Ralph Kiner was born Oct. 27, 1922 in Santa Rita, N. M.
Raised in Alhambra, Cali. to Beatrice Grayson, a nurse during World War I in France and Ralph Macklin Kiner, a baker, Ralph Kiner sadly did not get to experience the boyhood rite of passage of playing catch with his father. Ralph Macklin Kiner passed away when his son was only 4-years-old. Kiner would find and fall in love with the game of baseball only through the encouragement of one of his neighbors.
As “AP” noted, these high school days were special: Kiner would hang around the Pacific Coast League’s Hollywood Stars and hobnob with the all-time greats of baseball such as Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb. He also hit a homerun off Satchel Paige during a barnstorming tour.
Upon graduation from Alhambra High, Kiner signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates and headed to the minor leagues where he would start his career in Albany. On Dec. 7, 1941, the 19-year-old Kiner was playing in a semi-pro game in Pasadena when the news struck that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Kiner noted:
“Upon hearing about the attack, we all immediately said the same thing: You can’t do that to this country! The next day, instead of playing baseball, I went and enlisted in the United States Navy. It happened that fast.”
He would not be called into service until early in the 1943 season, while playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Double-A affiliate.
Kiner served in the Navy as a fighter pilot, flying anti-submarine missions in the Pacific, initially as a navigator, in a time before there was radar.
Ralph Kiner was honorably discharged on Dec. 5, 1945, having barely played any baseball at all during his time of service. Kiner said:
“Though I rarely got on the field myself, I wasn’t jealous of those who did. Everyone who volunteered for the service possessed a singular focus on saving this country. I never felt like I was missing out on anything because I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. For all of us ballplayers in the service, our duty to our country was always more important than playing baseball.”
He acknowledged that other baseball greats like Ted Williams were not so lucky:
“The guys that stayed in the reserves got called back during Korea. That’s what happened to Ted Williams.
“Williams was called back. He had to serve time in the Marine Corps. He was one of the greatest hitters, if not the greatest hitter. He was more proud of being a Marine than being in the Hall of Fame.”
One gets the sense that though his Naval service reads as a footnote, this might be more attributable to modesty than a lack of valor.