Pastime Portraiture, #6

Ralph Kiner, spring training, Tuscon, AZ, March 1955.

Kiner’s final spring, and final season. After nine seasons in the NL, and a bad back betraying the prolific slugger, he would spend 1955 with the Cleveland Indians as a part-time LF and pinch-hitter, with 18 HRs and 54 RBIs, but would retire after the season, at only 32 years of age. He would have a short career as a minor league executive in San Diego, until his old buddy and current GM Hank Greenberg hired him for play-by-play with the White Sox in 1961. After that, New York came calling, and Ralph became a Mets’ icon, with over 50 years of Amazin’ memories. And Ralph is still with us in 2013, at 90 years of age. So for having one of the shortest HOF careers (10 years), he’s one of the few that can say he’s been in professional baseball for over 70 years in some capacity. Long live Ralph Kiner.

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A Moment In Time – 8/17/47

Sunday, August 17, 1947, Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, PA. Pirates playing the Cardinals. Del Rice is catching for the Redbirds (rookie Jim Hearn on the mound, off camera), Whitey Kurowski at third, and slugger and future Hall Of Famer Hank Greenberg is coming up to bat in the bottom of the 7th inning, in the final year of his illustrious career.

Greenberg was a Detroit Tigers legend through the ’30’s and ’40’s, even after taking off 4 years for WWII service. But at the beginning of the 1947 season, he was mired in a salary dispute with ownership, and elected to retire instead of taking a cut in pay. Doing so, the Tigers sold his contract to the Pirates, and the Bucs’ owners (including Bing Crosby, who recorded a song, “Goodbye, Mr. Ball, Goodbye” with Groucho Marx and Greenberg [listen below!] to celebrate Greenberg’s arrival), offered him $80,000, the highest ever paid a baseball player to that point, to persuade him not to retire, and play one last season. The Pirates also reduced the size of Forbes’ left field by installing fencing and renaming the section “Greenberg Gardens” to accommodate Greenberg’s pull-hitting style. Playing for the Pirates also afforded him the opportunity to mentor a young Bucs slugger by the name of Ralph Kiner, and the “gardens” in left were changed to “Kiner’s Korner” after Hank’s departure.

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Greenberg walked in the above at-bat (Kiner was on second with a double), but he belted a homer in his next trip to the plate (his 330th) during the Bucs’ 4-run 8th inning, going 2-3 on the day (Hank would have only one more home run in his career, in September at Forbes). Despite that, Stan Musial’s 3-for-3 helped the Cards to a 6-5 win, allowing them to pull within 4.5 games of the Dodgers, but would never catch them for the ’47 pennant. As for the Pirates, they were already mired in the second division at this point, as Hank’s career was winding down, and would end the season tied for last place. Ralph Kiner would go on to have a Hall Of Fame career of his own, albeit shortened by injury. Hank himself entered the Hall in 1956.