“On Father’s Day, we again wish you all a happy birthday.”
“The reason the Mets have played so well at Shea this year is they have the best home record in baseball.”
“If Casey Stengel were alive today, he’d be spinning in his grave.”
Ralph Kiner was known as a true original in the broadcast booth, but don’t sleep on what he did as a player.
Kiner had his marginal minor league career interrupted by two years of service in the Navy during World War II and when he returned, he went straight to the Majors and began a decade-long assault on National League pitching unlike very few who have ever played the game.
The personable slugger led the National League in homers as a rookie in 1946 and didn’t relinquish his home run crown until 1953 when Eddie Mathews belted 47 homers in his second season. If you’re counting, that’s seven straight home run titles for Kiner, the final six of which led all of Major League Baseball. His seven straight home run titles broke Babe Ruth’s record of six.
Damn freaking impressive.
Kiner’s 162-game average over those seven seasons was 45-119-.281 with an OPS of .976 and his peak came in 1949.
There’s a great quote that’s often misattributed to Kiner that says, paraphrased, “Home run hitters drive Cadillacs, singles hitters drive Fords.” It was actually advice given to Kiner by teammate Fritz Ostermueller and a fitting quote it is.
As we focus on Kiner’s 1949 season in this installment of The Stud 400, we’ll most certainly be driving a Cadillac, so come on along for the ride.
Before we move on to this week’s edition of The Stud 400, here’s look at the last five entries as we count down the 400 greatest moments in Major League Baseball history:
275. Lee Elia Tirade (1983)
274. John Rocker Sports Illustrated profile (1999)
273. Roy Halladay dies (2017)
272. Greg Maddux earns 350th win (2008)
271. Cubs hold Ron Santo Day (1971)
And now, here’s Episode XXVII of The Stud 400, featuring artwork by Will O’Toole.
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Pete Alexander sets rookie win record with 28 (1911)
Ol’ Pete is a damn legend. Over his first seven seasons, he went 190-88 with a 2.12 ERA and five strikeout titles. He then served in the military in France during World War I. According to his SABR bio, Alexander suffered deafness in his left ear after serving at the front during relentless bombing. He also suffered muscle damage in his pitching arm firing the howitzers, was hit in the head with shrapnel and returned from the War shell-shocked and an epileptic. Incredibly, none of that derailed his Hall of Fame career, as he won another 183 games after he returned stateside. His historic rookie year is what lands him in this spot on The Stud 400. The 23-year-old Alexander went 28-13 with a 2.57 ERA while hurling 31 complete games and seven shutouts. He finished third in the National League MVP voting, just behind Christy Mathewson, who was a 30-year-old veteran at the time. Alexander’s rookie record for wins is one of the under-the-radar unbreakable records in baseball history.
Phillies outbid Yankees for Chuck Klein (1928)
For a five-year period, Klein’s 162-game average was 38-142-.359 with an OPS of 1.050. We don’t care that he was playing in the hitter-friendly Baker Bowl, those numbers are insane. The events that led Klein to the Phillies are what we’re focused on here. Klein was discovered playing on a semi-pro team and then became a minor leaguer with the Cardinals. The only problem was that it was discovered that the Cardinals actually had two minor league teams in the Central League, which was against the rules at the time. Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis discovered this and ordered the Cardinals to sell the team, in turn making all of their players free agents, including Klein. The Phillies outbid the Yankees for Klein’s services, which robbed the baseball world of a Ruth-Gehrig-Klein heart of the Yankees lineup. After his insane peak, Klein was traded to the Cubs and never reached that level of production again. Klein’s career arc is odd and it eventually it landed him in the Hall of Fame, 36 years after he last played.
Nick Adenhardt dies (2009)
Coming off a 100-win 2008 season, the Angels had high expectations for 2009. They opened the season with a home series against the A’s and after splitting the first two games, the Angels fell 6-4 to the A’s after giving up six runs over the final two innings. The game had been turned over to the pen after six shutout innings from promising rookie Nick Adenhardt who had just made his fourth Major League start. Hours later, the sting of a lost baseball game was put in perspective when the shocking news came out that Adenhardt and two others were killed in a car accident after the game when a drunk driver plowed into the car in which he was a passenger. Adenhardt was just 22 years old at the time of his death.
Ralph Kiner hits 54 home runs (1949)
Kiner broke Babe Ruth’s record of most consecutive seasons leading the league in home runs when he outpaced Gil Hodges by five homers in 1952. It extended his streak to seven seasons, which also happened to be the first seven seasons of his career. Kiner’s 1949 season was particularly amazing and was highlighted by his 54 home runs. Kiner fell two home runs short of Hack Wilson’s National League record, but it was a historic total nonetheless. The 54 home runs was the most any player hit between Wilson’s 56 in 1930 and the 1998 home run chase when Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire both topped it. In fact, the only “clean” National League players to pass Kiner’s mark of 54 homers in a season over the past 73 years are Luis Gonzalez, who hit 57 in 2001 and Ryan Howard, who hit 58 in 2006.
Joe Musgrove fires first Padres no-hitter (2021)
Since the 1960s, a running curiosity in the baseball world was that the Mets and Padres had never thrown a no-hitter. Johan Santana crossed that off the list for the Mets in 2012, but the Padres drought lasted almost a decade longer. Musgrove finally turned the trick on April 9, 2021 in what was just his second start for the franchise. Musgrove, who grew up a Padres fan in El Cajon, had never even pitched a complete game before and had 103 pitches going into the ninth inning. After the game, Musgrove remarked, “I had no intentions of coming out of that game.” In an era when no-hitter and perfect game attempts are generally disregarded by the analytics crowd as frivolous, it was a refreshing take to see a pitcher realize how special the moment was. Even by the standards of a no-hitter, Musgrove was particularly dominant against the Rangers. He struck out 10 and allowed just one runner to reach base; Joey Gallo, who was hit by a pitch. The Padres were the last franchise to throw a no-hitter and it only took them 53 years.
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Stay tuned for next week’s episode of The Stud 400 as we wax our facial hair with Rollie and the gang and get tossed with an angry Hall of Famer. Polish up your cummerbund and get your bow tie out of storage because we’re going to the classiest wedding in the next installment of The Stud 400 as well.