Has there ever been a more golden, prolonged start to a baseball career than the seven-year run Ralph Kiner put together for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1946 through 1952?
Well, maybe …
I mean, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays did some amazing things early on.
And, more recently, Albert Pujols and Mike Trout certainly left fans breathless for long stretches of seasons.
But at a time before Sabermetrics, when counting stats counted for everything (with the exception of batting average), Kiner’s baseball beginning was as breathless as they came.
All the young man from Santa Rita, New Mexico (by way of Alhambra, California) did was reel off seven consecutive home run titles, beginning with his rookie campaign of 1946 and continuing right up through 1952, the same summer Mantle’s famed rookie card first saw the light of day.
Kiner was an absolute superstar, and he wanted to be paid as such, which eventually prompted Pirates general manager Branch Rickey to swap him to the Chicago Cubs in a ten-player deal partway through the 1953 season.
That year, Kiner ended up with a “measly” 35 dingers and fell to fifth in the National League ranks.
Would he have continued his streak with a bit more stability? Hard to say, but what we do know is that a back injury sapped Kiner’s power in 1954, limiting him to 22 dingers even though he played 147 games for the Cubbies.
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November 16, 1954: the Chicago Cubs sent Ralph Kiner to the Cleveland Indians to complete an earlier deal made on September 30, 1954. September 30, 1954: The Chicago Cubs sent a player to be named later to the Cleveland Indians for players to be named later and Sam Jones.
That’s a lot of PTBNL action for a guy who had been the cream of creaming baseballs just a couple years earlier.
Seems like the Cubs made the right call, though, as Kiner managed 18 home runs to go along with a .243 batting average in his one year with the Tribe before calling it a career at age 32.
And, while you might think that brief stint in Cleveland was too brief to yield any cardboard artifacts, it seems the trade was made early enough to allow at least a couple of card companies to get their Kiners in order — the future Hall of Famer and Mets announcer appeared with the Indians on his 1955 Bowman and All-American Sports Club Cards.
But maybe the issue that most aptly depicted Kiner’s once golden but recently diminished status in the game was the 1955 Golden Stamps stamp (so nice, we had to lick it twice).
Issued by Simon and Schuster before the 1955 season, these diminutive swaths of perforated diamond ephemera came in four books of 32 stamps each, covering the Brooklyn Dodgers, Milwaukee Braves, New York Giants … and the Cleveland Indians, presumably as a nod to the Tribe’s stellar 1954 season (at least until the World Series).
There in the Cleveland set, we find Kiner following through on an uppercut swing in an Indians uniform against a gorgeous blue sky that you have to assume is a Spring Training sky.
As it turns out it would be his last such sky as a player, which makes this stamp golden, indeed.
Wow! Wax of the Day
It’s not “wax” exactly, but this eBay lot does offer up an original 1955 Golden Stamps Cleveland Indians book with all the stamps in it …
You’ll find Ralph Kiner and all the rest inside, plus, what could be better than Larry Doby on the front cover?
Check out the full listing right here (affiliate link).