June 25, 1950: Ralph Kiner hits for cycle with 8 RBIs in Pirates' win over Dodgers
“Pitching is called 70 per cent of baseball.”1 The Pittsburgh Pirates knocked 20 hits off 70 percent of the Brooklyn pitching staff, beating the Dodgers in an old-fashioned slugfest, 16-11, before 20,196 fans during a Sunday afternoon tilt at Ebbets Field. Ralph Kiner carried his team to victory, hitting for the and driving in eight runs. This was the final game of a three-game series. The Dodgers entered the game with a record of 34-22, while the Pirates started 14½ games behind Brooklyn, in seventh place at 21-38. In the loss, the “Brooks did some heavy hitting, too, but their efforts were dwarfed and their lead over the second-place Phils was cut to half a game.”2
Pirates’ rookie righty Vern Law started and faced Dodgers’ 1949 National League Rookie of the Year Don Newcombe on the mound. From the outset, Newcombe, a 6-foot-4-inch right-hander, was not sharp, allowing a double to Stan Rojek to start the game. Ted Beard then walked, and Kiner followed with a home run, a line drive into the bleachers. Quickly, Newcombe and the Dodgers were down 3-0 before recording an out. The Brooklyn squad responded quickly. With two outs in the bottom of the first, Duke Snider walked, Jackie Robinson singled, and Carl Furillo doubled both home.
In the Pirates’ third, Kiner singled with two outs. Gus Bell also singled, and Danny Murtaugh plated two runs with a double to center. Given the circumstances, Dodgers manager Burt Shotton did not hesitate to use his bullpen, since he had used just one pitcher on Friday, though he followed that with four hurlers on Saturday against the Bucs. He made the call for Joe Hatten to relieve Newcombe, and the southpaw Hatten stemmed the tide, keeping the score at 5-2.
Brooklyn tied the game in the fifth as it appeared that Law had “tired in the terrific heat.”3 Pee Wee Reese bunted safely down the first-base line. George Shuba pinch-hit for Hatten and scorched a double to right, sending Reese to third. Billy Cox walked to load the bases, and Pittsburgh manager Billy Meyer called upon Cliff Chambers to end the threat. Lefty Chambers uncorked a wild pitch, bringing Reese home. Fly balls by Jim Russell and Snider created two outs, but also brought in two runs, to tie the game, 5-5.
Ralph Branca became the third Dodgers pitcher at the start of the sixth inning. After retiring the Pirates in order, the right-handed veteran ran into trouble in the seventh, walking Rojek and Beard to start the inning. Kiner, who had struck out in the fifth, again came to bat with two runners aboard. He hit a double to center, earning two more RBIs, and Branca was done. Shotton replaced him with right-hander Al Epperly, who had last pitched in the major leagues in 1938.4 Epperly didn’t fare much better than his predecessors, yielding a run-producing double to Bell, walking Murtaugh, and serving up another RBI double to Dale Coogan. Bell scored, but Furillo fielded Coogan’s safety and fired the ball to Robinson, whose relay cut down Murtaugh at the plate. Just like that, the Pirates had scored four more times and had a 9-5 advantage. The Dodgers did get back one run, when Snider tripled in the bottom of the seventh and scored on Furillo’s fly, but Pittsburgh struck again in the eighth. Beard hit his third home run of the season, a two-run shot, after Rojek’s leadoff single, to bump Pittsburgh to an 11-6 lead. Epperly had “an undistinguished Flatbush debut, yielding three runs, four hits, and two walks in one inning.”5 That brought Erv Palica into the game, and the right-hander had to face the hot-hitting Kiner. Pittsburgh’s left fielder laced a triple to right, completing the cycle, but the inning ended with Kiner still standing on third.
Brooklyn did not give up. Reese doubled with one out in the bottom of the eighth. Tommy Brown pinch-hit for Palica and tripled to right, bringing in Reese. Cox’s fly ball brought home Brown, and after eight innings, the Pirates’ lead had been pared to 11-8.
Billy Loes entered the game in the top of the ninth as the sixth Dodgers hurler; however, Loes never recorded an out. Pete Castiglione singled to left and Ray Mueller bunted toward the mound and legged it out. Chambers loaded the bases with a single to left. Shotton had seen enough and motioned once again to his bullpen. After Rex Barney (another right-hander) entered, Rojek greeted him with a two-run single to center field, but Chambers was thrown out at third. Barney then walked Beard. Kiner entered the batter’s box and sent a Barney offering into the lower left-field stands for a three-run home run, his second round-tripper of the game. As a result, the Pirates had added five more runs, making the tally 16-8.
Even with an eight-run lead in the ninth inning, Pittsburgh skipper Meyer made a pitching change. Chambers was touched for singles by Snider and Robinson, so Bill Macdonald came on in relief. He managed to get one out before Gil Hodges blasted a three-run home run, his eighth of the season, to make it 16-11. Roy Campanella flied out and Reese struck out to end the game.
For the game, Kiner was 5-for-6, with four runs scored and eight runs batted in. This was the only time in the 1950 season that Kiner had more than three hits in a game. His 14 total bases in a single game rank second on the Pirates’ all-time list, behind only Willie Stargell, who had 15 against the Chicago Cubs on May 22, 1968. Kiner’s average jumped 15 points to .287 with this feat. Earlier in the season, on May 9, Kiner had also hit two home runs in a contest against the Dodgers, and he had driven in seven runs in that game. Rojek was 4-for-5 with four runs scored, and he had led off in four innings, reaching base three times. Bell also was productive with a 3-for-5 day. The first four batters in Pittsburgh’s lineup scored 14 of the Pirates’ 16 runs.
In the offensive outburst, the Pirates “walloped three homers, five doubles, and a triple, while the Brooks made one round-tripper, four doubles, and two triples.”6 The three-game series between the Dodgers and the Pirates was, simply put, a display of power. Together, the Pirates and Dodgers scored 76 runs. Brooklyn scored 45 runs and had to settle for one victory, one suspended game, and one defeat. Tommy Holmes of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote, “It’s plain that right now all batters are stepping in swinging from the handle and batting with all kinds of confidence, while the pitchers, poor wretches, work like terrorized fatalists.”7 Brooklyn had defeated the Dodgers on Friday, June 23, 15-3. Saturday night’s game was suspended, because of the 11:59 curfew, with Brooklyn leading 19-12 with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning, just after Jackie Robinson had hit a grand slam and Furillo had singled. It was completed on August 1 with new umpires; during the interval from game suspension to resumption, Coogan and Earl Turner had left the Pirates, so defensive substitutions had to be inserted (the Dodgers eventually won, 21-12).8 Sunday’s game was 16-11, in favor of the Pirates.
The two home runs gave Kiner 18 “official” round-trippers for the season. He had hit one the night before (also off Barney), but the home run did not count until the game was completed in August. Even so, with 18 homers and 54 RBIs, he was leading the National League in both categories.9
Kiner’s cycle was the 16th to date in Pittsburgh franchise history. He also added a second home run to his cycle. It came a little over a year after Wally Westlake accomplished the feat for the second time and almost one year before Gus Bell. For four consecutive seasons, a member of the Pirates had hit for the cycle: Westlake (July 30, 1948, and June 14, 1949), Kiner (June 25, 1950), and Bell (June 4, 1951).
This article appears in "Moments of Joy and Heartbreak: 66 Significant Episodes in the History of the Pittsburgh Pirates" (SABR, 2018), edited by Jorge Iber and Bill Nowlin. To read more stories from this book at the SABR Games Project, click here.
1 Tommy Holmes, “Dodger Pitchers Battered as Slugfest Engagement With Pirates Comes to End,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 26, 1950: 11.
2 Louis Effrat, “Pirates Overpower Dodgers With 20 Blows; Reds Top Giants Twice,” New York Times, June 26, 1950: 32.
3 Jack Hernon, “Kiner’s Big Bat Subdues Bums, 16-11,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 26, 1950: 16.
4 Al Epperly pitched nine games for the Chicago Cubs in 1938, with a record of 2-0, and he did not return to the big leagues until 1950, making his debut in this game. For the season, he pitched in five games (all in relief) and did not record a decision. His final major-league game was on July 7, 1950.
9 Kiner finished the 1950 season with 47 home runs, leading the National League for the fifth consecutive year. He continued to be the NL’s home-run king through 1952, a string of seven straight seasons. His 118 RBIs in 1950 were 8 behind Philadelphia’s Del Ennis.