Born on this date in 1922 was one of the greatest sluggers in baseball history, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Ralph Kiner. The Pirates signed Kiner as an amateur free agent in 1941, but partly due to the war, he did not make his major league debut until the 1946 season. He would lead the National League in home runs that season with a surprisingly low total of just 23, which would’ve ranked him sixth in the American League. The following season he left no doubt that his rookie year was not a fluke, as he hit 51 homers. Over the next five seasons, he would prove again and again he was the NL home run king, starting his career with seven straight home run crowns. He had 294 homers at that point, an average of 42 per year to begin his career.
In 1953, both Kiner and the Pirates started off slow. On June 3rd, after beating the Cubs to move to 15-28 on the season, the two teams worked out a major deal sending Kiner (who had just seven homers) and three players to Chicago in exchange for six players and $150,000 coming to the Pirates. The trade worked out well in the sense than Kiner was nearing the end of his career due to back problems. He hit just 68 more homers after the trade. Kiner was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1975. He ranks second in Pirates history with his 301 homers and .567 slugging percentage. He also holds the team record for single season slugging, homers and walks. He turns 91 today.
Also born on this date in 1962 was Pirates pitcher Mike Dunne, who burst upon the scene in 1987 going 13-6 as a rookie for the Pirates despite not being called up from the minors until early June. He was part of a big trade in Pirates recent history when they sent Tony Pena to the Cardinals in exchange for Andy Van Slyke, Dunne and Mike Lavalliere. Dunne made his debut on June 5th and lost his first start due in part to some very shaky control, walking 6 batters. His control wasn’t much better his next two starts but not only did he win them despite 11 combined walks, he pitched complete games in each of them. His fourth career start he put everything together, walking none in an 8-2 complete game victory over the Cubs. He had pitched three straight complete games at that point and all four of his starts came on the road.
Dunne had an up and down beginning to his career, he lost three straight games following the three complete games then won three straight giving him a decision in each of his first ten major league starts. He was 7-5 on August 20th then proceeded to to go 6-1 the rest of the way. He finished a distant 2nd in the Rookie of the Year voting to Benito Santiago. In 1988 he posted just a 7-11 record in 28 starts and he walked more batters than he struck out(88 to 70). The following year the Pirates traded him, after just three starts, to the Mariners in a 5 player deal. He played parts of two more seasons in the majors finishing with a 25-30 career record and he ended his career in the minors in 2004.
Finally, on this date in 1924, the Pirates and Chicago Cubs completed a six player trade with three players from each team involved. I briefly mentioned it on October 25th because pitcher Vic Aldridge was involved. Along with Aldridge, the Pirates also received infielder George Grantham and first baseman Al Niehaus in exchange for pitcher Wilbur Cooper, shortstop Rabbit Maranville and first baseman Charlie Grimm.
Cooper is the Pirates all-time winningest pitcher but he had very little left in the tank when he was traded. He went just 14-19 the next two seasons and despite having 216 major league wins, he pitched another 5 seasons in the minors. Maranville had three very poor seasons following the trade but returned to form from 1928-1933 to help cement his place in the Hall of Fame. Grimm was the only real loss to the Pirates since Maranville likely would’ve never lasted those three poor seasons had he not been traded. Grimm put in 12 seasons in Chicago with a .296 average and 696 RBI’s. He also managed the team to three NL pennants over his 14 years at the helm in Chicago
On the Pirates side Aldridge was a big part of the two World Series teams, 1925 and 1927. He won 15 games each year and another two games in the 1927 series. Niehaus lasted less than a month before his was traded for relief pitcher Tom Sheehan, who pitched well during the 1925 season. Grantham had a very underappreciated career for the Pirates as you almost never hear his name mentioned. In seven seasons, he batted over .300 each year finishing with a .315 average. He also drew 488 walks for a .410 on base percentage while driving in 508 runs. His .901 OPS while with the Pirates ranks him 5th in team history.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.