Pittsburgh Pirates Ralph Kiner

The Ralph Kiner



There is no doubt that Ralph Kiner was one of the greatest, most talented
sluggers in baseball history

Fifth Became Sixtieth
Harold Friend

In 1949, Ralph Kiner hit 54 home runs for the Pittsburgh Pirates, a single season total bettered at the time only by Babe Ruth, Jimmy Foxx, Hank Greenberg, and Hack Wilson. Just eleven other National Leaguers hit as many as twenty home runs in 1949. The 54 home runs marked the second time that Kiner reached the 50 home run plateau, which is one more time than Barry Bonds has reached it. Kiner led or tied for the National League home run title in each of first seven seasons in a career that barely spanned ten years.
Ralph Kiner joined the Pirates in 1946, was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 1953, and finished his career with the Cleveland Indians in 1955. At the age of thirty three, a bad back forced Kiner to retire.

It is difficult if not impossible to validly compare players from the same era much less from different eras, but it is undeniable that Ralph Kiner was an outstanding home run hitter who conquered the strike zone. Much is made with respect to a pitcherís walk to strikeout ratio but it is just a important for a hitter. As baseball has devolved since Kinerís time, so too has ratio of battersí walks to strikeouts as well as the ďexpertsď respect for the statistic.

In 2004, major league hitters walk to strike out ratio was one walk for every two strikeouts while in 1947 the ratio was one walk for every one strikeout. Players in 2004 struck out twice as often as they walked. Ralph Kiner drew 1011 walks and struck out 749 times. He was a smart player with an outstanding feel for the game but he excelled only as a hitter. In the outfield, Kiner was sure handed, had an accurate but weak arm, and was slow.

In 1946, his rookie season, Kiner led the National League with 23 home runs, which was the lowest total for a National League home run champion since 1921. The following season, the Pirates acquired the services of great home run hitter Hank Greenberg and in order to take advantage of a Greenberg-Kiner slugging tandem, a double bull pen was created in left field at Forbes Field. The left field line was decreased to 335 feet from 365 feet and the left field power alley was shortened to 355 feet from 406 feet. Kiner hit 51 home runs, batted a career high .313, and led the league with .639 slugging average.

For his ten year major league career, Kiner averaged 41 home runs a season with a .548 slugging average. The 41 home run average compares favorably with many great sluggers, including Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, and Henry Aaron, but his slugging average ranks only thirtieth, which is good but not among the best.

There is no doubt that Ralph Kiner was one of the greatest, most talented sluggers in baseball history. Based upon his talent, he is among baseballís elite. When he retired after the 1955 season, Kinerís statistics ranked among baseballís best but in the last fifty years, for many reasons, his accomplishments seem less impressive despite the fact they have not changed. His lifetime total of 369 home runs is an excellent illustration. In 1955, only Ruth (714), Foxx (534), Ott (511), and Gehrig (493) retired with more home runs. Today, Kinerís total ranks sixtieth.

For baseballís first half century, five hitters hit 369 or more career home runs. In baseballís second half century, fifty five batters have hit more than 369 career home runs. Quite an interesting and revealing statistic.

Those whose lifetime home run totals have surpassed Kinerís include Cal Ripken, Darrell Evans, Andres Galarraga, Al Kaline, Dale Murphy, Joe Carter, Graig Nettles, Norm Cash, and Carlton Fisk. Some were fine players but none is close to Kiner as a home run hitter, which brings up the age old problem. What is the importance of outstanding, rare natural talent over a relatively short time period (Ralph Kiner and Sandy Koufax) compared to solid, above average but not top tier talent over a long time (Don Sutton, Eddie Murray)?

The Rules for Election to the Hall of Fame fail to even approach the problem. To be eligible, a player must have a minimum of ten seasons in the major leagues. Voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America ďshall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.Ē Quite an open ended statement.

Ralph Kiner is one of many Hall of Famers with short careers. Kiner, Sandy Koufax, Dizzy Dean, Earl Averill, and Roy Campanella had enormous ability but displayed it for a limited time period. The conclusion here is that the greatest talents, regardless of the time those talents were displayed, are the greatest players. How many managers would select Don Sutton over Sandy Koufax if he had to win the seventh game of the World Series?

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