid 19th century Pittsburgh was considered a “western” city. During the civil war it produced cannons, arms, coal and munitions for the union forces but when the civil war ended young men returned home to Pittsburgh and started swinging bats and throwing balls. For a country weary of war and blood shed, “base ball” its phrasing then was an instant hit, first for the affluent classes and then among the working class of the omni present steel mills. By the time Paul Waner had arrived in Pittsburgh, baseball was an institution that had momentum.
The popularity of major league expanded as dense cities like Pittsburgh increased. With more ticket buyers concentrated in dense urban areas, teams could afford to pay their players better and raise the talent level. In addition, the street car, railroad, telegraph, newspapers, and predictable factory hours were perfect for baseball’s growth. Fans could flock to the park because of the trolley line secured the knowledge of having steady jobs and regular paychecks.
For spring training in the March of 1926, Lloyd was back in San Francisco for another try at making the Seals as a regular. Across the country, Paul arrived in Clearwater Florida, home of Pittsburghh’s spring training camp. Paul Waner had the perfect home in Pittsburgh at Forbes field. The parks extreme dimensions were perfectly suited to a slashing, high average player. There was plenty of room for doubles and triples in the spacious gaps. In fact, in the 61 years of play at Forbes field between 1909 and 1970 there was never a no-hitter pitched. In the 1920’s, Forbes field was 368 feet to right field, 410 to the right center power alley, 447 to straight away center, 462 to left center and 360 down the left field foul line. Even in today’s baseball parks, it would rank by far the largest. A fleet footed, line drive, spray hitter like Paul Waner was perfectly suited for this park.
The Pirates tried Waner initially at first base, but he was too small. On April 16th 1926, Paul started his first game in left field. He walked twice in two hitless at bats, but the next day he collected his first hit.
Back in San Francisco Lloyd was not having much luck. Early in the 1926 season he collected only four hits in 20 at bats and things were looking bleak for the 19 year old Lloyd. Then there was a disagreement over his salary, actually a bonus, which would be paid to him after May 1. The amount in dispute was either $1,250 or $2,500. Said Paul later “Before the 1st of May came they said, ‘Paul we want to keep Lloyd but we haven’t had a chance to see him, we would like to keep him here if he would just waive that $2,500’. “Release him”, Paul told the Seals. He didn’t want Lloyd stuck there without getting paid the agreed upon amount, the Waner’s had to much pride for that. Said Paul later “Lloyd went and got his things and he left town, they were mad at him. They said, ‘Gee, we paid your salary all the time and then you up and leave.’ Lloyd said, “Well, I got my release and they said, ‘what are you going to do?’ and I said, “I’m going to Pittsburgh”.
Paul immediately went to Dreyfus and using his brash salesmanship sold the owner on giving Lloyd a tryout, which was an impressive feat given the fact that Lloyd has shown next to nothing in his stint with the Seals. This illustrated again how the Waner’s stuck up for each other. Paul would later say “After I got to Pittsburgh in 1926 I told Mr. Dreyfus, the president of the club, that I had a younger brother who was a better ball player than I was. That kid can hit, run and field as well as I can”. “Better ball player than I” reflected the brother devotion between the two. Paul was generous in his assessment but it didn’t matter to him, Dreyfus agreed to look at Lloyd.
If people thought Paul was small, Lloyd shocked them. Paul was about 5’8”, Lloyd was about an inch shorter, but he was even more thin. Paul generally weighed between 140 to 145 lbs. Dreyfus asked Lloyd “How much do you weigh?” Lloyd replied “About 130 pounds.” “Are you kidding?” Dreyfus asked. “Don’t let his weight fool you”, Paul quipped. While impressed with his talent, the Pirates questioned whether the frail looking Lloyd could endure a 154 game season. Despite Paul’s lobbying, Dreyfus placed Lloyd beneath the Pirates AAA team in the B minor league team in Columbia South Carolina. Fortunately, Lloyd had a break out year; his .345 batting average won him the South Atlantic Leagues most valuable player and a chance to begin the next year in AAA.
Back in Pittsburgh, Paul finished his rookie season in spectacular form as well. He posted a .336 batting average, almost winning the batting title, and scored 101 runs. His lead leading 22 triples were the third most all time by a National League rookie, and his 35 doubles were the first of nine straight seasons with at least 30. In his historical baseball abstract, Bill James argues that Paul had the best rookie season ever of any right fielder in baseball history and ranks him as the 9th best player of all time at that position.
The 1927 Season
The next season, 1927, was an important year in the life of Paul and Lloyd Waner. Though young and new in their professional careers, in some ways this season would be their pinnacle. 1927 marked the year that Charles Lindberg flew his first solo flight from New York to Paris and technology began to change the way people viewed the world around them. A contraption called television was demonstrated publicly in New York. The Jazz Singer staring Al Jolson was released as the first feature length talking film and the Dempsy-Tunney heavy weight fight was broadcast on the radio to record setting audiences. In baseball Babe Ruth was swatting homeruns at a record rate leading a New York Yankees team that many still feel was the best team ever assembled in major league baseball. Starting in 1927 Pirate fans could now listen to regular broadcasts of home games on KBKA; the worlds first commercial radio station. While Paul’s position in the Pittsburgh lineup was secure, Lloyd needed a break and that break came two days before the 1927 season began.
48 hours before the Pirates were to begin their season in Cincinnati, left fielder “Pooch” Barnhart collided with Elmer Lane, another outfielder while chasing down a fly ball. Both were injured and sat out Pittsburghh’s last pre season game. Lane would not make the club; Pooch Barnhart would have to watch at least initially as well. The Pirates team physician felt that Lloyd at 132 pounds would not make it out of spring training. The Pirates third baseman Pie Traynor pronounced him “too small, too thin, and too scrawny”. Small yes, but exceptionally fast, especially in chasing down fly balls in the expansive Forbes field. Manager Donnie Bush decided to start Lloyd in the season opener in left field. Paul would start in right and between them in the center would be Kiki Cuyler.
The Waner brothers were together again as they had been for years in Okalahoma and recently in San Francisco. It was the start of 14 summers in the Pirates outfield for them, the longest running such tenure in baseball history. Lloyd showed the impact of his speed in his first big league at bat. He hit a routine grounder to short stop, legend has it he was four steps past first base when the throw arrived. In the first three games Paul and Lloyd combined for seven hits in 21 at bats for a .333 average. Paul had four RBI’s, with three of them coming off hits knocking in his younger brother. He would only get better from here, and one thing was clear to manager Bush and the Pirate fans; the one two punch of the Waner’s worked.
They had an uncanny sense of how the other brother was running the bases or which pitch he would swing at. Paul aimed his line drives to right or left field depending on which base Lloyd was on just as Lloyd was suddenly breaking into a gallop. This established a pattern the two would follow throughout their careers.
Playing together in the outfield, Lloyd once told a reporter that he and his brother had agreed that any fly ball hit into right center would be Lloyd’s, but if a ball bounded between them and rolled to the wall, Lloyd would run it down and flip it to Paul who would throw it to the cut off man. Lloyd also commented, “Paul had a better arm and caught a lot of hitters at second. We played together in the outfield 14 years and in going for fly balls we never even touched one another, not once. We just had a feel for one another”.
As the Waners began visiting cities around the league it became clear that the two brothers on the same team should have nick names, after all they looked almost like twins, both played the outfield and both collected hits by the bucket full. What kind of nick names would apply to these brothers wondered sports writers? No nicknames existed until a 1927 newspaper article, however after that article the nicknames Big Poison and Little Poison stuck with them throughout their careers. Said Lloyd, “It started in 1927 in New York. We were playing the Giants in the Polo Grounds, there used to be this Italian fellow who always sat in the center field bleachers, he had a voice in him you could hear all over the ball park. When he hollered out you heard him no matter where you were. Paul and I were hitting well against the Giants, this one day we came out of the club house between games of a double header and this fellow started hollering at us. What it sounded like was big and little poison, but what he was really saying was big and little person. He was a real nice fellow and we waived at him and he finally became our biggest rooter in the polo grounds. We got him an autographed baseball one time, but whenever we came in there he would yell that and the newspaperman finally picked it up except they thought he was saying poison instead of person. It became a newspaper nickname because no ballplayer had ever called us that.”
The nickname was a perfect fit. By early June Paul was hitting .363 with 52 RBI’s and only 44 games, Lloyd was not far behind batting .315 with 35 runs scored. That same month beginning June 3, Paul managed to get an extra base hit in 14 straight games, a little known major league record that stands to this day. Doubles and triples were Paul’s specialty, his lifetime total of 605 doubles ranks 11th all time and his 191 triples is 10th all time in baseball history. Also, that same month, on June 10th Paul’s bachelor days came to an end by marrying Corinne Moore. The two had grown up a stones throw from each other in Okalahoma and attended grade and high school together. The ceremony was performed at a friend’s home just outside the Pittsburgh city limits. Local fans and Pirates chipped in and bought them an automobile, although they only made the first payment, the rest was up to Paul and Corrine. Paul didn’t let marriage get in the way of baseball; the same day he got married he celebrated with a pair of doubles, a triple and five RBI’s. The Pirates stymied the Jets 13 to 4 in the last game of a four game set.
Later that summer on August 11th, Lloyd would muscle up and hit his first home run. He only hit 27 homeruns lifetime and 13 of those would be inside the park, though this one made it over the fence. On September 4th the Waner’s became the first brothers to homer in the same game in the same inning. How it happened though could never be replicated in modern baseball. Up until 1930, balls that bounced into the stands were deemed home runs. Lloyd would later comment “Paul had wonderful bat control. I will never forget that day in Cincinnati the old park had a low fence in front of the box seats down behind third base. I swung at a pitch and sliced it about a foot inside the foul line and it went into the seats on one bounce. In those days that was a home run. As I crossed the plate, Paul who was the next hitter, said to me, ‘Now I will show you how to hit one too’, and he did, hitting the same line of trajectory that I had.”
Later that month the Pirates would clinch the pennant with a record of 94 wins and 60 losses, a game and a half over the Cardinals, the prior year’s champions. The Waner’s had indeed made a difference. Lloyd had one of the greatest rookie seasons in baseball history. His .355 average trailed only Paul’s in the entire national league who hit .380 to win the batting league championship. Lloyd hammered out a rookie record 223 hits and scored 133 runs. Of those hits, 198 of them were singles, setting a record that still exists today. The entire season he struck out just 23 times and this would be the most he ever struck out in one season. Baseball didn’t begin picking Rookies of the Year until 1947, but the Society for American Baseball Research maintains that Lloyd would have been the National League Rookie of the Year in 1927 and Paul would have been the pick in 1926. That season the Waners also set records for team mate brothers that still exist today. Combined at bats; 1258. Combined batting average; .367. Doubles, triples, runs, and fewest strikeouts. However their year was not over, for in October, the World Series would play the mighty New York Yankees. It would be David against Goliath.
The 1927 World Series
Baseball’s inner circles in 1927 were hoping for a Yankees / Pirate series. The Yankees had the star power; Pittsburgh had the AM radio power and would provide a solid match up. While other fall classics had been heard sporadically on the radio, the 1927 series would be the first to be broadcast uniformly on the nationwide radio hook up with an estimated listening audience of 35 million people. On Sunday night October 2nd, the Yankees boarded the Pullman train dubbed the Yankee special and headed westward across the Appalachian Mountains to Pittsburgh. The odds favored New York 7 to 5. The Yankees had led the American Legion nearly every offensive category setting major league records with 975 runs scored, 158 homeruns, 908 runs batted in, and a .489 slugging average. Babe Ruth had hit 60 home runs, Lou Gehrig 47 home runs forming the most devastating one two punch in baseball history to that point. The Pirates on the other hand had just 54 home runs as a team and no single player had more than nine. Confronting this pin striped buzz saw would be baby faced Paul and Lloyd Waner. The narrative was set, Ruth and Gehrig vs. Paul and Lloyd Waner.
Paul and Lloyd would not be intimidated by the power hitting Yankees, in fact, Lloyd poked fun at them saying before the game “As a homerun hitter I finished just 58 circuit slams behind Babe Ruth, and I was beaten out by Lou Gehrig with a margin of 46 such drives, but the two round tippers I produced certainly afford me all the pride of a small boy wearing his first pair of boots”. Babe Ruth was not impressed; he was widely quoted as saying about Paul and Lloyd “Why they’re just little kids. If I was that little I’d be afraid of getting hurt”.
Wednesday October 5, 1927. The gates at Forbes field opened at 10:00 AM. It was a mild October day. The Waner’s appeared in the Pirates white uniforms with dark blue and red pin stripes while the visiting Yankees appeared in their road gray uniforms with navy blue and rust colored stirrups. Governor Fisher of Pennsylvania threw out the first pitch. In the first inning the Yankees took a 1-0 lead on Lou Gehrig’s triple while Paul attempted a shoe string catch but missed. When the Pirates came to bat Lloyd was hit by a pitch, Paul doubled him to third and Lloyd scored on a fly ball to tie the score 1-1. In the third inning the Yankees scored three times. The Pirates never caught up, losing game one, 5 to 4.
Game two started off with a lead off triple by Lloyd who then scored, taking a 1-0 lead, but the Yankees roared back with three runs in the third. The Yankees would have another three run outburst and hand Pittsburgh their second loss 6 to 2. The series would now move to Yankee stadium for game three.
60,695 fans cheered on the home team Yankees in game three. The Pittsburgh bats were lifeless. Yankees pitcher Herb Pinok took a perfect game and an 8-0 lead into the eighth inning. Even the Pirates defense let them down. It was the only blowout of the series, but the final score was 8 to 1. Down three games to none the Pirates suddenly risked embarrassment at the prospect of being the first National League to be swept in the autumn classic.
The Pirates opened game four with a run in the first inning, but the Yankees responded with a run of their own. It was quiet until the fifth when New York went ahead 3-1 on a towering homerun by Babe Ruth, it was his second this series. But the scrappy Pirates responded in the seventh inning tying the score 3-3. The game remained tied until the ninth inning. The Pirates were unable to score in the top half of the ninth. In the bottom of the ninth, the Yankees loaded the bases with none out. Suddenly the Pirates reliever Johnny Miljus struck out Lou Gehrig and Bob Meusel. To get into extra innings the Pirates needed just one more out. Two outs, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded. Miljus unleashed a pitch that sailed over the catchers shoulder, the runner from third scored, the game was over. The series belonged to the Yankees.
Lloyd Waner would later say “The world series was over. For a couple seconds I didn’t budge, just stood their in center field, couldn’t believe it really. It’s no way to end a ball game much less a world series on a dog gone wild pitch”. During the series Paul had hit .333, Lloyd .400, Babe Ruth .400, and Lou Gehrig .208. Ruth had two homers and Gehrig had two doubles, Lloyd had a double and a triple, Paul a double. The Ruth /Gehrig combo had five walks between them, to the one free pass by the Waners. On pure averages the Waners did beat Ruth and Gehrig .367 to .357, a small consolation in a losing effort, but an otherwise terrific year for the Waner brothers.
For Lloyd, age 21 and Paul, age 24 the world series experience was too brief and it came too soon in their careers. Later Lloyd would comment “My first year up in the majors was 1927 and darn if we didn’t win the pennant. Boy, I thought to myself, this looks like a cinch, but I hung around 18 more years and never saw another one”. For nearly two decades the Waner’s would play, and while records would be set, a league pennant would be elusive. The Pirates during the Waner era would finish second four times but never again clinch a pennant nor play another game in a world series.
Reflections on their professional career
The following season, 1928, their career was far from over. For 13 more years the brothers patrolled the Pirates outfield together, and even after they left Pittsburghh played another five years for other teams, Paul well into his early 40’s. It is unlikely that some of their records will ever be broken as World War II took many of America’s best athletes off to war and allowed veterans to play well past their prime, and for the Waners, rack up more hits. While baseball is a game of statistics and averages, it is played by men, and as men, Paul and Lloyd left behind many memorable baseball stories.
For example, during the 1928 season Lloyd became engaged to Frances Mae Snider of Pittsburgh, a stenographer. Frances had met Lloyd while working at her mothers flower shop near Forbes field where the Pirates bought flowers. Soon after Lloyd’s engagement Paul would have his first and only child, Paul Jr., back in Okalahoma City. Upon hearing the news Paul would rush home and stay there with his wife and baby for a few days, and then return to the Pirates. On September 17th 1929, Lloyd and his fiancée Frances were married at the home of a relative near Pittsburgh. Paul of course, was Lloyd’s best man. Lloyd like Paul actually played baseball on his wedding day; he went 2 for 4 with two runs scored, one RBI and one walk. Both Waners seemed to benefit from their nuptials on game day.
Lloyd had many other strengths beyond his on base percentages as an offensive player. He was the second hardest guy to strike out in major league history; once in every 44.9 at bats. Incredibly his season strike out totals were 12, 13 and 20 in his first three years of play, which in today’s baseball is about how many times and average player strikes out each month. Lloyd was a quiet and unassuming player, case in point, a little known fact is that he played all of his 1,992 career games and was never once ejected.
The Waner brothers loved hitting at Forbes field and were amazingly accurate in its great expanse. Lloyd Waner was quoted as saying “We loved Pittsburgh and Forbes field, Paul and I used to practice throwing our gloves down in the outfield in batting practice and then would try and hit them. Once in a while we would hit them too. It took a lot of practice to hit where we wanted. Paul could, he could really call his shots. I could hit the ball where I wanted to but I had to wait for my pitch or go with the ball where it was pitched”. This fact was also confirmed by Redlands resident Ralph Davis, who as a young boy would watch the Waner brothers practice at San Bernardino’s Fiscalini Field, the spring training camp of the Pittsburgh Pirates for a few years. Ralph loved the Waner brothers, and would go specifically to watch them hit. He remembers how pitch after pitch Paul and Lloyd could place the ball exactly where they wanted. Peter Beagel, the author of such fantasy classics as Says The Unicorn, was roommates with Paul Waner and later would write “I saw Paul Waner at batting practice. As a hitting coach he was legendary for hitting fungoe bats. He could place a ball anywhere. He would put a handkerchief in the outfield and hit a ball right to it. He was well known for that”.
One wonders how good Paul and Lloyd might have been with today’s modern equipment. Paul would later say, “If I could start all over again, there’s one thing I’d do, use a lighter bat, I believe I could hit 35 home runs a year. When I played I used a 42 ½ ounce bat, a homerun was mighty nice but it was strictly an accident then”. Contemporary hitters would be shocked that a 150 lb man like Paul Waner would use such a large bat. Today 200 plus lb hitters prefer using bats weighing 32 ounces or less, yet Paul’s best years came using a 40 plus ounce bat. Paul used a 42 ounce bat in the 1927 World Series. Sometimes different players used the same bat in those days, they lasted far longer than the easily breakable thin handled ones of today. Supposedly Paul Waner and Pie Traynor shared the same bat for the entire 1927 season.
There were constant negotiations and sometimes bitter disputes between the Waner brothers and management over their pay, but deep inside they felt fortunate to play baseball. They knew life was good, relatively speaking, for ball players in the depression. Major leaguers didn’t stand in bread lines, work dirty and dangerous jobs for little or no pay, or sell apples on street corners. Paul Waner would say “You could buy a wheelbarrow full of groceries for a few dollars in those days, and for $100 a month I had the best apartment in the Schenley Hotel that you ever saw”.
Lloyd would later remember “We had to be hungry players because the salaries weren’t that high then. My highest in the big leagues was between $13,500 and $14,000, oh yes, I got a $1,000 raise after that first year in 1927”. Ironically also, major league baseball players today receive a lifetime pension if they played enough years of major league baseball. Paul missed receiving that pension by one year.
Paul’s vision or lack there of, actually helped him in hitting. He considered wearing glasses but had mixed feelings “I don’t know, the ball looks as big as a pumpkin when it comes up to the plate, just seems I couldn’t miss it if I tried, and when I did miss it or foul tip it, I don’t understand how it happens. I’m not proud but I can’t hit wearing glasses. Sure I see the ball better with glasses, the ball seems sharper and more distinct, but the trouble is, it’s smaller too. Without glasses the ball seems like a big white blur and all I have to do is hit the blur in the middle”.
Paul is one of just 26 players in major league history who have collected more than 3,000 hits. He is 16th on that list. Even his 3,000th hit is an interesting story in itself. Playing then for Boston, in the first game of a double header in Cincinnati, Paul collected his 2,999th hit. In the second game he lined a sharp grounder to the red shortstop Eddie Jost. As Jost raced in at the crack of the bat he made a backhanded stab and knocked the ball down. He was unable to throw to first in time to get Paul, the play could have been scored a hit or an error. The official scorer, Jerry Moore, ruled it a hit, but Paul standing on first waived to Moore, he did not want a tarnished 3,000th hit. He’d rather have it clean and square or not at all. Paul motioned to umpire Beans Reardon who had already obtained the ball from Jost and was ready to give it to Paul, but Paul made it clear he thought it should be judged in error. Moore agreed to rule it an error. Jost could have been unhappy with getting an error on the play, Paul realized this and later he approached Jost, “I am sorry to see you get the error kid, but I wanted to make the hit be the one I could be proud of”. Paul would now have to wait for his big hit. After the game Boston headed to his former team Pittsburgh, the delay merely heightened the suspense. On June 19th Paul stepped up to the plate against his former Pirate teammates, one hit shy. And so in Paul’s greatest irony, he connected for his historic 3,000 hit against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He lashed a single up the middle in Forbes field, his home of many years. The umpire retrieved the ball for Paul, he said he’d hold onto it for his 13 year old son, Paul Jr. Frank Fritch manager of the Pirates and Casey Stengle of the Braves ambled out of their respective dugouts to pose for a photograph at first base. The Pirates went on to win, and Paul Waner would go on to say “I haven’t collected many trophies, but I am really proud of that ball.”
No matter how difficult the circumstances, the Waners demonstrated brotherly concern for each other. Ray Berres, catcher for the Pirates recalled “I enjoy the fondness or love they had for one and other and how they referred to each other as Little Brother and Big Brother. I remember a game in which Lloyd got hit by a pitch, and Paul asked him if it hurt. ‘You’re dang right it hurts’, said Lloyd. Paul then said, ‘I’ll get even with him for you’ and wouldn’t you know it, Paul got the pitch he could handle and hit the ball right back to the pitcher and it struck him on the knee”.
1940 would be the last full year that Paul and Lloyd played together for Pittsburgh; it was Paul’s 15th season and Lloyds 14th. Team mate Elbie Fletcher remembers “Paul was kind of along in years when I joined the club but he could still hit. He was a master. You know how some players have their favorite bat, and how they rub it and hone it and baby it all along? Well Paul maintained that the bat had nothing to do with it. One day just to prove his point he told us to pick out any bat we wanted and he would use it in the game, each time he went up to the plate we’d toss him a different bat. Well, he went 4 for 5. ‘It’s not the bat that counts’ he said after the game, ‘it’s the guy who’s wheeling it’.”
All good things must come to an end and for the Waner act in Pittsburgh; the show was coming to a close. Later Lloyd would recount “I could tell you the saddest day of my career, it was the day in 1941 when the Pirates traded me to Boston”. And as fate would have it, Paul would be released as well to the Boston Braves, reuniting him with his brother Lloyd. They would get to play under the legendary Casey Stengle. Waner was good copy for the yarn spinning Stangle, it was Casey that said “Waner had to be a very graceful player because he could slide without breaking a bottle on his hip”. The Waners reunion was short lived; a month later they were split up again, this time for good.
The Dark Side
There was a dark side to both Paul and Lloyd, alcohol. There are a number of humorous stories about their ability to imbibe and not impede their play, however in the end there was a cost, especially personally, due to their habit.
Drinking was a sign of manhood at the turn of the century. Paul riley admitted, “I never took a drink until I was 8”. Growing up on the farm also introduced both brothers to chewing tobacco and pipe smoking. While during their playing days, Paul was portrayed as a drunk and Lloyd a teetotaler, the fact is Lloyd drank too, just not as much, at least that is, until retirement.
Regarding hydration, its amazing the bodies of the players in the 1920’s and 1930’s held up at all. For the majority of their careers the Waner brothers never played night games, and often times, day games in the middle of summer in the mid west were played in temperatures that exceeded 90 or even 100 degrees. Players didn’t drink water to hydrate like they do today. The old fashion thinking was that drinking lots of water on a hot day would make a person susceptible to the effects of the heat, so unbelievably players would drink sodas or other beverages that would actually in fact, dehydrate them.
Ballplayer Dick Bartel relayed this story to Norman Mawk, author of Rowdy Richard, saying “Lloyd didn’t drink much when he was playing but Paul was another story. There were plenty of times he showed up at the ball park and he wasn’t sober. In the dug out we had an ice chest. He’d stick a pint of whiskey in there and take a swig before innings before he’d go up to bat”.
Paul did go on the wagon once, however his batting average began to slip, approaching .250, at which point his manager personally shepherded him to a watering hole. Within two weeks his average was back over .300. “I play better when I’m relaxed”, said Paul.
Rosco McGowen of the New York Times wrote “Paul was a fierce soul who couldn’t abide restrictions; he ate and drank as he pleased as long as he pleased. Sleep was something he didn’t seem to need because even when he went to bed he often stayed awake for hours reading. He wasn’t reading comic books, who done its, or wild west stories either. His taste ran to books on philosophy, science and other subjects, allegedly beyond the ken of baseball players”.
One day the Pirates were in St. Louis to play the Cardinals, Paul had stayed up the night before drinking with friends at a party hosted by Pirates pitcher Jaime Meine who owned a saloon south of St. Louis in Luxemburg. The next afternoon as he wobbled to the plate in batting practice, he asked the cardinals manager Gabby Streath to have his pitcher take it easy on him “I didn’t get to much sleep last night” Paul said. “Sure Paul, sure” Streath said patting Paul on that back. The manager thought to himself “This is one day Big Poison won’t hurt us”. Instead Paul walloped four doubles that day to tie a major league record and lead the Pirates to a 5-0 victory over St. Louis. In his book the Gas House Gang, Robert E. Hood revealed another tale about that day. “During the course of the day, Waner sneaked a drink or two in the dug out, and at one point umpire Bill Cline, who did not look unkindly upon the grape, held up the game to wait for Waner to appear at the plate. This was the afternoon that Paul tied the national league record for most doubles for the game. He had four doubles off Tex Carlton and he did a hand spring at second base after each one”. Paul liked to do handsprings to sober up.
Once during 1932 Paul frustrated the easy going Chicago manger Charlie Grimm with his ability to perform under the weather. As it goes, Paul had partaken in a night of heavy drinking and felt extremely ill in the morning, unusual even by his standards. Some say he had never gotten to bed and was still reeling when he came to the ball park. In his first at bat Paul missed the bat by “18 inches” reportedly. In the second at bat he improved missing it only by 6 inches. In the ninth with the score tied between the two contending teams Paul came to bat again, he riffled a triple down the right field line to drive in the winning run. Big Poison slid triumphantly into third base with a big cloud of dust. Manager Grimm was unable to contain himself, he burst from the Cubs dugout and glared at Paul lying at the ground and snorted “It’s just like you, you little punk to sober up at a time like this”.
Another story involved his Pirate teammate Fred Lindsrom, who came by his house one morning to pick up Paul for a golf outing. Paul’s wife let Fred know Paul had gone out for a loaf of bread, and that he would be right back. Fred waited, and waited, and waited, and finally asked, “When did Paul leave?” “Last night”, she responded.
Later in his career Paul earned a reputation more for his drinking than playing, but team mate Ray Berres thought Paul was a considerate man and thought Paul was becoming the butt of too many drinking jokes “Regardless of what has been said or written about him, I’ve always found him to be a gentle man ready to lend a word of encouragement or helping hand. Words fail me in expressing my affection for Paul as a player and a man, he had his moments of fun but lets not condemn him for it”. In 1959 Paul was only 56 but he looked 10-15 years older. Drinking and smoking did not help and it had taken its toll. Paul would later say, “They knew I showed up at the ball park everyday and always gave them my best, I always could handle the stuff pretty well, but that’s in the past and I’ve forgotten the drinks and the things that went with it. This stage in my career I especially wish to avoid giving the wrong impression to the kids. Sure there had been drinking stars but their after hour diversions never helped them or their careers. We all learned from experience and if I had my life to live over I would do some things differently. For one, I’d dedicate myself to helping young players”.
Both Paul and Lloyd had sons, named Paul Jr. and Lloyd Jr. respectively, however neither of the boys had any interest in playing baseball and unfortunately not much of a relationship with their father either. Lloyd Jr. would later say “They did have alcohol problems, had it not been for that, they would have been better known and enjoyed post baseball careers that would have raised their profiles. But they were limited by their drinking, even after their baseball careers. That one article about Paul getting a drink so he could hit, well that was true, and it was a blooming shame. Dad tried to be protective of me though, if there was any drinking around he tried to keep it away from me. I got really tired of it all; sometimes it seemed the only guys who came by the house were drunks. Drunks. I went to the University of Okalahoma to protect my mother as my father didn’t have much money because of the drinking. I wanted to go to an Ivy League school back east but it didn’t happen and it all worked out though. I had to buy a car so I could drive home and make sure my dad was okay after he passed out in the front lawn. It got so I couldn’t even drink in college, it would make me vomit, and the other guys would apologize if they had a drink in front of me”.
But Lloyd Jr. also saw his father and uncle in a good light, “They were humble, the never carried themselves any different than the guy walking down the street, I don’t have much interest in baseball players today because they think they’re so great. My father and uncle never thought that. They played for the love of the game and thought of themselves as common people. They didn’t make any money in those days. There were things they could have done to make more money. Geese, these guys today, talk about loyalty; the Waner’s were enormously loyal to the Pittsburgh Pirates. I don’t hear that from today’s players, it’s, ‘Where’s the money’? Not with my dad and uncle. They’d go out and play catch with the kids when they were home, that came through to all the kids in the neighborhood when I was growing up. They taught us that you learned something from every game you lose; the game isn’t all just about winning. I haven’t heard that since my dad passed on”.
As an ironic twist of fate, Lloyd Jr’s son, Andy Waner, runs a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program in Okalahoma City today. In fact, so effective is Andy Waner’s rehab program that Okalahoma politicians routinely call upon him and CNN has taped him for on air interviews.
After baseball, Paul’s second career was that of a hitting coach. He was one of the first specialists, in his case a hitting coach. He had a missionary zeal about his work. During the 1950’s he published a 34 page pamphlet about hitting entitled Paul Waner’s Batting Secrets and it sold for 50 cents. I have read excerpts of that booklet and I can tell you that 35 years later at least to the college level, what he taught is still being used.
While Paul crossed the country as a hitting coach and grabbed an occasional headline, Lloyd moved back home and settled down far from the lime light. He was a scout for a few years for the Pirates and Orioles, but quickly the home spun Lloyd ended up getting a job for the Okalahoma city streets department as an accountant and foreman. He worked there for about two decade before retiring.
Paul advocated the use of pitching machines, in which he had a financial interest of course. He operated batting cages in Pittsburgh from April to October and from October to April in Sarasota Florida. In fact, he was hitting off one his machines when the phone call came that he had been elected to the hall of fame. “You know what I was doing when Hiney Manush told me about the election? Hitting, hitting away at my pitching machine. I must have hit 200 or 300 balls that day just for fun. Almost made me feel like making a comeback. I weigh 142 lbs, 5 lbs under my playing weight, can I still hit? I can hit as good as ever, maybe better, those pitching machines are great practice, they never get tired of throwing.”
Paul would enter the Hall of Fame in 1952. His plaque in the Hall of Fame reads:
Paul Glee Waner (Big Poison) Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, Boston, New York. 1926-1945. Left handed hitting outfielder batted .300 or better 14 times in the National League. One of seven players ever to compile 3,000 or more hits. Set modern N.L. record by collecting 200 or more hits in eight seasons. Most Valuable Player in 1927 and four times selected to All Star Game.
Paul’s swashbuckling life would catch up with him. The following year, in 1953, Paul married for a second time which further estranged him from his only son, Paul Jr. Always the hitting instructor, he would crisscross the country, team to team, even as his health failed and he bounced in and out of the hospital. Although his life choices made his body appear far older than he was, he was able to keep going until August of 1965 when he passed away of pulmonary emphysema and pneumonia. He was 62.
Just two years later in January 1967 Lloyd was visiting friends and family in Pittsburgh when the phone rang. It was the Hall of Fame; they had called to welcome the 61 year old Lloyd as its newest member. Paul had recently died and having squawked for years about his brothers deserving his own place in the hall, it seemed a just way to recognize the Waner brothers, if not Lloyd solely as baseballs best hitting brother combination. Lloyd would later remember “The first thought I had was of my brother Paul, I just wish Paul were alive to share this moment with me, he always said I should be in the hall of fame. I’m simply overwhelmed because I didn’t even know I was being considered. Another big thing that makes this such a big day is that it happened here in Pittsburgh, this is really my home because this is where I broke into the majors with the Pirates in 1927 and played for almost 15 years. This is where my friends are and this is where my fans were and my wife is a former Pittsburghher”.
Lloyd’s plaque in the Hall of Fame reads: Lloyd James Waner, “Little Poison”. Pittsburgh, Boson, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, 1927-1945. Made 223 hits in 1927 first year with Pittsburghh including 198 singles, a modern major league record. Led national league with most singles, 1927-1928-1929-1931. Life total 2,459 hits. Batting average .316. With brother Paul, “Big Poison”, starred in Pittsburgh outfield 1927-1940.
Lloyd would give up drinking later in life, and mend some fences along the way, including the one with his son Lloyd Jr. He had a relatively normal retirement, but in May of 1982 suffered a bout of emphysema and bronchitis and spent three weeks at the Presbyterian Hospital in Oklahoma City. A young physician there at the time was a Dr. John Robertson, now of Redlands, who cared for an ailing Lloyd. “I remember he was small” recounts John, “but full of life and eager to show me his baseball trinkets, treasures from his past. His will was strong, because what he had would silence most men, but he fought on”. In July of 1982, at age 76, Lloyd would join his brother Paul once again.
Well, most stories must come to an end, but for just one more moment let’s go back to Wednesday, October 5th 1927. Game one of the World Series. On hand to watch Paul and Lloyd play was sister Ruth, mother Etta, and father Ora Waner. Back home in Okalahoma, if their work schedules allowed, listening intently on the radio would be Ora’s brother James and his son Alfred Thorne Waner, a cousin of Paul and Lloyd just a few months older than Lloyd in fact.
Seven years after that World Series match up, born to Alfred Thorne and his wife Elsie would be their second child, a son, they named Alfred Wesley Waner. Alfred Wesley Waner was also a gifted athlete, small and quick. He to would excel at many sports, but in college, would have to choose just one sport, and so focused on his first love, basketball. Although just 5’9”, the speedy shooting guard would lead Pepperdine University to a CCAA conference championship.
35 years after that 1927 World Series, to Alfred Wesley and his wife Joann, a second son would be born, whom they named Neal Alfred Waner. Like many Waner’s before him, he also was small but fast and skillful enough to play at three colleges before a shoulder injury ended his baseball journey.
But the story of Waners and baseball continues, because in 1996 to Neal Alfred and his wife Joyce, a second child was born, named Tyler Kazumi Waner. In just a few minutes, Tyler will take the field for the Minnesota Twins which are in the Mustang Division of the Redlands Baseball for Youth. Like the Waners before him, Tyler is one of the smallest on the team, but indeed the fastest, he will lead off and play third base.
The story doesn’t end here either, because Paul and Lloyd readily admitted that sister Alma was actually the best hitter in the family. Unfortunately for Alma there were not many opportunities for women in baseball or many other organized sports 75 years ago. But this is the 21st century and with the women’s movement and Title 9, there are now many opportunities for women athletes, collegiate scholarships included. Well, as luck would have it, the best athlete, and the most aggressive, in our Waner family is Little M, age 6. She is known as Emily the Brave to her friends and family, but her teammates, call her Slugger.
One never knows where the next chapter of this story will begin.
Neal A. Waner
Born in Inglewood California in 1962, at age two months Neal moved to Big Bear Lake where he spent his entire childhood. His father Al was a teacher and baseball coach at the local high school, Neal and his older brother Scott were the bat boys. Neal played little league, high school baseball and then played at three colleges, San Bernardino Valley College, Chapman University, and Biola University. He graduated with a degree in finance from San Diego State University in 1985. He went on to receive his CFP (Certified Financial Planner) designation from the College of Financial Planning in Denver Colorado in 1987 and his MBA from the University of LaVerne in 1995. He is a partner with the financial planning firm of Stout & Waner located in Redlands.
Neal’s other sporting interests include skiing, golf, and sailing, as well as coaching his son’s little league team. An active community volunteer, Neal is founder and chairman of the Steven G. Mihaylo Big Bear High School Education Foundation back in his childhood hometown of Big Bear Lake. Locally he is a past president of the YMCA of the East Valley, and presently a board member with the Redlands Rotary Club. In 2004 he was elected to the school board of the Redlands Unified School District, where he currently serves as President of the Board of Education. Neal and his wife Joyce live in Redlands with their three young children; Jocelyn, Tyler and Emily.
Works and Individuals Consulted
Parker, Clifton Blue, Big and Little Poison – Paul and Lloyd Waner, Baseball Playing Brothers, McFarland and Company, 2003
Nemec, David and Wisnia, Salu, Baseball – More Than 150 Years, Publications International Limited, 1997
The Daily Oklahoman, Friday, July 23, 1982 and Monday July 2, 2001
www.baseballhalloffame.org (Major League Baseball Hall of Fame)
Ralph Davis, Redlands, California
Dr. John Robertson, Redlands, California
Dr. Alfred Wesley Waner, Big Bear Lake and Redlands, California