Ralph Kiner was a 6'2" left fielder from Santa Rita, NM. Born on October 27, 1922, the Alhambra High School product signed a free agent contract with the Pirates in 1941. He spent that season with the "A" level Eastern League's Albany Senators, leading the team with 11 home runs while hitting .279 over 141 games. He followed that up in 1942 by again leading the team in round-trippers, with 14. He hit .257 over 141 more games.
In 1943, Kiner joined the class "AA" International League Toronto Maple Leafs, hitting .236 in 43 contests. After the first part of the season, he elected to serve his country in World War II, as a US Navy fighter pilot. He would not play professional baseball again until the war was over.
Kiner returned to baseball in 1946, immediately joining the big-league Pirates. He saw extensive action at each slot between third and seventh in the order, playing in center and left field. He hit .247 with a .430 SLG (NL ninth) over 144 games, with 17 doubles, an NL best 23 home runs, and 81 RBI (NL fifth). He walked 74 times (NL sixth), bringing his OBP up to a respectable .345 while striking out an NL most 109 times. He would finish 30th in the NL MVP voting for his rookie season, and would not again finish that low as long as he played in Pittsburgh. He ranked second in the league with 339 defensive putouts from the outfield. On May 23rd, he hit a double and two home runs with five RBI in a 10-2 win against the Philadelphia Phillies. Pittsburgh finished two games above last place in the NL, with a 63-91 record.
In 1947, Kiner led the NL with 51 home runs, 361 total bases, a .639 SLG, a 1.055 OPS, a 173 OPS +, and a 8.3 WAR, all leading to a sixth place finish in the NL MVP vote. In 152 games (NL fifth), he scored 118 runs (NL third), hitting .313 (NL fourth) with 23 doubles, 127 RBI (NL second) and 98 walks (NL fourth) with 81 strikeouts. He also led the league with 390 outfield putouts and with a .974 fielding percentage. On August 16th, he went deep three times with five RBI in a 12-7 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. On September 11th, he went a combined six-for-10 with a double, four home runs, and seven RBI in a doubleheader sweep over the Boston Braves (10-8 and 4-3, respectively). The Pirates were considerably better than their 62-92 record would indicate, as the team finished in last place, nine games behind their pythagorean projection.
1948 would see Kiner continue to own National League pitching, as he led the league with 156 games played, 40 home runs, his first all-star selection, and a seventh place finish in the NL MVP vote. He hit .265 with a .533 SLG (NL fourth) and scored 104 runs (NL fifth) with 19 doubles, 123 RBI (NL third), and 112 walks (NL second) for a .391 OBP (NL seventh) against 61 strikeouts. He placed fourth in the NL amongst position players with a 6.2 WAR. His 382 putouts from the left field position also led the league. On July 5th, in the top half of a doubleheader, he connected deep three times for five RBI in a 10-3 Pittsburgh win against the Cincinnati Reds. He batted either third or fourth all season. The Pirates improved their record to 83-71, finishing fourth in the league 8.5 games behind the Braves.
In 1949, Kiner again blew up opposing pitchers, leading the National League with 54 home runs, 127 RBI, 117 walks for a .432 OBP (NL third), a .658 SLG, a 1.089 OPS, a 186 OPS+, earning his second straight all-star selection, and garnering enough attention to finish fourth in the NL MVP race. He scored 116 runs (NL fourth) in 152 games with 19 doubles and a .310 average (NL fifth). His 8.6 WAR was second best in the NL out of position players. he batted cleanup most of the season, with a handful of games batting third. He had multiple RBI 34 times over the course of the season, including seven occasions where he collected four or more. On July 20th, he connected deep twice, including the go-ahead three run shot in the ninth inning of an 8-6 win over the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Bucs finished at 71-83, sixth in the NL in the middle of the second division.
hit .278 with a .590 SLG (NL third) in 150 games in 1950. He scored 112 runs (NL third) and hit 21 doubles, an NL leading 47 home runs, and 118 RBI (NL second). He drew 122 walks (NL second) for a .408 OBP (NL sixth), finished fifth in the NL MVP balloting, and played in his third consecutive all-star game. He ranked fourth in the league with a 6.4 oWAR, third with 370 left field putouts, and first with 12 left field assists. He split his time pretty evenly between batting third and cleanup. On June 25th, Kiner hit a cycle by the seventh inning, adding a two run homer in the eighth for a total of eight RBI in a 16-11 victory over the Dodgers. Pittsburgh finished at 57-96, dead last in the National League.
In 1951, Kiner led the NL with 124 runs, 42 home runs, 137 walks, a .452 OBP, a .627 SLG, a 1.079 OPS, and an OPS+ of 185. He earned another all-star bid and finished 10th for the NL MVP. He hit .309 (NL seventh) in 151 games with 31 doubles (Nl seventh) and 109 RBI (Nl second), also ranking second in the NL with an 8.9 oWAR. He also earned the ignoble status of finishing in the NL top five in errors at two different positions, first base and left field. He batted exclusively in the cleanup slot while splitting time between the two positions. On July 18th, he collected seven RBI by hitting a grand slam in the first, a two run shot in the fourth, and a game tying solo homer in the eighth inning of a 13-12 trackmeet victory over the Dodgers. The Pirates finished the season at 64-90, in seventh place just two games ahead of the last place Cubs.
1952 would see Kiner lead the NL in home runs for the seventh time in a row to start his big league career, with 37.He also led the league with 110 walks, earned his fifth straight trip to the all-star game, and finished 23rd for the NL MVP. He hit .244, scored 90 runs (NL ninth), hit 17 doubles and knocked in 87 RBI. He ranked fifth in the league with a 5.1 oWAR, ranked sixth with a .384 OBP, and fourth with a .500 SLG. On September 12th, in game one of a twin bill against the Cubs, he went deep twice for four RBI in an 8-1 win. The Pirates won 42 and lost 112 on the season.
Kiner started out 1953 hitting .270 with seven home runs and 29 RBI over 41 games. Due to a salary dispute with ownership, the Bucs unloaded him in a trade with the Cubs along with Joe Garagiola, George Metkovich, and Howie Pollet for Bob Addis, Toby Atwell, George Freese, Gene Hermanski, Bob Schultz, Preston Ward, and $150,000. He would hit 50 home runs for Chicago over a season and a half before finishing up his career with the 1955 Cleveland Indians.
Kiner was elected to the Hall of Fame with the Class of 1975, in his 15th and last chance on the ballot. After many years of play-by-play announcing with the New York Mets, he is currently the third-longest tenured announcer in baseball (behind Dodgers announcers Vin Scully and Jaime Jarrin).
All-Time Statline: Eight seasons, 1095 games, 1097-for-3913, .280/.405/.567, 754 runs, 153 doubles, 32 triples, 301 home runs, 801 RBI, 19 stolen bases, 795 walks, 546 strikeouts, 42.1 WAR