Ralph Kiner (1975)
Ralph Kiner was signed by the Pirates prior to 1941. But his dominant career was short-lived because of back issues in his early 30s. Had he not suffered these back injuries, Kiner could have had a good chance of going down in baseball history as one of the greatest power hitters in his career.
For the first seven years of Kiner’s career, he led the league in home runs. In that stretch, he went yard a total of 294 times, had a 159 OPS+, and over +40 bWAR. Kiner ended his MLB career with a .279/.398/.548 triple-slash, 149 OPS+, and 369 home runs in only 6256 career plate appearances.
Kiner, however, was never a good fielder. His career +2.14 range factor fell well short of the league average of +2.37. Total zone runs were created in his third to last season in Major League Baseball, and he had -29. Even though back problems started to settle in, Kiner was never considered a good fielder, even at his peak.
He was only 32 when he retired. But he had a chance of going down in history as the best power hitter ever. Kiner had 329 home runs through his age-30 season. He had more home runs through at age 31 than Babe Ruth did. Ruth did play his first handful of seasons as a pitcher, but he was only one year older than Kiner was in his rookie season when he started to play the field regularly instead of pitching.
Kiner still ended his career with an impressive 369 home runs. Only 23 players have hit 360+ dingers with a career OPS+ of 140 or greater. Unfortunately, because of his short career span, I have to knock him down a peg on today’s list.