Ralph Kiner was a very unique ballplayer for his time in baseball. Kiner only played ten season in the majors, and hit a whopping 369 home runs in those ten years. Despite his brief career, Kiner was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975. His election was extremely unique, as not only was he elected in his final year of eligibility, but he also reached the required 75% of ballots by just a handful of votes, finishing with 273 of 362 votes for a total of 75.4% of voters approving of his election. If just two of those 273 voters in favor of Kiner's election changed their mind, he would have had to rely on the Veterans' Committee to gain election, though he probably would have gained election if it came to that.
Even when looking at Kiner's statistics from a modern, sabermetrically-inclined standpoint, he stacks up well against not only the hitters of his time, but hitters of modern times. His 369 home runs are 72nd all-time, ahead of Hall of Famers like Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Mize, Yogi Berra, Ron Santo, and Hank Greenberg, among others. Kiner's .398 career on-base percentage is 65th all-time, just a hair behind DiMaggio, and a hair above Mize. Kiner's at bat per home run ratio is 14.11, the sixth best total of all-time. The five players ahead of him are Mark McGwire (one of the most prodigious home run hitters ever), Babe Ruth (the game's first true power hitter), Barry Bonds (possibly the best baseball player of all-time), Ryan Howard (who will likely fall behind Kiner once he gets more playing time), and Jim Thome (a player with skills very similar to Kiner). That's some pretty good company for a guy that most people don't even think of when talking about the best power hitters of all-time. In another testament to his power, Kiner's career ISO (isolated power, which is calculated by subtracting a player's batting average from his slugging percentage) is .269, which is the 12th highest mark of all-time. The names ahead of him are familiar ones: Ruth, Bonds, McGwire, Gehrig, Greenberg, Williams, and so on.
Past power, Kiner had other skills over his career. His career walk rate is 16.2%, which is 20th all-time among players with at least 1000 career games (roughly between six and seven full seasons in the league). As a comparison, Rickey Henderson (the best leadoff hitter of all-time) has a 16.4% walk rate, while Adam Dunn (who has had seven 100 walk seasons over his 12 year career) has a 16.3% walk rate. Over his ten year career, Kiner had six 100 walk seasons (all coming consecutively from 1948 to 1953. Kiner's OPS+, which is OPS, but adjusted to the league average of the years in question is 149, which ties him for 34th all-time with a pair of modern day hitters you may have heard of: Miguel Cabrera, and Jeff Bagwell. That 149 mark is also immediately better than a trio of power-hitting Hall of Famers in Mike Schmidt, Willie Stargell, and Willie McCovey, along with being better than modern stars like Ryan Braun, Lance Berkman, Alex Rodriguez, and Prince Fielder.
In comparison to his peers at the time, there really wasn't much of one. Kiner has five straight top ten MVP finishes, made even more amazing by the fact that the highest the Pirates finished in the National League during his tenure with the club was fourth in 1948, the only year during Kiner's tenure with the club that they finished above .500. If Kiner was playing in a market like Brooklyn or St Louis during his career, he'd likely get a lot more respect from baseball fans throughout history. Today, Kiner is a beloved broadcaster for the New York Mets, with whom he has worked since their inception in 1962. Kiner is no longer working full-time with the Mets, and has transitioned to a part-time role, making guest appearances on occasion to join the crew of SNY. Despite not playing in a game with the Mets, he was elected to the team's Hall of Fame in 1984. Kiner's primary team during his playing career, the Pittsburgh Pirates, retired Kiner's number 4 in 1987.
Ralph Kiner was one of the best hitters of all-time during his brief, ten year career, and it's a shame that he didn't play longer and make more of a name for himself. 60 years later, Kiner almost remains lost in the annals of baseball history, but hopefully, you learned a little more about him today.