Before he even played a Major League game, Pirates manager Frankie Frisch proclaimed “Kiner looks like he’s going to be the best [outfielder] we’ve ever had.” Ralph Kiner made his major league debut in 1946, at age 23, having lost three prime years to service of his country in World War II, and wasted no time in making his presence felt as he led the National League in home runs and established a new franchise record in the process.
For a decade, Ralph Kiner was the game’s premier power hitter; he was the first National Leaguer to hit 50 home runs twice–it had only happened twice in the junior circuit, he became the first major leaguer to hit home runs in four straight at bats on two separate occasions, and was also the first major league player to lead the league in home runs in seven consecutive seasons. Baseball’s all-time winningest lefty Warren Spahn proclaimed “Kiner can wipe out your lead with one swing”.
Kiner’s star shone off the baseball diamond as well. He was well known in Hollywood circles; he dated starlets like Elizabeth Taylor and Janet Leigh, played golf with James Garner and Jack Lemmon, and developed friendships with the likes of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez. On the field or off the field, Ralph Kiner was a star.
Back problems forced Kiner off the field for good at age 32. Had he remained healthy, there is no telling what he could have accomplished. Although he was not able to physically compete on the diamond, he didn’t leave the game he loved. Ralph Kiner was a baseball lifer.
Upon retirement, Kiner became the general manager of the Cleveland Indian’s Pacific Coast League franchise, the San Diego Padres. It was there that he also developed his skills in the broadcast booth. In 1962, the expansion New York Mets hired Ralph to do their television broadcasts, he jokingly recalled “The Mets hired me because they looked at my background with the Pirates and saw that I had losing experience”. Kiner spent more than 40 years in the booth for the Mets and became known to a whole new generation of baseball fans for his “Kinerisms” such as “On Father’s Day, we again wish you all Happy Birthday”, “Solo homers usually come with no one on base”, and “Two-thirds of the earth is covered by water. The other third is covered by Garry Maddox.”