One of baseball’s great sluggers has departed, as former Pittsburgh Pirates star Ralph Kiner passed away Thursday at age 91.
Kiner’s death was confirmed by the Baseball Hall of Fame, of which he became a member in 1975. Kiner spent his last days in his native California, although his baseball career made him a legend in both Pittsburgh and New York.
Signed as an amateur free agent in 1941, Kiner manned left field for the Pirates for parts of eight seasons, but his immense talent at the plate was his calling card. Kiner belted 301 home runs in a Pittsburgh uniform, leading the National League in dingers six straight times from 1947-52.
The Pirates finished with a winning record only once with Kiner, so fans at Forbes Field often stayed just long enough to catch his final at-bat before heading for the exits. The outfield fence near the left-field foul pole was dubbed “Kiner’s Korner” because of how often his bombs traveled in that direction.
Kiner mashed 51 homers in his second Pirates season, and peaked with 54 at age 26. He also led the NL in slugging three times and his career rate of 14.11 at bats per home run remains the sixth-best in MLB history.
Following a 1953 trade to the Cubs, Kiner played three more seasons before retiring at 32 with 396 career homers. He went on to notoriety as a broadcaster for the New York Mets, starting with their inaugural season of 1962. The personable Kiner continued to serve in various on-air roles up until last summer, albeit with a reduced schedule.
Kiner had his number 4 retired by the Pirates in 1987, one of only eight Bucco players to be so honored.