Pittsburgh Pirates Seasons: Pie Traynor, 1928

The month of August in 1928 for Pie Traynor may have been the best month for any Pittsburgh Pirates player ever. The 29-year-old star third baseman was having a decent year through July 31st, then things really took off for him once the calendar flipped to August. Here’s a breakdown of his entire 1928 season, which only ranks as the fourth best of his career according to WAR.

The Pirates won their second NL pennant in three years during the 1927 season and Traynor was a big part of that squad. He batted .342 with 106 RBIs and 93 runs scored. The Pirates were looking for a third title in four years in 1928 and many papers picked them as the favorites. If they were going to win, they would need another big season from Traynor.

The season began on April 11th and the Pirates were on the road for their first five games. They did not go well for Traynor, who started off 3-for-20 on that road trip. On April 19th, Forbes Field hosted the home opener and that’s just what Pie needed. He went 5-for-6 with a double, triple and four runs scored. He picked up hits in each of his next five games and had back-to-back contests with two RBIs. By April 25th he had a .333 batting average and an .800 OPS. Traynor dropped below .300 by the end of the month, but he still put up solid overall numbers in April.

May turned out to be a very rough month for Traynor. He got a Pittsburgh Pirates Seasons article solely due to his performance in August, but May likely kept this from being his best overall season. It actually didn’t start off bad, but it was a quick spurt followed by four weeks of non-production. On May 2nd, Traynor went 2-for-4 with two doubles. He had two more hits the next day, then he went 4-for-4 with a double and three RBIs on May 4th. That was followed by a .145 average over the next 16 games.  He went 0-for-5 on May 23rd, then didn’t play again until eight days later due to the flu. He went 0-for-2 on May 31st to finish the month with a .216/.275/.338 slash line.

Traynor bounced back in June with a string of multi-hit games and at least one hit in 20 of the 24 games he played. On June 2nd he had two hits and drove in three runs. Pie drove in three more runs the next day. He picked up five hits during a June 9th doubleheader, then collected five more hits over the next two games. On June 20th, he had his first of four straight games with two hits. He batted .327 for the month, with a .436 slugging percentage.

In July, Traynor had a string of nine straight games with at least one RBI, though he had a total of ten RBIs during that streak so it was more of a fluke streak that he barely kept intact each game. It was a strong month, but it was more about consistency than any big games. In fact, he had 14 games with two hits in July and zero with more than two hits. Traynor finished with a .356/.422/.462 slash line in 29 games, lifting his average to .306 on the season. It was his best month up to that point, but it was about to get massively overshadowed.

August started with an off-day, then Traynor collected three hits, three runs scored and three RBIs on August 2nd. The next day he had five hits, two doubles, three runs and three RBIs. An August 4th doubleheader saw him collect five hits and drive in four more runs. In that four games series in Philadelphia, he had 13 hits and ten RBIs. A three-game series in Brooklyn that followed was much quieter, with a total of four hits, two doubles and an RBI.

The Pirates were back at home on August 9th and Traynor went 2-for-9 with an RBI in two games versus St Louis. He went 0-for-3 on August 11th against the Chicago Cubs, then in the first two games combined against Brooklyn, he had two singles and two RBIs. Through two full weeks in August, he was hitting .375 with 14 RBIs. Over the next eight days and nine games, Traynor exploded. Here are the day-by-day performances:

August 15th: 2-for-5

16: 2-for-5, 2B, RBI

17th (game one): 4-for-4, 2 3B, 2 RBI

17th (game two): 3-for-4, 2B, 3B, 6 RBI

18th (game one): 2-for-4, 3B, 4 RBI

18th (game two): 1-for-3, 2 RBI

20th: 3-for-5, 2B, 3 RBI

21st: 4-for-5, 2B, 3 Runs

22nd: 3-for-4, 3B, 3 RBI.

That’s a .615 average and 21 RBIs in nine games. He wasn’t done either. After going 0-for-3 in the doubleheader opener on the 23rd, Traynor went 9-for-16 with seven RBIs in the next four games. Over the final six games of the month, which included two more doubleheaders, he had at least one hit in each game and drove in eight more runs. His final monthly slash line was .460/.479/.633 in 32 games, with 50! RBIs. By the end of the month, his yearly OPS went from .770 on July 31st, to .870 on August 31st. His batting average also went up 46 points. Traynor did something pretty impressive besides all of those big numbers, and it was a very little number. The number is one, as in the amount of strikeouts he had in 150 plate appearances.

There was something definitely magical about August that year. He started September by going 3-for-32 in his first eight games. Traynor finished the season out strong though, batting .354 over the final 16 games, while adding another 12 RBIs to his season total.

As far as team records go, Traynor’s 50 RBIs in one month is a team record. He finished with 124 on the season, which ranks sixth all-time in team history. At the time, it only trailed Honus Wagner (126 in 1901) and Paul Waner’s still-standing team record of 131, which he accomplished in 1927. His hits total (192) and doubles total (38) both rank among the top 50 seasons in each category in team history.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about his 124 RBIs in a season is the still-standing team record that he set that year. Traynor had a league leading 42 sacrifice hits, topping the previous record of 37 by Max Carey in 1912 and George Cutshaw in 1920. He was giving himself up with runners on base often during the season. There’s one more impressive thing about the season and I alluded to it earlier. Traynor wasn’t just tough to strikeout in August, it was the entire season. He struck out once every 64 plate appearances in 1928, for ten strikeouts total on the season. His high for a month was four in June.

The Pirates finished the season 85-67 that year. A strong record no doubt, but it was only strong enough for a fourth place finish. Traynor actually did much better at home in 1928, putting up a .939 OPS at Forbes Field, while his road OPS was over 200 points lower. Not surprisingly, the team did better at home as well, finishing with a 47-30 record in Pittsburgh. He didn’t do well in Cincinnati or St Louis, finishing below a .500 OPS in 11 games at each place. The Pirates were 4-7 in Cincinnati and 4-7 in St Louis.

It was a great overall season for the Hall of Fame third baseman, but his August was one for the record books.