1921 would open for Traynor on the Birmingham Barons of the “A” level Southern Association. He hit a healthy .336 in 131 games, earning another short (seven games) look with the Pirates. He went 5-for-19, as the Bucs posted a 1-6 record with him on the field. Incidentally, they went 89-57 without him in the lineup, finishing second in the NL four games behind the New York Giants.
In 1922, Traynor made his first opening day roster with the Pirates, and would appear in 142 games throughout the campaign. He hit .282 (his lowest average through 1935) with 12 triples (NL ninth), four home runs, and 81 RBI, along with 17 stolen bases (NL ninth) and 13 sacrifice hits. Defensively, he had 147 putouts (NL third), 216 assists (NL fifth), and 21 double plays turned (NL fourth) from the third base position. He batted fifth and sixth, with occasional starts at shortstop as well as his 124 at third base. On September 2nd, he hit two singles, a triple and a home run with three RBI in a 9-5 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, one of 45 multi-hit contests on the season. The Pirates finished the season in third place with an 85-69 record, eight games behind the New York Giants.
In 1923, Traynor was even better, hitting .338 (NL seventh) over 153 games (NL fourth) and scoring 108 runs (NL sixth) with 19 doubles, an NL leading 19 triples, a career high 12 home runs (NL eighth), 101 RBI (NL sixth), and a career high 28 stolen bases (NL seventh). Additionally, he racked up a 4.5 WAR rating, ranking him seventh in the NL amongst position players, as well as a .489 SLG (NL ninth). He walked 34 times to only 19 strikeouts, rating 32.4 at bats per K (NL eighth). Defensively, he led the NL with 189 putouts and 306 assists from the hot corner, ranking second with 30 double plays turned and fourth with a .950 fielding percentage. He batted third through sixth, playing all but one game at third. In an laugher in Philadelphia, he hit for the cycle with a walk, scoring three runs and knocking in six in an 18-5 win over the Phillies. The Pirates finished 8.5 games behind the Giants, in third place with an 87-67 record.
1924 was another good year for Traynor. He hit .294 in 142 contests, scoring 86 runs and hitting 26 doubles, 13 triples (NL eighth), and five home runs with 82 RBI (NL 10th), 13 sacrifice hits, 24 stolen bases (NL fourth), 37 walks, and 26 strikeouts. He also collected 179 putouts (NL second) and 268 assists (NL third), leading the league with 31 double plays turned and posting a .968 fielding percentage (NL second). He again batted third through sixth, spending the whole season at third base. On July 29th, he went 3-for-5 with a triple and four RBI as the Bucs set down the Boston Braves, 8-1. Pittsburgh finished 27 games above .500, at 90-63, but still managed to miss the pennant, three games behind the Giants.
In 1925, Traynor finished eighth in the NL MVP voting, hitting .320 over 150 games (NL seventh) with career highs 114 runs scored and 39 doubles (NL sixth). He also hit 14 triples (NL fifth), six home runs, 106 RBI (NL seventh), 13 sacrifice hits, stole 15 bases (NL ninth), and walked 52 times with 19 strikeouts (once every 31.1 at bats, NL eighth). He led all NL third basemen in every defensive category except for errors, with 226 putouts, 303 assists, 41 double plays turned, and a .957 fielding percentage with only 24 errors (NL third). He batted a few times in the cleanup spot, but spent most of the season batting fifth. In the second game of a doubleheader on August 29th, he hit a single and two long balls with four RBI in a 13-1 romp over the Phillies. The Pirates finally finished ahead of the Giants, winning the pennant by 8.5 games with a 95-58 record. Traynor went 9-for-26 (.346) in the Fall Classic with two triples, a home run, and four RBI as the Pirates defeated the Washington Senators in seven contests.
1926 would see Traynor place 13th in the NL MVP vote, hitting .317 with 25 doubles, 17 triples (NL third), and 92 RBI (NL seventh) with 15 stolen bases in 152 games (NL 10th). He drew 38 walks and struck out just 14 times in 639 plate appearances (NL 10th), once every 41 at bats (NL fifth). He also had 26 sacrifice hits (NL seventh) batting mostly fifth in the order. Playing at third base, he registered NL leading numbers with 182 putouts and 32 double plays turned, with 279 assists (NL second) and a .952 fielding percentage (NL fifth). On July 3rd, he hit a single, a double, and a home run, scoring twice with four RBI in a 12-3 win against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Pirates finished the season in third place, missing the pennant by 4.5 games to the league champion Cardinals at 84-69.
In 1927, Traynor played in 149 games, hitting .342 (NL fifth) with 32 doubles (NL seventh), nine triples, 106 RBI (NL sixth) and 11 stolen bases. He struck out 11 times in 633 plate appearances, once every 52.1 at bats (NL second). He led the NL with 35 sacrifice hits, placing eighth in the NL MVP balloting. He made 212 putouts (NL first), 265 assists (NL second), 23 double plays (NL first), and finished with a .962 fielding percentage (NL second). He batted in the middle third of the order, playing mostly third base with a few innings at shortstop. He turned in 65 multi-hit games on the campaign, including 20 games where he collected three or four. On May 20th, he went 4-for-6 with three singles and a home run with five RBI and a stolen base as the Bucs defeated the New York Giants, 8-3 in 12 innings. The Pirates nailed down the NL pennant by 1.5 games over the second place Cardinals with a 94-60 record. Traynor went 3-for-15 in the World Series, with a double and a run scored as the Pirates were swept by the New York Yankees in the World Series.
Traynor would continue to operate at a prolific rate in 1928, hitting .337 (NL sixth) in 144 games, scoring 91 runs with 38 doubles (sixth), 12 triples (NL sixth), and a career high 124 RBI (NL second). He stole 12 bases, struck out 10 times in 640 PA (for an NL leading 56.9 AB/K rate), and collected an NL leading 42 sacrifice hits, finishing sixth in the NL MVP vote. Defensively, he made 175 putouts (NL second), 296 assists (NL third), and posted a .946 F% (NL fourth). Again, he batted from the middle third of the order all season. On August 17th, he went a combined 7-for-8 with three runs scored, a double, three triples, and eight RBI in a sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies (10-3 and 9-1, respectively). In the 52 games between July 10th and August 31st, he hit safely in 48, going 93-for-211 (.441) with an incredible 68 RBI and 30 multi-hit games, all with only two strikeouts. The Pirates finished up at the bottom of the first division, going 85-67 and finishing nine games behind the league leading Cards.
1929 would see Traynor continue to operate at peak proficiency, hitting .356 (NL seventh (tough crowd)) over 130 games with 94 runs, 27 doubles, 12 triples (NL eighth), 108 RBI, 13 stolen bases, 24 sacrifice hits (NL second), and seven strikeouts in 596 PA (an NL best once every 77.1 at bats), finishing seventh in the NL MVP race. He batted cleanup and held down the hot corner all season, making 148 putouts (NL second), 238 assists (NL fourth), and 23 double plays turned (NL third). He had 21 three-or-more hit games, including a 3-for-5 performance on June 13th, with a double and two triples with three runs scored in an 11-7 win over the Giants. Later, he went 5-for-5 with a double, two runs and three RBI in a 15-0 walker over the Chicago Cubs on August 30th. 88-65 earned the Pirates a second place finish, 10.5 games behind the Cubs.
In 1930, Traynor hit a career high .366 (NL ninth) with 90 runs, 22 doubles, 11 triples, nine home runs, 119 RBI (NL eighth), 48 walks and 23 sacrifice hits (NL fourth) in 130 contests. He made 130 putouts (NL third), 268 assists (NL fourth), and finished with a .941 F% (NL fifth). He had 56 multi-hit games, 15 three-hit games, and two five hit games. On June 14th, he went 3-for-5 with seven RBI (three two-RBI singles and a sacrifice hit), scoring twice in a 19-12 hoedown over the Phillies. In the second game of a doubleheader on July 23rd, he went 5-for-7 with four runs, a double, a walk, a home run and four RBI in a 16-15, 13-inning victory against Philadelphia. The team finished 12 games out of the money, in fifth place at 80-74.
1931 would see Traynor become mortal, but he still finished 13th in the NL MVP race. He hit .298 over 155 games (NL third) with 81 runs, 37 doubles (NL eighth), 15 triples (NL third), 103 RBI (NL fourth), and 54 walks against 28 strikeouts. He made a league leading 172 putouts and 284 assists (NL second), finishing fifth in the NL in F%, at .925. He batted cleanup again, and was Pittsburgh’s literal “everyday” third baseman, starting every Pirates game at the position. From April 30th through May 6th, he went 14-for-24 (.583) with seven runs, two doubles, a triple and four RBI with three sacrifice hits, raising his season average from .246 to .346. In game two of a twin bill on September 18th, he went 4-for-4 with two singles, a double, and a home run with two runs and two RBI in a 4-1 win over the Boston Braves. The Pirates finished at 75-79, in fifth place with their first losing record in 14 years.
In 1932, Traynor finished eighth in the NL MVP race, hitting .329 (NL ninth) over 135 games with 74 runs, 27 doubles, 10 triples (NL seventh), 68 RBI and 32 walks with 20 strikeouts. He ranked second in the NL with a .936 fielding percentage, 173 putouts, and 222 assists. He batted mostly cleanup and sixth. 49 times he collected multiple hits in a game, including a dozen three hit efforts. On August 30th, he opened a doubleheader against the Braves with a walk, a double, a triple, a run, and four RBI in a 10-7 win. In game two, he went 3-for-3 with a walk, hitting two doubles and a triple with another RBI as the Bucs took a 3-2 win. On the season, the Pirates finished at 86-68, four games behind the pennant winning Cubs.
Traynor was selected to appear in the first ever interleague all-star contests in 1933, appearing in a league leading 154 contests and hitting .304 with 85 runs, 27 doubles, and 82 RBI. He again finished eighth in the NL MVP voting batting fourth and fifth in the order. He had 52 multi hit games, including 16 three hit efforts. On August 31st, he hit three singles and a double with three runs and three RBI in a 13-11 win over the Phillies. The team finished five games behind the Giants for the NL title at 87-67.
1934 would see Traynor take the helm as a player/manager. He also began to succumb to the law of diminishing returns, although he was honored with his second all-star selection in as many seasons. He hit .309 with 22 doubles and 61 RBI in 119 contests, usually batting cleanup. Through his first 26 games, he managed to collect 35 hits in 87 at bats (.402) with 22 runs, nine doubles and nine RBI. On June 20th, he went 4-for-5 with three runs and three doubles in a 6-5 win over Boston. In the first half of a doubleheader on September 21st, he hit two singles, a double and a triple with two runs scored and four RBI in a 9-3 win against the Reds. Pittsburgh finished deep in the standings, in fifth place at 74-76.
Traynor appeared in 57 games in 1935, hitting .279 with 36 RBI. After not playing at all in 1936, he came back off the bench to appear in five games in 1937, going 2-for-12 with three runs. He continued to manage the team through the 1939 season, accruing a 484-430 record as a manager (.530). He finished with a winning record in every season except for his first and his last. After receiving just 7.1% of the Hall of Fame vote in his first year of eligibility, he would be selected in his eighth attempt, joining the Hall with the Class of 1948.
All-Time Statline: 17 seasons, 1941 games, 2416-for-7559, .320/.362/.435, 1183 runs, 371 doubles, 164 triples, 58 home runs, 1273 RBI, 158 stolen bases, 472 walks, 278 strikeouts, 33.8 WAR.
For a more in depth look at this Hall-of-Famer, check out this truly excellent biography, written by James Forr.