Monday, July 23, 2007

Big Poison

In another season full of disappointments, the Pirates looked back to happier times this weekend by retiring the number of Paul "Big Poison" Waner, who spent the first 15 years of his Hall of Fame career in Pittsburgh.

Saturday's ceremony at PNC Park was a heart-warmer, with members of the Waner family attending as featured guests, along with other Pirate Hall of Famers Ralph Kiner and Bill Mazeroski. Fans certainly had a thrill in seeing Kiner, who looked to be his usual healthy self at age 84.

As for Waner, the honor certainly is deserved. We could go through a litany of his batting achievements -- he still is 10th on the all-time triples list -- but the key number is 3,152, the hits he accumulated for his career. He is the only player between the 1920s and '50s to accomplish that milestone. Unfortunately he did it as a member of the Boston Braves in 1942, two years after he left Pittsburgh.

For a firsthand account of Waner's career, buy a copy of Lawrence Ritter's "The Glory of Their Times," the gold standard of baseball oral history books.

Although Waner's brother, Lloyd ("Little Poison") followed him to Cooperstown, the Pirates have yet to retire the other number. Perhaps that will come when the team is looking for something to celebrate in '08, although scholars of baseball concede that Lloyd was nowhere near the player Paul was. Lloyd hardly ever struck out, though -- 173 times in 7,772 career at-bats -- and that's definitely something today's Pirates could try to learn.

During Saturday's pregame ceremonies, the Pirates did another classy move, attributed to lame-duck CEO Kevin McClatchy. Among those honored was Craig Biggio of the visiting Astros, who reached the 3,000-hit plateau this season and was introduced as a "future Hall of Famer." Let's hope the voters agree.

Trivia question 52: Former St. Louis Browns pitcher Rollie Stiles, believed to be the oldest former major leaguer, died Sunday at age 100. What former major leaguer lived the longest, to age 107?

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