Obit of the Day: The Pirates’ Only Living Hall of Famer
So many trivia questions, so little time:
What player has the most career home runs in their first 5 seasons?
Who is the only player to lead his league in home runs for 7 consecutive seasons?
Who was the first National League slugger to hit 50+ home runs in two consecutive seasons?
Who was the second person, after Babe Ruth, to hit at least 40 home runs in five consecutive seasons?
Who was the only National Leaguer to hit at least 54 home runs between 1931 and 1997?
The answer to all of these questions is “Ralph Kiner.”
And yet, he was barely elected to the Hall of Fame, receiving 273 votes (he needed 272) in 1975 his 15th and final year of eligibility, from the Baseball Writers Association of America. Even the Pittsburgh Pirates, for whom he set all those records, didn’t retire his uniform number, 4, for another twelve years.
Part of the reason for the Hall of Fame delay was his limited time on the field. Mr. Kiner retired from baseball at age 32 after a back injury made it impossible for him to play. It was so hampering that after his first seven seasons he had hit 294 home runs, but in his last three only 75.
And the Pirates were terrible during his time with the franchise. Between the time Mr. Kiner joined the team in 1946 and when he was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 1953, Pittsburgh never finished higher than fourth and usually in the bottom half of the National League standings. (Later Pirates Hall of Famers, like Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente, were part of perennial playoff contenders including two World Series crowns.)
He did receive more recognition during his career than after. He was selected to six consecutive All-Star games (1948-1953) and finished in the top ten in MVP voting for five straight seasons (1947-1951) especially impressive playing on such abysmal teams.
Following Mr. Kiner’s retirement he found a successful second career as a broadcaster. Spending the 1961 season with the Chicago White Sox, Mr. Kiner headed to New York to join the television broadcast booth with Bob Murphy and Lindsay Nelson for the expansion New York Mets. Mr. Kiner would broadcast Mets games for 52 seasons. He was the last of the original Mets’ broadcasters.
Known for misspeaking on occasion - wishing a hearty “Happy Birthday!” on Fathers’ Day - Mr. Kiner became more closely identified with the Mets than the Pirates by the end of his career. (A friend of Obit of the Day who is lifelong Pittsburgh fan believes this is why he is overlooked by the Pirates and their fans.)
Ralph Kiner, the fourth oldest living Hall of Famer, died on February 6^, 2014 at the age of 91.
Sources: baseball-reference.com, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, NY Times, and ESPN
(Image of Ralph Kiner, circa 1948-1953, is uncited - on six different websites - and courtesy of democratherald.com)
^ Coincidentally Mr. Kiner died on Babe Ruth’s birthday. Mr. Ruth was the only person to hit home runs more often than Mr. Kiner (11.76 at-bats per home run vs. 14.11) until the sluggers of the 1990s.