Hall of Fame outfielder Ralph Kiner died Thursday at the age of 91. Kiner, who spent most of his 10-year career (1946-55) with the Pittsburgh Pirates, hit 369 home runs and still holds the record for most homers by a player in his first five seasons. He had been a popular Mets broadcaster since 1962.
For a player of his caliber from the era in which he played, Kiner’s baseball cards are significantly inexpensive compared to his peers. Sometimes it takes a player's death to realize how special some of their accomplishments were. After returning from service in World War II, Kiner became one of the most feared sluggers of the late 1940's and early 50's. Remarkably, he led the National League in home runs in each of his first seven seasons.
There are approximately 1600 cards of Kiner’s currently listed on eBay, but the most desirable is most likely his 1948 Bowman rookie card. A PSA 8 sold for $480 just before Christmas but lower grade examples can be found for well under $100. He also has a rookie card in the 1948 Leaf set.
Kiner, though, first appeared on baseball cards in 1947 when he was in the Tip Top Bread and Homogenized Bread issues. A PSA 3 Tip Top Kiner was available on eBay for $239. He was in the 1951 Topps Red Backs set, but was a Bowman exclusive in '52 before returning to both companies in '53. A PSA 8 '53 Topps Kiner sold for $460 last month, while the 'pure card' '53 Bowmans are also a hit with collectors.
He moved from the woeful Pirates to the Cubs in '53 during a contract dispute in which Pittsburgh General Manager Branch Rickey is said to have famously told him "We finished last with you, we can finish last without you."
One vintage set that has always been affordable for many collectors is 1955 Bowman, which was Kiner's last appearance on a card during his playing days as he was forced to retire at age 32 with a back injury. Collectors have been torn over whether they like the design of the set or not for years. It's one reason why the '55 Bowman set has sold for so much less than the Topps set from the same year. Kiner’s card is #197 in the set, and a PSA 4 just sold for only $7.99, making it extremely affordable for collectors.
Kiner appears on numerous modern era issues that salute the greats of the past. One of the more attractive issues is the 2004 Leaf Limited Lumberjacks Bat Autos. Kiner has a card in that set and one sold for $19 a few days ago. The card is limited and serial #’d to just 100. There are some other recent inserts that Kiner has signed as well.
He was almost better known as a broadcaster, working for many years as one of the baseball voices of the New York Mets on TV and radio. A willing autograph signer both during and after his big league career, autographed Kiner cards and memorabilia is easily attainable.
"Ralph dominated at the plate for a decade, but his contributions to our National Pastime spanned generations," said Commissioner Bud Selig in a statement released Thursday afternoon. "For 52 years, Ralph was a one-of-a-kind voice of the Mets, linking baseball's unparalleled history to New York's new National League franchise since its very inception."