Baseball slugger and long-time broadcaster Ralph Kiner died Thursday at his home in Rancho Mirage, California. Kiner was 91. His death was attributed to natural causes.
Kiner’s playing career was cut short after ten years due to back problems, but he retired with 369 home runs which, at the time, was sixth-best in baseball history. A six-time All-Star, Kiner led or tied for the National League lead in homers in each of his first seven seasons. He homered in every 14.1 at-bats, still sixth-best all-time. He averaged over 100 RBI’s per season, and retired with a .279 career batting average.
Kiner, who married tennis star Nancy Chaffee in 1951, spent a brief stint as the general manager of the San Diego Padres, then a minor league affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, before doing broadcast work with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1960 and the Chicago White Sox in 1961. From 1962 through his retirement following the 2003 season (52 years), he worked as a television and radio broadcaster for the New York Mets.
Kiner suffered a stroke early last decade, but returned to his Mets job on an occasional basis.
Kiner’s playing career in the Major Leagues (1946-1955) was spent with the Pirates, the Indians, the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago Cubs. He was the first National League player until Willie Mays to hit more than 50 home runs in two different seasons. He struck out more than 90 times only once. By 1950, he was earning $65,000 for the Pirates, making him the highest-paid player in the National League. Only American Leaguers Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Bob Feller were earning more money.
Kiner slammed 301 of his home runs in his seven seasons with Pittsburgh.
In June, 1953, the Pirates traded Kiner and three other players, including another future broadcaster, Joe Garagiola, to the Cubs for six players and $150,000 cash. Kiner ended his career in Cleveland, where his former Pirates teammate, slugger Hank Greenberg, was then general manager.