Card of the Day: 1985 Woolworth Lloyd Waner

Today’s Card of the Day subject is Lloyd Waner, the Hall of Fame outfielder who was born 117 years ago today. He played for the 1927-41 and 1944-45 Pittsburgh Pirates, placing himself among many of the franchise’s top ten lists for all-time stats. Waner is a controversial Hall of Famer, who doesn’t get any love from modern metrics.

Waner’s career was only worth 29.6 WAR. Part of that low number comes from his defense being rated below average. From all of the reading I’ve done about him, I’d say that he was far from a below average defender. Pirates great third baseman Pie Traynor is also rated as below average defensively now, which goes against everything you’ll read about him.

We all saw Derek Jeter try to play shortstop for years. The reports from everyone were bad. Then when modern metrics came around, they backed up what everyone saw. Jeter had no business being at shortstop (You didn’t think I was going to use a Pirates example, did you?). We all watch Ke’Bryan Hayes play third base now like he’s Brooks Robinson’s clone, and modern metrics back up what we see. None of us saw Lloyd Waner play, but the people who did, say he was one of the best of his day. Yet somehow his career was worth -2.1 dWAR.

Waner doesn’t have the best Hall of Fame case, but he does check off the “fame” part by being part of the best hitter pair of brothers in baseball history. That had to help his case a bit, but the people who were voting for him back then had likely heard stories about how he was a strong all-around player, so that helped as well.

Today’s Card of the Day came out 18 years after he made the Hall of Fame, and it’s a card that highlighted some of his best accomplishments. It’s a set that Topps put out along with Woolworth, which was obviously still in business at the time. If you don’t remember Woolworth, well I barely do either, but I know I used to go in one with my grandmother when I was young and their toy selection left something to be desired. This is a 44-card set titled All Time Record Holders, and Waner is card #36 in the set.

Here’s the front of the card:

I’m a fan of these cards. I like the framed photo look, with the gold plate at the bottom for the player and team names. What I really like is that they included some great old photos. Not every player has an old photo because they included players from all years, so guys like Rickey Henderson and Dwight Gooden were in the set too. While this set included five former Pirates players, only Waner and Chief Wilson were players who were known more for their time with the Pirates. Wilson holds the record for most triples in a season, set while with the Pirates. Waner’s records that got him in this set are….well, let’s go to the back to see them.

Here’s the back of the card:

They highlight three records here, so let’s go over them individually. Lloyd and Paul Waner still hold the record for most hits by siblings. That’s going to be a tough one to break.  Even if Pete Rose had a brother who played in the majors, it’s not like thousands of guys are picking up the 1,355 hits his brother would have needed to tie the record. A total of 826 players have reached that 1,355 hit mark since Major League records started in 1871. So even the guy with the most hits would have needed a guy who falls among the top 4% all-time in hits to help him out.

As this card sort of tells you, Waner never held the all-time record for singles. I like how they make the difference between modern and the record, which was set WAAAAAYYY back 29 years earlier by Hall of Fame Willie Keeler in 1898. For reference, the strike that wiped away the World Series was 29 years ago. That mark has since been topped by Ichiro Suzuki, who had 143 more at-bats than Keeler during the record breaking season, so Waner doesn’t own the modern record either, though he owns the modern National League record.

Here’s the thing about this record that Waner never really held, but would have lost anyway…Waner did this in his rookie season, so he holds the rookie record for singles still. That seems safe with the way they are teaching guys now to swing hard and hope for the best. No one is going for high contact rates for their success. It’s like watching a windstorm at a rusty gate factory.

The third record here was leading the league in singles for four years. That’s really a stretch for a record, especially when it’s just for the National League. Waner lost that record to Tony Gwynn not long after this set came out. I didn’t know Gwynn held this record, though I assumed he did before I looked it up. Juan Pierre was making a run at it until he moved to the American League.

I’ve said a lot already, so I’ll keep the pricing short. There are no chase cards in this set. They mass produced them. It was released three years after he passed away, so if you see an autograph, it’s fake. If you want one, don’t pay more than $2 delivered. You can get the 44-card set for as low as $12 on Ebay right now.