What If Hank Greenberg Wasn't Old When He Joined the Pirates Ralph Kiner?

Harold FriendChief Writer ISeptember 1, 2011

The Ralph Kiner We Know and Love
The Ralph Kiner We Know and LoveJim McIsaac/Getty Images

Ralph Kiner and Hank Greenberg were teammates for only the 1947 season. The 24-year-old Kiner (yes, New York Mets fans, he was once only 24) was in his sophomore season while Greenberg, at the age of 36, was playing his last season.

Although they didn't set any records as teammates, the combination of Kiner and Greenberg was one of the most potent ever.

When his contract was sold by the Detroit Tigers to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Greenberg contemplated retiring, but in February 1947, he signed with the Pirates. It was reported that he would be paid in excess of his 1946 salary of $55,000.

Greenberg played 10 seasons with the Tigers but he missed significant time in 1936 due to injury. He spent the better part of almost four seasons defending freedom.

Greenberg batted .319/.412/.616. Only Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig and Albert Pujols have slugged more than .616.

The New York native, whom many consider the greatest Jewish player of all time, hit 331 home runs, but over a 162 game season, he averaged 38 home runs and 148 RBIs.

In 1938, he challenged Babe Ruth's single season home run record and finished with 58, which many consider to be, along with Jimmy Foxx' 58, the third highest total hit in a season.

Ralph Kiner was one of the greatest of all home run hitters. Starting with his rookie 1946 season through and including 1951, he led the National League in home runs for seven consecutive years.

In 1947, with Greenberg in the lineup, Kiner hit 51 home runs. He broke the 50 home run mark again in 1949 with 54.

For his career, which was cut short by injury, Kiner batted .279/.398/.548, which is outstanding, but which also points out Greenberg's greatness.

When Greenberg joined the Pirates, many thought that he would turn the team into a pennant contender. In 1946, the Pirates had finished in seventh place, 34 games behind the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. It never happened as the Pirates again finished seventh, winning one game less than they had without Greenberg.

During their only season together, Kiner hit 51 home runs, batted a career high .313 and led the league with a .639 slugging average. Greenberg hit 25 home runs but hit only .249/.408/.478.

The Society for American Research (SABR) concluded that Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig comprised the greatest slugging teammates in history, with Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews a close second. Others include Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.

It is wishful thinking but nice to wonder what Greenberg and Kiner would have accomplished as teammates if one were younger and the other older. They certainly would have wreaked havoc on many pitchers.

One interesting fact is that almost all of the great slugging teammates consisted of one left-handed hitter and one right-handed hitter, but only Ruth and Gehrig both hit left-handed and only Greenberg and Kiner batted right-handed.

It would have been nice if they had been teammates longer.

Reference:

Pirates sign greenberg for year as hank reconsiders retirement. (1947, Feb 22). New York Times (1923-Current File), pp. 9-9. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/107813676?accountid=46260

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