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Pie Traynor

Pie Traynor

Position(s):
SS, 3B, 1B
Born:
November 11, 1898
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
6'
Weight:
170 lbs
Major League Debut:
9-15-1920 with PIT
Hall of Fame:
1948

Generally considered to be the greatest third baseman to play in the major leagues through the first half of the 20th century, Pie Traynor excelled both at the plate and in the field for the Pittsburgh Pirates for more than a decade.  After becoming Pittsburgh’s starting third baseman in 1922, Traynor batted over .300 in 10 of the next 13 seasons, compiling a batting average in excess of .320 on seven separate occasions.  Traynor’s career mark of .320 places him second only to Wade Boggs (.328) among players who appeared in at least 1,000 games at the hot corner.  He also knocked in more than 100 runs seven times, while surpassing 100 runs scored and 20 stolen bases two times each.  An outstanding fielder as well, Traynor led all National League third basemen in putouts seven times, chances five times, double plays four times, and assists three times.

Born on November 11, 1898 in Framingham, Massachusetts to parents who had emigrated from Canada, Harold Joseph Traynor acquired his rather unusual nickname while growing up in nearby Somerville.  Although various stories abound regarding the origin of his moniker, it is generally believed that Traynor received his nickname as a child because he frequented a grocery store and often asked for pie.  The store owner called him "Pie Face," which his friends later shortened to “Pie.”
Traynor began his professional playing career in 1920 as a shortstop for the Portsmouth Truckers of the Virginia League.  Discovered by a Boston Braves scout who asked the 21-year-old infielder to work out with the team at Braves Field, Traynor subsequently suffered the indignation of being chased off the premises by Braves manager George Stallings, who the scout neglected to inform of Traynor’s tryout.  Traynor later signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates, making his major league debut with the team on September 15, 1920.  He appeared in 17 games at shortstop for the Pirates over the season’s final few weeks, batting just .212 and driving in only two runs.  Traynor spent most of 1921 playing shortstop for the Birmingham Barons, posting a .336 batting average for Pittsburgh’s top minor league team, but also committing 64 errors in the field.      

Shifted to third base by Pirates manager Bill McKechnie prior to the start of the 1922 campaign, Traynor became Pittsburgh’s starting third sacker – a position he held down for the next 13 years.  The 23-year-old infielder batted .282, knocked in 81 runs, and scored 89 others in his first full major league season, although he also committed 31 errors at his new position.

Following the advice of Rogers Hornsby, Traynor began using a heavier bat in 1923.  The young third baseman’s new approach at the plate enabled him to blossom into one of the National League’s finest hitters.  Traynor hit a career-high 12 home runs, placed among the league leaders with 101 runs batted in, 108 runs scored, 208 hits, 28 stolen bases, a .338 batting average, and 301 total bases, and topped the senior circuit with 19 triples.  Working extensively in the field with teammate Rabbit Maranville, Traynor also began to improve his defense, leading all National League third basemen in both putouts and assists.

After another solid season in 1924, Traynor helped lead the Pirates to their first National League pennant since 1909 the following year.  Batting .320 and placing among the league leaders with 106 runs batted in, 114 runs scored, 14 triples, and 39 doubles, Traynor teamed up with other Pittsburgh standouts Glenn Wright, Max Carey, and Kiki Cuyler to give Pittsburgh the senior circuit’s most formidable lineup.  Traynor also topped all N.L. third basemen in both putouts and assists for the second time, en route to earning an eighth-place finish in the league MVP voting.  He then batted .346 and knocked in four runs during Pittsburgh’s seven-game victory over Washington in the World Series, homering in the opening contest against legendary Senators pitcher Walter Johnson.      

Traynor continued to excel at third base for the Pirates in subsequent seasons, batting well over .300 in eight of the next nine years, while also driving in more than 100 runs each season from 1927 to 1931.  Particularly effective from 1927 to 1930, Traynor posted batting averages of .342, .337, .356, and .366 those four years, while averaging 114 runs batted in per-season.  He finished second in the National League with a career-high 124 RBIs in 1928.

Although Traynor led the National League in a major statistical category just once (19 triples in 1923), he gained general recognition during his career as one of the senior circuit’s finest all-around players, and as easily its top third baseman.  An exceptional contact hitter, Traynor struck out only 278 times in more than 8,000 total plate appearances, fanning just seven times in almost 600 trips to the plate in 1929.  He also had significantly more power than his 58 career home runs would seem to indicate.  Playing in spacious Forbes Field, the right-handed hitting Traynor hit as many as 10 homers just once.  However, he finished in double-digits in triples 11 times, compiling at least 15 three-baggers on three separate occasions.     

Traynor’s defensive resume is equally impressive.  In addition to leading all N.L. third basemen in various statistical categories numerous times during his career, Traynor remains fifth all-time among players at his position with 2,289 putouts.  Blessed with an outstanding arm and exceptional range and quickness, he had all the physical tools to excel at the hot corner.  

Onetime teammate Charlie Grimm stated, “He (Traynor) had the quickest hands and the quickest arms of any third baseman I ever saw.”

Branch Rickey said of Traynor, “He was a mechanically perfect third baseman, a man of intellectual worth on the field of play.”

Longtime Giants manager John McGraw, a former third baseman himself, proclaimed, “If I had to pick the greatest team player in baseball today – and I have some of the greats on my own club – I would have to pick Pie Traynor.”

Traynor played his last full season at the hot corner in 1934, gradually seeing his playing time diminish after developing a sore throwing arm early in the year.  The 35- year-old third baseman replaced George Gibson as Pirates manager in June 1934, serving as the team’s player-manager until he retired at the conclusion of the 1935 campaign.  Traynor played in another five games for the Pirates in 1937, before consigning himself strictly to managerial duties his remaining time with the team.  He ended his playing career with 1,273 runs batted in, 1,183 runs scored, 2,416 hits, 164 triples, and a .320 batting average.  Traynor placed in the league’s top five in hits and triples four times each, RBIs twice, and runs scored and batting average once each.  He finished in the top 10 in the N.L. MVP voting a total of six times and represented the senior circuit at third base in each of the first two All-Star games.

Traynor remained Pittsburgh’s manager until 1939, when he resigned after leading the team to a sixth-place finish.  He subsequently served the Pirates as a scout, before eventually taking a job as a sports director for a Pittsburgh radio station in 1944.  Traynor’s radio broadcasts became extremely popular with Pittsburgh sports fans, enabling him to remain at the job for 21 years.  The members of the BBWAA elected Traynor to the Hall of Fame in 1948, making him the first third baseman to be so honored.  Traynor later received the honor of being named the third baseman on Major League Baseball’s All-Time Team, selected in 1969 as part of the observance of baseball’s centennial.  He died three year later, on March 16, 1972, not long after the Pirates moved into Three Rivers Stadium and retired his uniform number 20.

Traynor’s ranking among major league third basemen has diminished considerably the past several decades, with the emergence of other outstanding third sackers such as Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Eddie Mathews, Brooks Robinson, and Wade Boggs.  Traynor’s lack of home run power is largely responsible for the dearth of support shown him by fans of the modern game.  Also working against him are the relatively low fielding percentages he compiled over the course of his career.  However, it must be noted that the players from Traynor’s era typically used a much smaller glove than modern-day players.  While modern players use webbed gloves, players during Traynor's time used gloves whose primary function was protection of the hands.  Instead of using his glove to backhand balls hit to his right, Traynor often snared them with his bare throwing hand.  Another thing to consider when weighing Traynor’s overall place in history is the fact that his .320 career batting average, 1,273 runs batted in, and 164 triples top all other major league third basemen who played during the first half of the 20th century.  


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Tagged:
Baseball History, Bill McKechnie, Branch Rickey, George Gibson, George Stallings, Glenn Wright, Hall of Fame, John McGraw, Kiki Cuyler, Max Carey, Pie Traynor, Pittsburg Miners, Pittsburgh Pirates, Rabbit Maranville

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