Ralph Kiner, Hall of Fame home run hitter turned broadcaster, passed away today of natural causes. He was 91.
Kiner played only 10 seasons in the bigs, but made the most of them. In his first seven seasons, Kiner led the NL in home runs every season. Twice, Kiner hit over 50 home runs in a season. He drove in 100 or more runs six times and also collected 100 or more walks six times. Kiner had an OBP of .400 or greater four times. On six occasions, Kiner was named to the NL All-Star Team. His best overall season came in 1949 when he hit .310 while leading the NL with 54 HR and 127 RBI. Kiner also led the NL in walks (117) and slugging percentage (.658). He finished fourth in NL MVP balloting behind Jackie Robinson, Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter.
Kiner spent seven and a half seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates before being traded to the Chicago Cubs in the middle of the 1953 season in a ten player deal. At the time, Kiner was in a salary dispute with Pirates GM Branch Rickey (the same man who, of course, signed Jackie Robinson) who said to Kiner, “We finished in last place with you; we can finish in last place without you.” During Kiner’s tenure in Pittsburgh, the Pirates only had one winning season when they finished in fourth place in the NL, eight and a half games back of the Boston Braves.
After a season and a half with the Cubs, Kiner spent 1955 with the Cleveland Indians and then retired. Although Kiner was only 32, back injuries forced him out of the game. Kiner finished his career with a .279 batting average, 369 HR, 1015 RBI and an OBP of .398. In 1975, the BBWAA elected Kiner to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
In 1961, Kiner entered the broadcast booth with the Chicago White Sox. The following year, Kiner became part of the broadcast team with the expansion New York Mets and remained there for the rest of his life and was well known for his Kiner’s Korner post-game show. Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully and Dodgers Spanish language broadcast Jaime Jaramillo are the only baseball broadcasters who have had longer careers than Kiner. Over the decades, Kiner was known for his malapropisms. Kiner once said of Rick Aguiliera that all his saves came in relief appearances or that all the Mets wins on the road against Los Angeles came at Dodgers Stadium.
Prior to his MLB career, Kiner served in the U.S. Navy as a pilot who patrolled the South Pacific. He enlisted the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Kiner was also considered something of a ladies’ man and even once went out with a young Elizabeth Taylor.
I leave you with Kiner appearing in a Wheaties commercial sometime in the early 1950s doing what he did best: hitting it out of the park.
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