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Friday, February 7, 2014

Ralph Kiner: did he make the Hall of Fame because his home park was adulterated?

Ralph Kiner 1953 Bowman card
What helps a home run hitter more: performance enhancing drugs (PED), including steroids, or moving in the fence?

Ralph Kiner, Slugger Who Became a Voice of the Mets, Dies at 91
February 6, 2014  The New York Times

The Baseball Hall of Fame, which inducted him in 1975, announced the death...

genial, well-informed ...

Cut short by a back injury, Kiner’s career on the field was among the most remarkable in baseball history, featuring a concentrated display of power exhibited by few other sluggers...

During his first seven seasons, all with Pittsburgh, Kiner led the National League in home runs every year, still a record streak for either league. (Twice he tied with Johnny Mize, once with Hank Sauer.)...

From 1947 to 1951, he had home run totals of 51, 40, 54, 47 and 42, becoming only the second player in history — Babe Ruth was the first — to hit at least 40 home runs in five consecutive seasons, and the third (after Ruth and Jimmie Foxx) to hit 100 over two consecutive seasons...

From 1932 (correction: 1930), when Hack Wilson hit 56 homers for the Chicago Cubs, to baseball’s steroid era in the 1990s, Kiner’s 54 homers in 1949 was the highest single-season total for a National Leaguer; Henry Aaron never matched him, nor did Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Mike Schmidt or Willie McCovey, all Hall of Famers with more than 500 career homers...

he was finally elected to the Hall of Fame, in 1975, his 15th and final year of eligibility, he sneaked in with 273 votes out of a possible 362, two more than needed for election...

the Pirates acquired the great slugger Hank Greenberg from the Detroit Tigers, and Greenberg became Kiner’s roommate and mentor ...

to accommodate Greenberg, the Pirates had modified Forbes Field, moving in the left field fence to bring it in line with other ballparks and installing the bullpens behind it, an area that came to be called Greenberg Gardens ... rechristened Kiner’s Korner

I heard Ralph Kiner speak here in White Plains, NY a few years ago.  I asked him about early plans in 1942 to move the St. Louis Browns to California.  He was knowledgeable and patient.

The obituary quoted above is pretty good, although there are some factual errors.  It also ignores the extent to which Kiner benefited from his team moving in the fence in left field, his pull field as a right handed batter.


After the Pirates acquired slugger Hank Greenberg they moved the left field in 30 feet to 330 feet after World War II. This area became known as Greenberg Gardens and later Kiner's Korner


Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss "hated cheap home runs and vowed he'd have none in his park", which led him to design a large playing field for Forbes Field.[2] The original distances to the outfield fence in left, center, and right field were 360 feet (110 m), 462 feet (141 m) and 376 feet (115 m), respectively.[2]

In 1925, the right field grandstand was extended into the corner and into fair territory, reducing the foul line distance from 376 feet (115 m) to 300 feet (91 m).[19] Due to the reduced distance, Dreyfuss erected a 28-foot (8.5 m) high screen to limit home runs.[20] ...

the stadium was one of the most difficult to hit over-the-fence home runs...

In 1947, well after Dreyfuss' death, and upon the arrival of veteran slugger Hank Greenberg, the bullpens were moved from foul territory to the base of the scoreboard in left field and were fenced in, cutting 30 feet (9.1 m) from the left field area, from 365 feet (111 m) to 335 feet (102 m) down the line and 406 feet (124 m) to 376 feet (115 m) in left-center field.[20] These were not abnormal major league outfield distances, but the obvious attempt to take advantage of Greenberg's bat led the media to dub the area "Greenberg Gardens". Greenberg retired after the season, but by then Ralph Kiner was an established slugger with the Pirates, and the bullpen was redubbed "Kiner's Korner"...  the field was restored to its previous configuration in time for the 1954 season.

Kiner was traded to the Chicago Cubs June 4, 1953.

50 homers home/road splits. How many would they hit without their home park?  Tuesday, January 21, 2014

using Road HR Rate as base: [Rate H-R]/[AB/HRr].  Negative is the percent that the batter was more productive at home.  Positive is the percent that the batter was less productive on the road...

Jimmie Foxx is the big loser and Brady Anderson the big winner...

Greenberg (dropped) 20 homers ... in 1938: 58 to 38 (35%).  Greenberg played his home games in Tiger Stadium...

Kiner loses both his 50 HR seasons and Hack Wilson plummets from 56 to 45.  Even Ruth loses: both his 54 HR seasons:
1920 54 to 45; Polo Grounds
1928 54 to 49; Yankee Stadium

Polo Grounds:
- Ruth dropped both 50 HR seasons there:
    1920 54 to 45
    1921 59 to 51
- Mays increased: 51 to 60
- Mize dropped: 51 to 43 ...

Camden Yards Baltimore, both bat lefty:
Anderson 50 to 64
Davis 53 to 48

Greenberg in 1938 in Detroit had the second highest home run (HR) rate percent better at home: 51.7%; Foxx in Boston also in 1938 had the biggest home park advantage: 59.8%.

1947 when they tied with 51 HR they were better at home:
Mize 28.5%
Kiner 20.1%

Kiner in 1949 when he hit 54 HR: 20.2% better at home.

Conversely, Brady Anderson in 1996 when he hit 50 HR had a much better HR rate on the road, 75.6% better.

Donn Clendenon: could he have hit 50 homers in 1966 playing only on the road? What about all batters with at least 25 road homers but fewer than 50?  Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Donn Clendenon hit 25 home runs (HR) on the road in 1966 playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  By then the short fence in left field that boosted Ralph Kiner to two 50 HR seasons in 1947 and 1949 had been removed...

Now I will examine batters who hit at least 25 HR on the road but did not hit 50 HR for the season to determine whether playing only on the road they could have reached 50 HR...

Clendenon homered every 90.7 at bats (AB) at home, every 12 AB on the road: 87 percent better on road.  Percent of home HR: 11.

Clendenon hit only three HR at home for a total of 28, the lowest of any of the 59 seasons with at least 25 HR on the road but fewer than 50 HR for the season.

At least 25 road homers but fewer than 50. Could they have hit 50 homers playing only on the road?  Thursday, January 30, 2014

48 different players, including both named Frank Thomas, hit at least 25 HR on the road but fewer than 50 HR in a season; it was done 59 times.  Eight players who did it it multiple times ...

29 of the 59 hit at least ten more homers on the road ...

Donn Clendenon 1966 Pittsburgh 3/25 -22 most; highest HR rate better on road: 87%

Frank Thomas 1958 Pittsburgh 9/26 -17 tied for fourth; third highest HR rate better on road:most; 63%

Two of the top five above were right handed batters in Pittsburgh: Clendenon and the first Frank Thomas, who held the Met record for homers in a season with 34 from 1962 through 1974...

12 of 59 had no more than 33% of homers at home (HR%h), Clendenon lowest at 11% ... Frank Thomas 1958 third at 26% ...

When the road HR rate is applied to total AB 39 of 59 increase to at least 50 HR led by Larry Walker in 1997 with Colorado zooming from 49 to 62, the only batter to reach 60.  Donn Clendenon was not among the 39 but he improved from 28 to 48...

Both players named Frank Thomas got to 50, the elder from 35 in 1958, the younger from 40 in 1995.

1947278289.932872312.485655111.081947-2.55-20.43%short fence
1948278318.97277930.785554013.881948-21.81-70.86%short fence
1949265299.142842511.365495410.171949-2.22-19.56%short fence
19502782710.302692013.455474711.641950-3.15-23.45%short fence
19512602610.002711616.945314212.641951-6.94-40.96%short fence
19522582211.732581517.205163713.951952-5.47-31.82%short fence
19532941915.472681616.755623516.061953-1.28-7.62%74% AB Cubs

AB/HR: lower is better.  Kiner is better at home in 1946 by 25% before the fence is moved in.  Kiner is less advantaged at home in three of the next four years.  However, the differences are small and he has huge advantages in 1948 and 1951 and pretty big in 1952.  In Wrigley Field in Chicago in 74% of 1953 his home advantage drops considerably and in all of 1955 Kiner has a 48% advantage on the ROAD.

Ralph Kiner was a one dimensional player with a short career.  His one dimension was aided by his team moving the fences closer to home late.

What helps a home run hitter more: performance enhancing drugs (PED), including steroids, or moving in the fence?  For Ralph Kiner my guess is that it's about even.  If PED allow a batter to hit the ball about 30 feet farther, then at least at home Kiner had that benefit without even having to lift weights.

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