For some reason, which cannot be fully explained, I have been fascinated by Ralph Kiner as a player in a bygone era of the game. In a time when players in pain took an aspirin, the post-War era of the game had a host of great players who dominated the headlines. Guys like Williams, DiMaggio, Spahn & Sain, Mise, Musial, Klu, Feller, Richie, Trucks and Yogi dominated the headlines in papers all over America. But one guy, from 1947-52, when gasoline cost about twenty cents a gallon, crushed the ball better than al others in the National League.
That was Ralph Kiner.
In 1949, Kiner hit 54 home runs. It was the highest total in the major leagues from 1939 to 1960, and the highest National League total from 1931 to 1997. Think about that. Nobody hit more home runs in the Senior Circuit in a span of 66 years than he did. It made Kiner the first National League player with two fifty-plus home run seasons. Kiner also matched his peak of 127 RBI. To our knowledge, during this time, he was PED free. From 1947 to 1951, Kinder topped 40 home runs and 100 RBI each season. Through 2011, he was one of seven major leaguers to have had at least four 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons in their first five years, along with Chuck Klein, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Mark Teixeira, Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard and Ryan Braun.
His string of seasons leading the league in home runs reached seven in 1952, when he hit 37. This also was the last of a record six consecutive seasons in which he led Major League Baseball in home runs.
He was an All-Star six straight seasons, 1948-1953.
He holds the major league record of eight home runs in four consecutive multi-homer games, a mark that he set in September 1947.
For all of this show of strength, he is famous for one of the great sayings in baseball: “Home run hitters drive Cadillacs and singles hitters drive Fords.”
For those who enjoy video, you can see Kiner hitting a homer in Forbes Field in the 1951 film, “Angels in the Outfield”.
When you got a Ralph Kiner card in your pack of Bowman’s, you had something special. But it wasn’t just the man himself, it was also for the beauty of the card. Take a look at the 1953 Bowman (color) card and you will see one of the most pristine poses of the ‘Golden Era’ of the game.
He was the face of the Pirates. He was the man among men. A WWII Naval aviator, he had full confidence of his position in life. He produced at every turn, Then the world changed. On June 4, 1953, after all of these accomplishments, Kiner was sent to the Chicago Cubs as part of a ten-player trade. This was due to his continued salary dispute with the Pirate general manager at that time, “the Mahatma.”, Branch Rickey. Here was a legend in the game who had not only broken the color barrier; created the farm system that we know today for the St. Louis Cardinals; but also brought the batting helmet into existence. A shrewd lawyer and experienced baseball man, he reportedly told Kiner, “We finished last with you, we can finish last without you.”
What many forget, Ralph Kiner’s power was fan drawing. In 1947, the Pirates drew over 1 million fans for the first time in their history, a 70% increase in attendance in one year. He WAS the reason for this popularity in Pirates baseball. For a few short years, Ralph Kiner was the greatest slugger in all of baseball. For 6 straight seasons he was baseball’s greatest light. This Hall of Famer, often forgotten, is what baseball could use today.
This is a great season of hope for the Pirates. Lets hope they remember the man who brought the first million fans to their ballpark so many years ago. It would be a Kiner Gentler Korner on the river in Pittsburgh this season.