Before he even played a Major League game, Ralph Kiner was anointed by Pirates manager Frankie Frisch as a future star.
“Kiner looks like he's going to be the best [outfielder] we've ever had,” Frisch said.
Kiner made his major league debut in 1946 at age 23, having lost three prime years to service of his country in World War II. He wasted no time in making his presence felt as he led the National League in home runs and established a new franchise record in the process.
For a decade, Kiner was the game’s premier power hitter. He was the first National Leaguer to hit 50 home runs twice – it had only happened twice in the Junior Circuit – he became the first major leaguer to hit home runs in four straight at bats on two separate occasions and was also the first major league player to lead the league in home runs in seven consecutive seasons.
Hall of Famer Warren Spahn proclaimed: “Kiner can wipe out your lead with one swing.”
Kiner’s star blazed off the baseball diamond as well. He was well known in Hollywood circles, having dated starlets like Elizabeth Taylor and Janet Leigh, played golf with James Garner and Jack Lemmon and developed friendships with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
Back problems forced Kiner off the field for good at age 32 following the 1955 season. Although he was not able to physically compete on the diamond, he didn’t leave the game he loved.
Upon retirement, Kiner became the general manager of the Cleveland Indians' Pacific Coast League franchise, the San Diego Padres. It was there that he also developed his skills in the broadcast booth. In 1962, the expansion New York Mets hired Ralph to do their television broadcasts.
Kiner jokingly recalled: “The Mets hired me because they looked at my background with the Pirates and saw that I had losing experience.”
Kiner spent more than 50 years in the booth for the Mets and became a favorite of a whole new generation of baseball fans.
Kiner was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1975. He passed away on Feb. 6, 2014.