Year Inducted: 1975 (BBWAA, 15th ballot, 273/362)
This is a picture of Forbes Field, where the Pirates played baseball from 1909-1970:
To give some perspective, it was over 400 feet to the left-center field power alley, and originally 365 feet to straight away left field, and a 12 foot high wall circled the outfield. Its center field became known as Death Valley, more than 450 feet from the plate. With such a cavernous park, it’s no wonder that Willie Stargell was excited to move to the much less spacious Three Rivers Stadium in 1971. It’s also a miracle that a guy like Ralph Kiner could become as successful as he was by hitting a ton of home runs at this park.
Kiner played in only 10 seasons, but was one of the finest sluggers to ever pick up a bat. In his brief career, he hit .279/.398/.548 with a wRC+ of 147. In his career, the lowest his wRC+ ever was 116 in his rookie season. An incredibly consistently dominant offensive force, Kiner smashed 369 home runs to go along with 216 doubles and 39 triples. He drove in over 1000 runs in his career (think what that means-he had a 10 year career!) and nearly scored that many as well. He twice eclipsed 50 home runs in a season, and hit over 40 three additional times. Lest Kiner be described as a one trick pony, he drew more than 1000 walks in his career, leading to his high OBP. Kiner in his later years would lament it was due to having no real protection in the lineup following Hank Greenberg’s retirement. And, despite his size and speed, he grades out at +5 runs on the bases, which makes sense seeing as how he scored a lot despite either being on first base or hitting a home run. There’s no telling how many additional extra base hits he would have received in a more neutral park, where the centerfield wall wasn’t an insane distance from the plate.
Kiner, like many sluggers, was horrible defensively. Not only did he exhibit poor range in left field, but also had an extremely weak arm leading to being worth -40 runs as a fielder. Kiner, like Stargell and McCovey, was all about the bat. That’s not a bad thing, of course, as offense is a necessary part of the game, but it does limit how highly he can rank in a study that takes all factors into account.
Unfortunately, Kiner’s back problems prematurely ended his career after 10 seasons, and this is the full reason why he barely grades out in the top 150. The best outfielders of the time were able to remain healthy (Mays, Musial, Williams) and play for upwards of 20 years or more, setting insanely high standards that are near impossible to reach in only a 10 year career. Still, Kiner deserves his enshrinement just as much as they do. What he didn’t deserve was having to wait 15 ballots for his induction. A Hall of Famer is a Hall of Famer, no matter when he gets inducted.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 9/13/16, from one slugging right hander to another, this first baseman was one of the power bats behind the Big Red Machine.