Double the fun: Ralph Kiner’s Historic 1947 Doubleheader: Bombs Away!

Here’s the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi

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Last Sunday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sports page story about the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 10-inning 5-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds was on page 14. Preceding it were accounts of high school and college football, the Steelers, the Penguins, the U.S. Open tennis tournament, the upcoming basketball season, horse racing, Reggie Bush, lacrosse and assorted other minor events.

In Pittsburgh, “Dog days” has a different meaning. The phrase refers to the season’s last month when Pirates baseball mercifully ends.

Today’s Buccos remind lifelong fans of the horrible 1950-1955 Pirates known as “Rickey’s Rinky-Dinks,” a play on general manager Branch Rickey’s name and the teams under his direction.

That’s not entirely fair to Rickey since the Corsairs were National League cellar dwellers for years before he arrived on the scene. The one bright spot who kept Pirates fans glued in their Forbes Field seats even as the losses mounted: Ralph Kiner

During his first seven seasons, Kiner led or tied for the National League in home runs, an unmatched feat.

Kiner also achieved a still-standing major league record when in 1947 he hit eight home runs in four consecutive games. Four of them came during a September 11th double header. During the preceding month, Kiner previewed his prowess when he hit seven home runs during a similar four game stretch.

Kiner started his tear on September 10th against the New York Giants when his two home runs off Larry Jansen (18-5) accounted for the Bucs only runs in 3-2 defeat.

During the next day’s double dip, with the Boston Braves in town, Kiner hit one in the opener off losing pitcher Johnny Sain (19-10) to help lift the Pirates to a 4-3, 13 inning triumph. In the nightcap, Kiner slugged two more off starter Bill Voiselle and another off losing pitcher Walt Lanfranconni (4-4) for a 10-8 Pirate sweep.

Kiner wrapped up his power-packed four days when on September 12th, he blasted two more off Red Barrett (11-12) to propel the Bucs to a 4-3 victory.

Kiner’s four-day line: AB 16; R 8; H 10; HR 8; RBI 12

Over his ten-year career, Kiner hit 369 home runs for an average of one every 14.11 at bats, eighth best all-time. Historians calculate that if Kiner had played in a more hitter friendly park than the monstrous Forbes Field and had not also lost nearly three seasons serving in World War II, he would easily have hit 500.

From 1948 through 1953, Kiner played in six consecutive All Star Games before being ignominiously dumped off to the Chicago Cubs for the proverbial bunch of broken bats, namely Toby Atwell, Bob Schultz, Preston Ward, George Freese, Bob Addis, Gene Hermanski and $150,000 cash.

Kiner and Rickey had been locked in a salary dispute all season before the notorious cheapskate famously told the slugger: “We finished last with you and we can finish last without you.”

Although Kiner hit 50 home runs during his season and a half with the Cubs and another 18 with the Cleveland Indians in 1955, his most productive years were over.

In 1961 Kiner began a new career as a Chicago White Sox broadcaster before moving to the New York Mets where he joined Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy. One of the most popular features of Mets’ broadcasts was “Kiner’s Korner” where Kiner might call Darryl Strawberry “Darryl Thornberry” or say: “If Casey Stengel were alive, he’d be spinning in his grave.”

Kiner, although ailing, still appears from time to time making him the only Mets’ announcer to be part of the broadcast team since the Mets first game.

Post-career, Kiner has received many accolades. In 1975, the Hall of Fame elected Kiner. Twelve years later, the Pirates retired his number 4. The Sporting News placed Kiner on its 1999 “Top 100 Greatest Player’s” list.

Just inside the entrance to PNC Park, which opened in 2001, a statue of Kiner’s hand holding a bat honors his seven leading home run seasons. Then, in 2007, the Mets held “Ralph Kiner Night” with Tom Seaver giving a commemorative speech. Also present were Bob Feller, former Met manager Yogi Berra and the late Ernie Harwell. (See it here.)

Billy Meyer, one of Kiner’s Pirates managers, had only good things to say about his star outfielder: “During all the time I managed the Pirates, there was never a time that Kiner didn’t do everything I asked him to for the general good of the club. No matter what I said it was perfectly okay with him.”

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Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com

0 thoughts on “Double the fun: Ralph Kiner’s Historic 1947 Doubleheader: Bombs Away!”

  1. Actually, “Rickey’s Rinky-Dinks,” is not “a play on general manager Branch Rickey’s name and the teams under his direction.” They were called the “Rickey-Dinks,” which is.

  2. I don’t remember Kiner’s playing career, but I sure remember him as a broadcaster for the Mets. Bob, Ralph and Lindsey formed one of the best play-by play trios I have ever heard.

    Thanks Vinnie for the link to Steve Treder’s articles about Branch Rickey’s years with the Pirates. I think Steve writes some of the most interesting articles available online. I also like Joe’s articles about doubleheaders. I wish I could somehow transport myself back in time to see them. Reading about them is the next best thing.

  3. Nice piece on Ralph Kiner who was my all-time
    favorite Pirate starting when I was 10 in 1946.
    Though almost all of Ralph’s homers were beyond
    the outer left field wall at Forbes Field, it
    should be mentioned that between 1947 and 1953,
    there was an inner bullpen fence in left field
    commonly known as Greenberg Gardens that measured
    only 335 feet.Though his three years served in
    WW11 preceeding his rookie years could perhaps have added to his career home run total,what really
    limited the total was a bad back suffered in
    1952 that brought him below 40 homers in 1952 and
    1953,and limited him in 1954 and 1955 to a
    total of 40 at which time Ralph Kiner retired.With
    modern surgical procedures it is likely that Ralph
    could have hit home runs at his peak level through
    the age of 38 which would have enabled him to reach
    600 and perhaps even 700 home runs which was predicted of him after hitting 51 and 54 home runs
    in 1947 and 1949 when he was still 26.

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