Teams: Pittsburgh Pirates, 1946-1953; Chicago Cubs, 1953-1954; Cleveland Indians, 1955
Ralph Kiner had a National League-
record seven straight home run titles.
Ralph McPherran Kiner (born in 1922) was a renowned semipro baseball player in Alhambra, California, as both a pitcher and a hitter. After he graduated from high school in 1940, he was approached by several ballclubs who all wanted him to sign with a Class-D affiliate. Instead, Ralph signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who offered to start him in Class-A. He played in the minors for two and one-half seasons, making it to the Triple-A International League before joining the Navy in mid-1943.
After his release in December 1945, Ralph said, “I began preparing for spring training, and I got myself into just sensational shape. Sure enough, I had a spring training like no one’s ever had.” In 1946, Kiner became the Pirates left fielder, and he hit 23 home runs to lead the league.
In 1947, Pittsburgh acquired Hank Greenberg, and the Pirates moved the left field fence in from 365 feet to 335 feet (an area known as “Greenberg’s Garden”). Kiner’s 23 homers began to look like small potatoes. Ralph hit 51 homers in 1947, while he found a mentor in Greenberg. Hank retired after the ’47 season, and left field became “Kiner’s Korner.” Ralph slugged 40 homers in 1948 and 54 in 1949.
Though his slugging was aided by Forbes Field, he twice set road home run records. He walked 100 times or more in six straight seasons to post a lifetime on-base average of .397, which in turn helped him to six seasons of at least 100 runs scored. The Pirates remained in the cellar for most of Kiner’s tenure, but he was recognized as one of the game’s greatest stars.
Kiner was a hard and innovative worker. “I remember back in 1941 or 1942, I obtained a filmstrip of Babe Ruth’s swing, broken down frame by frame, which I copied carefully and practiced whenever I got the chance,” he said. He later had films taken of his own swing in order to spot flaws, and took hours of extra batting practice.
Though he had a weak arm, he was a four-time Sporting News All-Star. He was also a prime mover in the players’ movement, which led to the pension plan and eventually the financial bonanza of modern players. Later, Ralph would become an immensely popular broadcaster for the Mets. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1975.
Here are Ralph Kiner's major league totals:
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