Kiner Gentler Korner

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.

Play Ball!

The Sosa Effect

This season it appears that the statement, ‘Injuries are part of the game’, is more factual than ever. Contending teams everywhere are being crippled by injuries to key players on their teams, threatening their hope in reaching the playoffs.

The New York Yankees have eleven players on the DL and lost perhaps the finest closer in baseball history when Mariano Rivera had a season ending injury this week while shagging a fly ball before a game. Going out and trying to catch fly balls during batting practice is something he has done for his entire career. This time, an injury will remove him from the roster for the entire 2012 season. Joba Chamberlain is on the 60 day DL with both elbow and ankle injuries. Nick Swisher, their starting outfielder, is out temporarily with a hamstring situation. The only thing that separates the Yanks with everyone else on this list is that they have one thing nobody else has: a revenue stream where they can go fishing for the best players available any time they want to.

Philadelphia Phillies lost their biggest hitter on the final play of last year’s World Series. Big Ryan Howard went down with an Achilles tendon injury which he is still rehabing in hope to join the club shortly. His loss is one of the keys to the ‘Fighins’ slow start this season. His replacement, future Hall of Famer, mighty Jim Thome also injured his back and is shelved on the DL.Then there is the loss of one of baseball’s best pitchers, Cliff Lee, out with an oblique strain. It doesn’t stop here for this team. Their second baseman, Chase Utley is also out and on the DL with an injured knee.

Milwaukee Brewers had a problem in the outfield during Spring Training. They had too many fighting for positions. No problem then. But today, the Brewers find themselves without Carlos Gomez who went down this week with a pulled hamstring and is on the DL;  current National League MVP, Ryan Braun, is questionable with a tender Achilles; first base Prince Fielder replacement hope, Mat Gamel, went down this week with a season ending knee injury chasing a pop fly into the right field stands in San Diego. To add insult to injury, Alex Gonzalez, their newly acquired shortstop, went down Saturday in San Francisco with an injured knee attempting to slide late into second base and will likely be placed on the 15 day DL; all after the loss of starting pitcher, Chris Narvason, who had a season ending shoulder injury.

San Francisco Giants lost their starting third baseman, The Panda, Pablo Sandoval with a broken hand. Aubrey Huff, their talented first baseman is on the DL with anxiety. Freddy Sanchez is out with a shoulder injury. And their All-Star closer, Brian Wilson, is out for the season with an elbow injury. Imagine, nearly the entire starting infield plus their closer are out. It seems everyone is sore or injured. If you want to see the walking wounded play today, watch the Giants host the Brewers at AT&T Park.

Tampa Bay Rays have lost their leader, All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria with a hamstring injury and is on the DL until June. This team has also lost two of their catchers (Jose Lobaton and Robinson Chirinos).

The Minnesota Twins, off to one of their worst starts of any season, has once again lost Justin Morneau to the dreaded DL list. In Minneapolis they are going to call the DL the ML (Morneau List).

Then there is the Boston Red Sox. They have a major league leading 13 players on the questionable or DL. Some were on it before the season began. But since the beginning of May began, Kevin Youkilis is on the DL with a bad back; Daisuke Matsuzaka is about to rehab in the minors; Carl Crawford, their starting left fielder, is out until July with a wrist and elbow injury; and Josh Beckett is questionable for his next start. Some think their manager, Bobby Valentine, should also be included on the list. Just kidding, Bobby. ESPN loves you.

The Arizona Diamondbacks still are playing without their starting shortstop, Stephen Drew, recovering for that terrible ankle break sliding into home plate against the Milwaukee Brewers last year. He should be back in late May, just in time for Milwaukee’s next trip out west. Ouch! Chris Young, their great center fielder, is out until mid-May with a shoulder injury. Takashi Saito, the relief pitcher they picked up as a free agent from Milwaukee this past off-season, is on the DL until mid-May. He hasn’t pitched for the D’Backs yet this year. Gibby and his All-Star coaching staff have their tasks made harder this season with their M*A*S*H unit on the field.

These are just a few of the players on DL or are injured on contending teams. While not attempting to cover the entire DL for the majors, these contending teams have taken a big hit early on. They all hope there isn’t a Sosa Effect.

Sammy Sosa suffered one of the most famous baseball injuries and also one of the craziest injuries of all time. While being interviewed in the locker room after a game in 2004, he sneezed. Though routine for nearly everyone, Sosa’s sneeze just happened to pull a ligament in his lower back which landed him on the disabled list for 15 days. More importantly, it may have cause the spiral of injuries that ended his career a few years later.

Moral of the story: don’t ask any of these players a question in their locker room.

Play ball.