Friday, February 7, 2014

Ralph Kiner

Ralph Kiner, one of Pittsburgh's most prolific long ballers, passed away yesterday at the age of 91. We thought we'd present his life and career to you in small slices of stats and anecdotes, which taken together add up to one heck of a ballplayer.

Ralph Kiner from Dugout Legends
  • Kiner was raised in California by his mother after his father passed away when he was four years old.
  • While still in high school, he hit a home run off Satchel Paige during a barnstorming tour according to the AP.
  •  Kiner spent from 1942-45 as a Navy pilot in the South Pacific after signing with the Bucs in 1940 for a $3,000 bonus.
  •  Ralph credited Hank Greenberg, who spent the 1949 season as a Pirate (Kiner's second MLB season), with teaching him the baseball ropes, like pulling the ball more and moving up in the box. Before Hammerin' Hank appeared in Pittsburgh, Kiner hit 23 homers with 109 K. In the seven following seasons, before he hurt his back, Kiner never hit fewer than 37 HR and never struck out 100 times in a season again during his career. In fact, only two RH hitters reached 35 HR in Forbes Field’s 52-year history, Frank Thomas (1958) and Dick Stuart (1961).
  • The Pirates shortened Forbes Field's left field fence by 30 feet when Greenberg arrived, and it was dubbed "Greenberg Gardens." The following year, after Hank left, the short porch became "Kiner's Korner." Alan Robinson of the Trib noted that Ralph Kiner hit 175 home runs at Forbes Field. The second most was 85 by Roberto Clemente.
  • Kiner hit 215 home runs in his first five seasons, 14 more than any other player in MLB history.
  • He played himself in the 1951 film "Angels in the Outfield." 
  • Ralph was the premier drawing card of the Bucs, perhaps of all-time. Fans would pack the left field stands in Kiner's Korner and then leave after his last at-bat in the eighth or ninth inning. Small wonder. From 1947-51, the Pirates drew a million+ in attendance four times and 980,000 the other year. They were the first million+ gates in club history.
  • On June 4, 1953, Kiner was sent to the Chicago Cubs as part of a salary dump by GM Branch Rickey, who reportedly told Kiner "We finished last with you, we can finish last without you."
  • Kiner played in six straight All-Star Games, homering in three consecutive AS contests.
  • He finished in the top seven in the MVP voting four consecutive years (1947-50), and the Sporting News named him Player of the Year in 1950.
  •  In the fifties, Kiner had a comic book dedicated to him (thx SB Nation
  • His average annual slash over 162 per games, per Baseball Reference, is .279/41/112 with a .398 OBP, .548 slugging %, 111 walks and 82 whiffs. Ralph's counting numbers were 369 home runs, 1,015 RBIs, 971 runs scored and seven straight seasons (1948-54) drawing at least 100 walks
  • He has the record for most consecutive seasons leading a league in HRs with seven from 1946-52 and was the only player in baseball history to lead the majors in home runs for six consecutive seasons (1947-52). Kiner still ranks sixth all-time with a home run every 14.1 at-bats. As he was alleged to have said: "Home run hitters drive Cadillacs and singles hitters drive Fords."
  • The only Pirates to hit 40 or more homers in a season are Willie Stargell (1971, 1973) and  Kiner (1947, 1948, 1949, 1950, & 1951). Kiner pounded a franchise high 54 homers in 1949. He ranks second on the Pirates all-time home run list with 301 in seven years and some change, behind Pops' 475 dingers swatted over 21 seasons.
  • After baseball, Kiner spent 52 years as a Mets broadcaster. His show was called Kiner's Korner, and he once introduced himself this way: "Hello everybody, welcome to Kiner's Korner, I'm Ralph Korner." Other komic quotes include “If Casey Stengel were alive today, he’d be spinning in his grave”and “On Father’s Day, we again wish you all a Happy Birthday.”
  • Kiner was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1975.
  • His #4 was retired by the Pirates in 1987, and in 2003 a statue of his hands grasping a bat was dedicated at PNC Park.

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