There aren’t too many current baseball fans who remember the specifics of the careers of Paul and Lloyd Waner, brother teammates who starred for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the late 1920s and 1930s. Their nicknames were “Big Poison” and “Little Poison,” respectively, for good reason. Based on their career batting averages and on-base percentages, they were indeed “poison” to opposing teams’ pitchers, and each of their careers landed them a spot as a member of the elite Baseball Hall of Fame. Yet they were often overshadowed by other popular stars of their era—names such as Ruth, Gehrig, Ott, Terry, Greenberg, and Foxx.
However, the Waner name has recently re-surfaced in baseball news, because B. J. and Justin Upton, the current brother tandem of the Atlanta Braves, are being already lobbied by baseball writers and analysts for the category of “best brother teammates,” as a result of reaching a few hitting milestones shared with that the Waners and other brother combinations.
If you recall my TheTenthInning.com blog post of February 17, I wrote about the big splash the Uptons were predicted to make in Atlanta, after both were traded the Braves during the offseason. Indeed, they have caused a lot of stir there—especially Justin, who has hit twelve home runs in the first twenty-four games for the Braves. After a very slow start, B. J. now has three home run contributions of his own. Their presence has definitely helped to propel the Braves into an early lead in the National League East Division.
Justin and B. J. each homered in the same game for their first time on April 7, when they both hit dingers in the 9th inning to tie and then win the game. The last set of brothers to hit home runs in the same inning was 1996, when the Ripken brothers did it. On April 23, the Uptons slugged back-to-back home runs in a game against the Colorado Rockies, with the only other time in history involving Paul and Lloyd on September 15, 1938. So far this season, the Uptons have homered in the same game on three different occasions, the same number of times the Waners did it over 16 years as teammates.
Why aren’t the Waner brothers more well-known today? For one reason, they played most of their careers in Pittsburgh, which at the time would have been the equivalent of what is now referred to as a “small market” team. If Paul and Lloyd had played their careers in cities like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, or St. Louis, they might likely be more recognized for their achievements. Another factor was that Pittsburgh was often a “middle of the pack” team in the National League pennant races during the Waners’ years. The Waner brothers made only one World Series appearance, in 1927, which was very early in their careers.
Furthermore, Paul and Lloyd were not considered flashy players during their day, on or off the field—they just went about their business of playing ball. Even though they were excellent players of their time, they didn’t play for perennial champions and weren’t considered gate attractions or newsworthy players, when compared to some of their contemporaries. Those factors likely contribute to their often being overlooked when recalling the great players of the game.
However, the Baseball Hall of Fame recognized the achievements of Paul in 1952. When he ended his career in 1945, he was only the 7th player to amass more than 3,000 hits. By the way, there are still only 28 players in all of baseball history to reach this level. He led the National League in batting average in three seasons and was its MVP in 1927, as well as runner-up in 1934. In two other seasons, he hit .368 and .370 and still did not win the batting titles those years. He was literally a hitting machine.
Lloyd was selected for the Hall of Fame in 1967, by vote of the Veteran’s Committee, although his career was not as illustrious as his brother’s. Lloyd accumulated 2,459 career hits and finished with a .316 batting average. He was voted to the All-Star team only once, compared to Paul’s four selections. However, I believe if Lloyd were coming up for election to the Hall of Fame today, there is a high probability he would not be voted in, since he compares with more recent players such as Al Oliver, Bill Buckner, Bill Madlock, and Johnny Damon, who are not likely to get inducted into the Hall by today’s standards.
Together, Paul and Lloyd hold career records in several offensive categories for brother combinations. They lead all brother tandems in Games Played (4,541), Hits (5,611), Runs (2,827), and Batting Average (.326). Their combined performances in these categories top the numbers of other prolific brothers such as the DiMaggios, Ripkens, Boyers, Alomars and Alous.
While the Upton brothers’ relative youth (B. J. is 28 years old and Justin is 25) and their performance to date suggest they may be on a track to eventually be considered among the “best brother combinations,” I believe their youth may also work against them. It remains to be seen whether they can sustain the types of productive years and relative success they have enjoyed thus far in their respective careers. Certainly, they have a long way to go to be in the same league as the oft-forgotten Waners.
Contributing Writer: Richard Cuicchi