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Pie Traynor Declared Baseball's Greatest Third Baseman

Harold FriendChief Writer IJune 3, 2009

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 30:  Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt waits for the start of the 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Clark Sports Center on July 30, 2006 in Cooperstown, New York.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

For many years, Pie Traynor was considered the greatest of all third basemen. In 1969, as part of baseball's centennial celebration, he was named the greatest third baseman in baseball history.

Pie Traynor Was an Outstanding Defensive Player

Pie Traynor made his major league debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates near the end of the 1920 season at shortstop, but was soon moved to third base.

He had lightning-quick reflexes, an accurate throwing arm, and was as good as Brooks Robinson, Scott Brosius, or Billy Cox at fielding bunts.

At Traynor's Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1948, Branch Rickey praised Traynor.

"He was a mechanically perfect third baseman, a man of intellectual worth on the field of play."

John McGraw considered Traynor the greatest team player he ever saw.

Run-Producer Without Home Runs

Pie Traynor could hit, but playing in spacious Forbes Field, he didn't hit many home runs. Over the course of his 14-year playing career, he averaged 14 triples but only five home runs per season.

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What is impressive is that he averaged 106 RBIs a season (162 games adjusted). Mike Schmidt, considered the greatest third baseman ever, averaged 107.

Schmidt batted in at least 100 runs in a season nine times, Pie Traynor did it seven times, George Brett accomplished the feat four times, and slightly-tainted Alex Rodriguez has done it all five of his seasons as a third baseman.

Brooks Robinson, who was better defensively than any of the above third basemen, batted in at least 100 runs only twice.

High Batting Average With Few Strikeouts

Pie Traynor batted .320, had a .362 on base average, and slugged .435. He struck out only about 23 times per season and never struck out more than 28 times in a season.

One reason Traynor's ranking among the greats has diminished is that many of today's "experts" denigrate batting average, consider a strikeout "just another out," and embrace home-run hitters who hit .240 with 180 strikeouts.

World Champion in 1925

Traynor and the Pirates were the 1925 World Champions, defeating Walter Johnson's Washington Senators in seven games. Those Pirates were the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win the World Series.

Traynor batted .346 with two triples, one home run, and four RBIs, handling 24 chances flawlessly.

Traynor Ruins Herb Pennock's Bid for a Perfect Game

The Pirates won the 1927 pennant, but the Yankees swept them in the World Series. Traynor hit only .200, but he had a significant hit in Game Three against Yankees lefty Herb Pennock.

The lean lefty, seeking his fifth World Series win, retired the first 22 Pirates before Traynor singled to break the spell.

Too Nice to Manage

Traynor managed the Pirates from the middle of the 1934 season until 1939. Many felt that Traynor was too fine a person and too gentle to manage.

His attempt at reforming a Pirates star player who drank too much illustrates the point.

"Alcohol dulls the senses. You'd be a far greater hitter if you'd lay off the bottle. Will you do it for me?"

The player agreed with some reluctance and immediately stopped hitting. After about a week, Pie confronted the player, "Do me a favor? Fall off the wagon."

References:

Pie Traynor Obituary

Pie Traynor Biography

Pie Traynor at Baseball Library

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