News of the San Gabriel Valley since 1966.

Time Jockey ‘ MOOR LEGEND ‘

Joe Castillo

Ralph Kiner, Hall of Famer  ….   Since 1898, Alhambra High School has seen a number of excellent athletes pass through its hallowed halls but none have been more accomplished than Ralph Kiner. At the age of 91, Kiner passed away at his Rancho Mirage home on Thursday Feb. 6th. Kiner was raised in Alhambra and played baseball for the Moors until he graduated in 1940. Born in Santa Rita, New Mexico, which was also the birthplace of Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt and Nellis Air Force base namesake William Nellis, Kiner moved with his mother to Alhambra shortly after his father died.  When Beatrice Kiner became employed as a nurse, Ralph became more immersed in sports. He idolized the athletes who were competing at UCLA and USC at the time. Orv Mohler, another AHS alumni was a USC running back, Mack Robinson was at UCLA and a Pasadena native and Buster Crabbe, a swimmer and  gifted athlete at USC.  But it was baseball which captured Kiner’s imagination. He followed the performance of his favorite player Babe Ruth on a daily basis while playing baseball in any game he could as a young kid. At Alhambra Elementary he was noted as the faster runner, and would carry that distinction on every team he played on. Kiner caught the attention of New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates scouts as a high school player but eventually signed with the Pirates for a $3,000 bonus in 1941. He began his professional career playing for Pittsburgh’s Albany minor league team, but after two years was inducted in the Navy Air Corps.  Returning from the war, Kiner finally made the big club and became Pittsburgh’s centerfielder. His strength was hitting the long ball and he finished his career with 369 home runs and 1,015 RBI’s. He played in 6 All-Star games and had his best year in 1949 when he slugged 54 home runs and drove in another 127 runs. His salary peaked at $90,000 in 1952 but thereafter it was cut even though he produced solid statistics. In 1952, Kiner broke Babe Ruth’s major league record by leading the major leagues in home runs for 7 straight seasons but the Pirates still lost 112 games and finished last. Pittsburgh General Manager Branch Rickey wanted to cut his salary by $25,000 but Kiner protested claiming that he again led the major leagues in home runs. Rickey then returned one of his most famous quotes saying, ‘We can finish last without you.’ Kiner’s career came to an abrupt ending shortly thereafter and he moved into the radio booth for the next 40 years. After 10 years of playing major league baseball, he was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975. After his playing career, Kiner went into partnership with Max West and ran a sporting goods store on Main Street in Alhambra, where he could be seen talking and joking with customers. His bronze life-size image can be seen today at Almansor Park, a monument to a gifted local athlete who grew up to become what we always wanted to be, a fun-loving, home run hitting baseball player….

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