Here’s the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi
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.”
Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org