For “Big Poison,” Only Clean Hits Allowed

Of all the stone cold hitters to ever wear a Pittsburgh Pirates’ uniform, none was more deadly than Paul “Big Poison” Waner.

Part of my duties as a PNC Park tour guide is to take visitors out onto the warning track where we show them the retired names and numbers of all the great Pirates’ The further back in time you go, the less well known the player is.

In old timers’ cases, that’s a shame. With his brother Lloyd “Little Poison,” the Waners grew up on an Oklahoma farm and learned to hit by using corncob balls and two by fours or tree branches for bats. In 1923 Waner dropped out East Central University, a teachers’ college, and headed to San Francisco to play for the Seals in the Pacific Coast League. As Waner recalled, “They just let me hit and hit and hit and I really belted the ball.” During each of his three San Francisco years, Waner batter over .350.

By 1926, when Waner was 22, the Pittsburgh Pirates purchased his contract for $40,000 and put him in the outfield. In his rookie year playing outfield ( he had done some pitching in the minors), Waner batted .326 and lead the league in triples. The next year, with “Little Poison” on the team, the Pirates won the pennant. The brothers combined for 460 hits and Paul was named the National League Most Valuable Player.

“Big Poison” played for the Pirates until 1940. After his release, Waner had stints with the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Boston Braves and the New York Yankees.

Perhaps one of the most memorable moments in Paul’s career came when he had 2,999 hits. Playing for the Braves on June 19, 1942, Waner hit a shot off his old teammate Rip Sewell that shortstop Alf Anderson couldn’t handle. When the official scorer called it a hit, Waner frantically waved to the press box to signal that he didn’t want number 3,000 to be tainted.

The scorer reversed his decision and in the fifth inning, Waner hit a clean single to center to notch his historic 3,000th.  At the time, Waner was only the sixth player to reach that magic number.

Paul (3,152) and Lloyd (2,459) hold the career record for hits by brothers (5,611), outpacing the three Alous (5,094): Felipe (2,101), Matty (1,777) and Jesús (1,216) and the three DiMaggios (4,853): Joe (2,214), Dom (1,680) and Vince (959).

Waner, number 11 for the Pirates, retired with a career batting average and on base percentage of .333 and .404. The Hall of Fame induced Waner in 1952 and his brother Lloyd in 1967.

0 thoughts on “For “Big Poison,” Only Clean Hits Allowed”

  1. That’s a funny story (about his 3000th hit) that I didn’t remember! Anyway, it’s always good to read about Paul Waner… he really seems to be forgotten in the general baseball world, which is a shame because he was certainly a GREAT player. But, I suppose, that’s not surprising as time passes memories fade and many people/casual fans (and even some serious fans) aren’t into the history of the game. Thanks for the article.

  2. On the ball that Waner did not want to be his 3000th hit, what is the official scoring – fielder’s choice? According to the boxscore there was no error charged to Anderson on the play. I am curious why an official scorer would accommodate such a request for a scoring change, and whether a similar request would likely be honored today.

  3. Interesting about no error; I don’t know how it was officially scored. Durinng that era, the sports writers doubled as offical scorers so it is possible that the hometown reporter would be predisposed to going along with Waner.

    What struck me about this incident is that in today’s baseball scoring, every hard hit ball including those hit right at the fielder is score as a hit.

  4. Nice work as usual, Joe, but the one thing you didn’t mention about Waner is that he’s the toughest answer to the trivia question of “What Yankees had 3,000 hits in their career?” It may not qualify him as a True Yankee, but it’s still a nice little factoid.

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