Homer Happy: Willie Kirkland
The career of Willie Kirkland lived and died by the home run. During his nine-year major league career, Kirkland was a much-in-demand (and frequently traded) slugger who batted only a combined .248 from 1959-1962 … when he averaged 23 home runs and 75 RBIs per season.
Kirkland was signed by the New York Giants in 1953. He made his major league debut with San Francisco in 1958, batting .258 with 14 home runs and 56 RBIs.
He hit 22 home runs in 1959 and 21 homers in 1960, and finished fifth in the National League with 10 triples. Following the 1960 season, Kirkland and pitcher Johnny Antonelli were traded to the Cleveland Indians for Harvey Kuenn.
Kirkland had a career-best season with the Tribe in 1961. He batted .259 with 27 home runs and 95 RBIs (ninth most in the American League). Kirkland hit 21 home runs with 70 runs batted in for 1962 despite hitting only .200, and was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Al Smith after the 1963 season.
Over the next three seasons, Kirkland became a part-time player and pinch-hitter for the Orioles and the Washington Senators, hitting 14 home runs with 54 RBIs for Washington in 1965. He retired after nine major league seasons with a career batting average of .240 and with 148 home runs.