5 Things the Average Pittsburgh Pirates Fan Did Not Know About Ralph Kiner
5 Facts About Ralph Kiner
With Ralph Kiner's passing making news yesterday, it seemed to make sense to research the man who made such a profound impact on the Pittsburgh Pirates, or perhaps, the Pittsburgh sports-scene in general. Admittedly, I was by no means a Ralph Kiner expert, but I did consider myself to be an above average Pirates fan. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, now), I didn't know about the lesser known facts that helped to build Kiner's legacy, and it took his passing to explore his playing career and what he did for the game.
Ralph Kiner was signed out of high school to a minor league contract in 1941. He would go on to make his professional debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1946 at the age of 23, and would homer 23 times in his first professional season. He nearly doubled that number the following year with 51, and then constructed a string of years that saw him homer 40+ times.
Kiner would go on to enjoy success outside of his playing career, but would still stay close to the sport, for almost 60 more years. More on that later.
Some of the facts contained in this article will be common knowledge to some fans, while others will be new and fresh. It's unfortunate that it takes the passing of a former great to motivate a younger generation of fans to make an effort to learn why Ralph Kiner was so important to the Pittsburgh Pirates' franchise. Here are five facts about the former great that you may not have known.
Vinny Gala is a Pittsburgh Pirates writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter.
5. Had A Successful Broadcasting Career...But It Wasn't In Pittsburgh
Kiner is probably most widely known in recent years as one of the New York Mets' broadcasting members, notably for his "Kiner's Korner" postgame show. He started his broadcasting career in 1961, and was probably best known for being MLB's equivalent of John Madden, creating such "Kinerisms" as:
"All of his saves have come in relief appearances."
"Solo homers usually come with no one on base."
"The Mets have gotten their leadoff batter on only once this inning."
"Tony Gwynn was named Player of the Year for April."
4. His Career Started Late and Ended Early
Maybe the better way to put it would be to say that he was delayed arriving to the Major Leagues and he was early to retire. The front end of his career was shortened by World War II, and the back end of his career by a back injury. All said, he played only 10 seasons in the bigs.
3. Kiner Was a Navy Pilot
True story. During World War II, it was reported that Kiner was flying antisubmarine missions in the Pacific.
2. Pittsburgh's Own Home Run King
Kiner went through a period of six consecutive seasons where he led Major League Baseball in home runs. This, while playing in one of the most unfriendly hitting ballparks in all of baseball in Forbes Field.
Side note: They did shorten the porch at Forbes Field from 365 feet to a more traditional 335 feet by adding a bullpen. This area came to be known as "Kiner's Corner."
1. The Pirates Retired His Number
Sure, perhaps you've seen the notation on the mezzanine wall when you are at the ballpark, but I bet you didn't know exactly why it was retired. Kiner's No. 4 will never be worn by a Pittsburgh Pirates player again (unless by special exception).