Pie Traynor and Dale Dodrill: Lest We Forget
When Pittsburgh sportswriters go back into the past, they tend to focus on the glory years of Roberto Clemente and Willis Stargell and of the Super Bowl dynasty, but there are players from earlier eras that richly deserve our remembrance of the glory of their times.
There are four statues at PNC Park honoring Pirate heroes from World Series championship teams, but the Pirates were World Series champions five times. The Pirates have statues of Honus Wagner (i909), Bill Mazeroski (1960) Roberto Clemente (1971), and Willie Stargell (1979), but there is no statue honoring a hero of the 1925 World Series.
There were three future Hall-of-Famers on the 1925 Pirates team — Max Carey, Kiki Cuyler, and Pie Traynor — and each contributed to the Pirates’ come-from-behind victory after trailing 3-1 in games to the Washington Senators and being branded by the press as cowards.
Of the three Pirate greats, the greatest on that team was Pie Traynor, who was such a gifted third baseman that in 1969, the year of baseball’s centennial, he was voted the greatest third baseman of all time. No Pirate is more deserving of a statue than Traynor, who went on to manage the Pirates and, after his retirement, became one of the most popular sports personalities in Pittsburgh.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, the past often begins for Pittsburgh sportswriters with its Super Bowl heroes. But before there were defensive greats like Mean Joe Greene, Mel Blount, and Jack Lambert, the Steelers had earlier greats like Ernie Stautner, Jack Butler, and Dale Dodrill.
Selected by the Steelers out of Boston College in the second round of the 1950 NFL draft, Stautner, despite never weighing more than 230 pounds, was the toughest Steeler on a punishing defense that made life miserable for Otto Graham and other NFL quarterbacks. In his 14-year career with the Steelers he was an All-Pro for nine seasons. After he retired in 1964, Stautner became the first Steeler to have his number (70) retired. In 1968, he became the first Steeler elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame to have played his entire career in Pittsburgh.
A Pittsburgh native, Jack Butler was signed in 1951 as a free agent out of St. Bonaventure and soon became one of the greatest defensive backs in NFL history. In nine seasons, before his career was ended by injury, he played in 103 games and intercepted 52 passes, the second most in NFL history at that time. He was named to the All-Decade Team of the 1950s, but was passed over by the Pro Football Hall of Fame for decades until he was inducted in 2012. He died a year later at the age of 85.
A teammate of Stautner and Butler, Dale Dodrill was the first great middle linebacker in Steelers history. Before there was Jack Lambert, Dodrill, playing at a time when the position was called the middle guard, was selected an all-pro on numerous occasions in his nine year career. Drafted out of Colorado A&M (Colorado State today) in the sixth round of the 1951 draft, Dodrill took pride in intimidating other teams: “Teams didn’t like to play us because we beat them up a bit, but they didn’t worry about us offensively.”
When it asked what it was like playing for the Steelers, at a time when they lost so often they were dubbed the Same Old Steelers, Dodrill said, “The kind of teams we had in those days can be best explained by the fact that for three or four years I was given the award given out by the Monday Morning Quarterback Club for the most valuable player on the Steelers. I was a good ballplayer, but normally a quarterback, running back, or wide receiver would be getting those awards if you have a successful ball club.
In 2007, Dale Dodrill was selected for the Steelers Legend Team, made up of the greatest Steelers who played before 1970. While his name has not appeared among the old-timers nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he has been nominated several times for the Steelers Hall of Fame, but has yet to be selected. He died in 2019 at the age of 92, so his eventual selection sadly will be posthumous.
Despite my advanced age, I still hope to see Dale Dodrill enter the Steelers Hall of Fame, but I don’t think I’ll live long enough to see a statue for Pie Traynor. While Wagner and Traynor were voted the greatest shortstop and third baseman in baseball history in 1969, only Wagner has been honored with a statue. His statue was unveiled on April 30, 1955, just months before his death on December 6 of that year.
While some day the Pirates may honor Pie Traynor, the franchise has been reluctant to recognize its great players who played after Wagner and before Mazeroski, Clemente and Stargell with a statue. Ralph Kiner has been honored by the Pirates, but only his batting grip made it into Pirate immortality. Wouldn’t it be a great moment for Pittsburgh, if a statue of Pie Traynor, who turned doubles down the third base line into double plays, is unveiled at PNC Park alongside the statue of Honus Wagner. Richard “Pete” Peterson, a native of Pittsburgh and a retired English professor at Southern Illinois University, is the author of Growing Up With Clemente and Pops: The Willie Stargell Story.