“Little Poison” Waner is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame because his older brother Paul “Big Poison” Waner was elected 15 years earlier.
The two talented brothers from Oklahoma landed on the Pirates roster a year apart, and they played together for 15 seasons. However their baseball talent was not equal. In 18 seasons, 1927 to 1945, Lloyd amassed 2,459 hits and batted .316, numbers that are very good but not usually Hall of Fame material for an outfielder.
Lloyd appeared in Most Valuable Player balloting five times (he never won) and made just one All-Star team, but didn’t play. In other words, the contemporary fans and press didn’t consider him a superstar. As a center fielder, he was overshadowed by his more talented older brother in right field.
Paul was by far the stronger batter (he easily achieved 3,000 hits) and better tactical base runner. Lloyd was perhaps quicker getting to first base and was the better fielder, with an excellent .983 fielding percentage; Paul had a fielding percentage that was on par with the rest of the National League, .975.
Lloyd batted .355 in his rookie year, quite an accomplishment but by itself not nearly enough for the Hall of Fame. He finished sixth in Most Valuable Player voting that year. He also led the league in singles during his first four seasons, perhaps a testament to his storied ability to quickly reach first base. He didn’t strike out very often.
The most enduring single argument for Lloyd’s membership is that he batted better than .300 in 10 of his first 12 seasons, 1927 through 1938. But a closer look at those numbers undercuts that achievement, at least as fodder for a Hall of Fame debate.
In 1930, when he batted .362, Lloyd only appeared in 68 of 154 games and had just 260 at-bats. It wasn’t enough games to qualify him for any of the league batting titles. (Most good outfielders of that era typically had 600 to 650 at-bats in a full 154-game season; a minimum of 100 games were required to contend for a batting championship.)
In 1936, Lloyd batted .321 but had only 414 at-bats. In fact, in seasons where Lloyd had 600 or more at-bats, he batted over .300 just five times. After 1938, he simply had no seasons where he reached even the modest sum of 400 at-bats.
Lloyd’s yield of total bases only once topped 300, in 1929. Paul surpassed that mark six times.
His claim to an 18-year career is technically accurate, but also compromised by many missed games: Lloyd only played 13 seasons where he appeared in 100 or more games (that’s about two-thirds of the 154-game schedule) and only six seasons where he appeared in more than 140 games.
Lloyd’s big rookie season was also Pittsburgh’s finest season of that era. It was 1927, and the Pirates faced the legendary Yankees Murderer’s Row in the Word Series. Lloyd acquitted himself honorably, batting .400 with a slugging percentage of .600. He also personally scored half of Pittsburgh’s runs.
(The hapless Pirates could only muster ten runs while being swept in four games by the ’27 Yankees, possibly the best baseball team ever assembled. Lloyd scored five of Pittsburgh’s runs. He scored in the first inning of Game 1 after being struck by a pitch and then advancing on a double by his brother and then a sacrifice fly. The other runs were presumably less painfully achieved.)
We’ll never know if Lloyd would have blossomed into a Hall of Famer in his own right had he been away from Paul’s limelight, but the pair didn’t split until 1941. We are left to compare Lloyd with Paul, and wonder how Lloyd made it into the Hall of Fame.
Finding a rationale for Lloyd Waner’s induction into the Hall of Fame may be no more difficult than considering sentimentality.
It was an interesting era for the veterans committee: Of the 34 members elected to the Hall of Fame from 1961 to 1970 (none were inducted in 1960), only nine were elected by the Baseball Writers Association. The Baseball Writers elected Paul in 1952, but it was the veterans committee that elected Lloyd 15 years later.
Paul died in August 1965; the next Hall of Fame veterans committee vote was held in 1966 for candidates who were nominated in early 1965, and the immortal Casey Stengel — who had just retired from managing the New York Mets — was the obvious (and only) choice.
Lloyd was elected on the next ballot, 1967, which also happened to include the first batch of players who were nominated in the months following Paul’s death. Some coincidence.
Lloyd “Little Poison” Waner died in 1982 and both brothers are still revered in eastern Oklahoma.
Hall of Fame aficionados continue to debate the circumstances surrounding his election, just as they scrutinize all of the veterans committee votes of that era. Lloyd’s successful baseball career was eclipsed by his brother’s, and perhaps inevitably so is his Hall of Fame legacy.