How Did Baseball Hall of Famer Pie Traynor Get His Nickname?
There are multiple versions of how the MLB legend got his name, but only one was correct according to his father
Harold “Pie” Traynor spent 17 years (1920–1937) in the big leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates. A star third baseman, he was an excellent hitter who handled the hot corner with style and aplomb. His lunch pail style fit right in with the Steel City and although his name has caused debate regarding its origins over the years, his father stepped forward and set the record straight.
Traynor grew up in Massachusetts as part of a large family who originally emigrated from Canada. Like many boys at the time, he adored baseball and rapidly progressed in developing into a prospect with designs on a pro career.
The right-handed batter could really swing the stick and by the time he was 21 he had broken into the majors with the Pirates. He became a regular by 1922 and went on to a career that ultimately landed him in the Baseball Hall of Fame. In his 17 seasons (1920–35 & 1937), he hit a combined .320 with 58 home runs, 164 triples. 1,273 RBIs and 158 stolen bases. He only made two All-Star teams but received MVP votes in eight separate seasons. From 1934–1939, he also served as Pittsburgh’s manager.
How did Traynor come to get his famous nickname? There seem to be several versions of the origin, including multiple stories told by Traynor himself. Perhaps the most well-known was that he simply had a love of eating pie. It’s true he particularly loved apple pie and saved up pennies as a child in order to purchase a slice whenever he was able.
James Forr described in the SABR biography of the Hall of Famer that as a youth, he always ordered pie when he and friends would gather at the family store of Ben Nangle, an older boy who occasionally umpired their games and brought them home for a bite and to hang out. In an attempt at needling, he supposedly began calling Harold “Pie Face,” which ultimately stuck in a shortened version.
However, according to a March 27, 1932 issue of The Brooklyn Eagle, none other than Traynor’s father Jim attempted to put any debate on the matter to rest for good.
The elder Traynor was a type setter for the Boston Transcript. His job was having an fierce attention to detail as he got the press set up for each edition of the paper. As he recalled, his son received the nickname of “Pie” from him and it wasn’t because of pastries but rather because of a very dirty face. One day, when returning home from work, he discovered his young son had been playing vigorously in the garden and as a result had his face covered with grime and mud. He told the boy:
“You’re a regular pi and before I kiss you, your mother will have to wash away about a ton of dirt.”
For anyone wondering what his father meant by “pi,” should look no further than the world of typesetting. Pi was what printers called the “jumbled mass of type” that started before they organized it and set it up for a print run. In other words, a real mess.
The cuteness of this story is another reason why as an adult, Traynor may have preferred telling other versions. After all, how many grizzled star third basemen in the big leagues wanted to tell curious reporters that the reason they had such an unique nickname was because of an affectionate father gently chiding his child before giving him a kiss?