February 26, 2014
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.
(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.
Baseball Hall of Famer and long-time Mets broadcaster Ralph Kiner died today.
Kiner was 91. From 1946-1952 he led the National League in home runs, the only person to lead a league for seven consecutive seasons. He hit 54 home runs in 1948, no one would hit more until Roger Maris hit 61 in 1961 and no one hit more in the National League until Mark McGwire hit 70 in 1998.
Kiner also hit a home run every 14.1 at bats, fourth behind Ruth (who was born on February 6, coincidentally), Bonds, and McGwire.
He was also the last original TV broadcaster for the NY Mets joining the team for their inaugural season in 1962 and serving as a guest analyst through last season.
Sources: Baseball Hall of Fame, baseball-reference.com, Wikipedia
Top image: Kiner, circa 1946, copyright Corbis.com and courtesy of baseballhistorypodcast.com
Bottom image: Bob Murphy (brother of Jack Murphy of San Diego fame), Lindsey Nelson, and Ralph Kiner, circa 1962, courtesy of 2guystalkingmetsbaseball.com
This guy promised his 4-year-old son that the next time the Pirates were in the playoffs he would dress up “to make him proud.”
The 4-year-old is now 25, and the dad is amazing.
The Pirates are winning their one game playoff. Crowd going nuts. I’m with Mike Birbiglia. Life is weird.
Famous author of young adult books providing awesome shots of the game.
|—||John Smoltz, admiring the PNC Park crowd|
- Reference to 20-year losing streak.
- TBS advertisement for something that’s “Very Funny.”
- Discussion of Andrew McCutchen's MVP merits.
- Gerrit Cole is referred to as “Cole 45.”
- Crowd shots of Primanti Bros sandwiches.
- Close-ups of Justin Morneau’s mustache.
- Pirates score a run or a pitcher successfully lays down a sacrifice bunt.
- Reds batter strikes out.
- Mention of Liriano’s home ERA (1.47) compared to his road ERA (4.33).
A Hearty Gulp
- Crowd shots of the beer vendor with the great mustache and ’70s uniform.
- AJ Burnett’s love of Batman is mentioned.
- Gerrit Cole is referred to as “Cole Train.”
- Any footage of Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Kent Tekulve, or Andy Van Slyke.
- Discussion of Andrew McCutchen’s MVP merits using advanced statistics.
- Francisco Liriano exudes some semblance of effort when up to bat.
- Any mention of Dave Littlefield or Cam Bonifay.
- Pirates’ bullpen is called the Shark Tank.
- Discussion of Francisco Liriano’s increased slider usage.
- Marlon Byrd once again comes up with a big hit to drive in a run.
- Neil Walker’s hometown affiliation with Pittsburgh is mentioned.
- On-screen graphic comparing Pirates’ payroll to rest of the league.
Finish Your Drink
- Pedro Alvarez swings and misses on a slider low and away and then crushes a home run on the next pitch.
- Gerrit Cole is referred to as “Cole Slaw.”
- Anyone talks about how many runs Russell Martin contributed solely by his behind the plate defense and pitch framing.
- If Jack Wilson is helicoptered in for the start of the game.
- The Sid Bream slide is shown (you’ll need it).
- Clint Hurdle is applauded for embracing defensive shifts.
- Francisco Liriano gets a hit.
- Discussion of Pirates’ minor-league development program and top prospects.
Spin Around In a Circle, Raise Your Arms Above Your Head, Cheer Wildly, and Buy a Round for Everyone
- Pirates hit a grand slam.
- Starling Marte steals three bases.
- Andrew McCutchen robs a home run.
- Vin Mazzaro, Tony Watson, Mark Melancon, or Jason Grilli enter a game with runners on base and, like they did all season, keep the Reds from scoring.
- Clint Barmes enters as a defensive replacement and makes a game-saving, highlight-worthy catch.
Wrap Your Arms Around a Loved One and Cry Deep, Beautiful Tears
- The Pirates win.
At this point you’d have to wonder if another team was even playing in the game tonight…
Barry Bonds wore a size 7 1/8 hat and size 10 1/2 shoes
PNC Park, often voted the best ballpark in MLB, will host its first playoff game on Tuesday, October 1.
The Pirates clinched the home field advantage against the Reds in the Wild Card game with a win in Cincy today.
Tuesday’s probable starters:
Francisco Liriano, who keeps shouting “RELAX” which makes sense with his .224 opponents’ BA.
Johnny Cueto, who is well-rested after spending 3 months on the DL and has had two great starts in September
The last time the Pittsburgh Pirates played more than 162 games in a season was 1992. Just a reminder of what was going on 21 years ago (when this post author was starting college):
* The #1 song in September 1992 was “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men (yes MLBOffseason spent $1.29 to bring you that memory). Other 1992 top hits: “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-Lot, “Jump” by Kriss Kross, and “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton
* The number one film in 1992 was Disney’s Aladdin. Other hits: The Bodyguard, Home Alone 2, Batman Returns, and Wayne’s World
* Mortal Kombat was released as an arcade game and Super Mario Kart was introduced on the Super NES.
* George HW Bush was President of the United States
* Mark Rypien led Washington past Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVI
* The Winter and Summer Olympics were still held in the same year (Albertville, France and Barcelona, Spain)
* Barney and Friends premiered on PBS
* Microsoft released Windows 3.1
* Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi won the women’s and men’s singles titles at Wimbledon. They were neither dating nor married.
* The Cartoon Network began broadcasting
* Bryce Harper and Miley Cyrus were born
"End of the Road" and Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville are copyright of Decca Records
Bill Mazeroski (1960)