Today my friends we gather again to rejoice in the lesson’s we can learn from our glorious baseball history here in Pittsburgh.
Ralph Kiner’s Letter to Brooklyn 5-09 – And then Ralph said unto them, Homerun hitters drive Cadillacs, singles hitters drive Fords; The Cadillacs are down at the end of the bat.
The 1950 Pittsburgh Pirates would finish the season with a paltry 57-96 record. Nobody would confuse them with a contender, but they had one thing uncommon in the game at the time, a charismatic, power hitting, war hero, blue collar superstar. On this day though against the Brooklyn Dodgers, they roared back after falling behind 5-0 in the third to score ten unanswered and bring another victory to the Forbes Field cathedral.
Mr. Kiner drove in seven, yes, seven of those runs. You see just on May 6, he hit a grand slam, so when he stepped to the plate in the eighth inning with the bases juiced, there was no way the baseball gods would allow it again. For good measure he had already gone deep earlier in the contest.
Boom! There it went, Ralph Kiner cleared the bases, with the Bucs locked in a tie with Brooklyn he stepped up to the plate and with one mighty swing he put them up 4. It makes total sense if you think about it, you know when you pitch to Kiner, when the bases are loaded, and you have to. This was Kiner’s 5th year in MLB and the beginning of the fifth year in a row he would win the homerun race. He’d later tack on another two just in case anyone wasn’t paying attention.
When he joined the Pirates in 1946, he was a couple seasons later than expected as a 23-year-old man. For those that don’t know, Ralph had to cut his rise to the Pirates short as duty called. He joined the Navy and acquired his pilots license logging over 12,000 air miles. Let’s just say he didn’t have time to practice what he hoped to return to after the war.
So many of this generation, the greatest generation truly understood dropping everything for duty, for honor, for the country. For their families and all of ours too. He was my grandfather’s favorite player, and I remember him talking to me more about Ralph than about himself. He too answered the bell and restored freedom to the world and went right back to his old life. Successfully.
Nobody said it was easy or fair that these men and countless others sacrificed their youth or in Ralph’s case the early prime of his Hall of Fame career. It wasn’t, and it surely wasn’t easy wondering how or why they were the ones who made it back.
That’s how it was in this era. An already bruised nation still experiencing the hiccups and bumps of implementing new social protections and finding away through the global depression the world was gripped in now faced another enemy only this time it had a face. For the second time in the century America sent our best and brightest to help the peace-loving allies in Europe and Asia.
People still returned with trauma, just like today, we’ve just softened the language a bit. What we call PTSD was simply referred to as shell shock. It must have felt like nothing would ever be the same, many of these folks were old enough to remember the roaring 20’s, they must have assumed nothing would every feel normal again.
But on this day, Ralph Kiner proved to everyone they were right, it would never be normal again, no, Ralph told us right here, it would be better than normal. A new normal.
Friends we too will fight through this troubled time and we’ll look back on it from future years to celebrate those who fought this on the front lines and remember how awkward and scary the whole thing was. We’ll mourn our lost and find our way through the damage we absorbed. More importantly we’ll rise from this, we’ll rise up and be better than ever. Maybe not at first, but through the prism of history we will realize this is where we as a people put our foot in the ground and fought through this, together.
Resist the urge to assign blame to individuals, or politicians with everything you’ve got. There will be time for that once the real common enemy is gone, for now, we truly need to be “All in this together”. When it feels like things will never be right again, think about what men like Ralph Kiner did on the way to his chosen path. He was a force of nature, so were so many in his generation. Let us learn from their example, they paid so much to provide it after all.