by The Last Hollywood Star
Pirate rookie Garrett Jones has been one of the few productive hitters on an otherwise dismal offensive.
On Thursday, Jones hit the 10,000th home run in Pirate history. One of the stops along the way to 10,000 was Ralph Kiner’s 3,000th.
Kiner’s story and his relationship in the late 1940s and early 1950s with then-general manager Branch Rickey has a familiar ring to it. See if you can guess the story’s outcome before I get to the end of my tale.
Kiner debuted with the Pirates in 1946 and promptly won the National League home run title. From 1947 though 1952, Kiner won seven consecutive home run titles, a record unmatched in the major leagues.
In 1950, Kiner was at the zenith of his power (he hit 54 home runs the preceding year) and a fan favorite. Many spoke of Kiner as the Pirates’ Babe Ruth.
That same year, Rickey left the Brooklyn Dodgers to assume the general manager’s position in Pittsburgh.
Rickey was charged by owner John Galbreath with revamping a perennial cellar dwelling team. For reasons not entirely clear, Rickey felt that the first move in the overhaul was getting rid of Kiner.
For the next two years at every opportunity, Rickey demeaned Kiner. According to Rickey, Kiner couldn’t run, throw or field his position. Rickey also compared Kiner to Ruth but always critically.
Once Rickey said: “Kiner has so many weaknesses that if you had eight Ralph Kiners on an American Association team, it would finish last.”
Rickey’s disapproval of Kiner was part of his carefully laid plan to trade the superstar when he thought he could convince the fans of the wisdom of his thinking.
Finally in June 1953, the Pirates traded their first home run champion since 1909 along with Joe Garagiola, Catfish Metkovich, and Howie Pollet to the Chicago Cubs for Toby Atwell, Bob Schultz, Preston Ward, George Freese, Bob Addis, Gene Hermanski, and $150,000 cash.
Disgusted Pirate fans correctly assessed the mammoth ten player trade as merely an exchange of second string bench warmers except for their hero Kiner.
And the fans were right. The acquired Cubs never amounted to much as Pirates.
Although Rickey could never speak well about Kiner, Pirate manager Billy Meyer was pleased to have him on his team.
Said Meyer: “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.”
Of all the Pirates’ trades over the years, including this summer’s housecleaning, none were as unpopular as the dumping of Hall of Fame-bound Ralph Kiner.