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From BR Bullpen
Willie Charles Kirkland
- Bats Left, Throws Right
- Height 6' 1", Weight 206 lb.
 Biographical Information
"Every year I went to spring training it was almost like I'd never been to spring training before. I'd work at my game. And work. And work." - Willie Kirkland
Willie Kirkland played nine seasons in the big leagues, appearing in at least 98 games each year, and also played 6 seasons in Japan.
Willie was signed by the New York Giants in 1953. He led the Mountain States League in RBI in 1953. He was one of the top home run hitters in the Northern League in 1954, leading the league in batting average. In 1955 in the Western League, Kirkland led the league with 40 homers. He hit 37 home runs in the American Association in 1956. He led the PCL in home runs in 1957. The book The Santurce Crabbers indicates that Kirkland also played for them in Puerto Rico in the winter in the 1950's. Willie also served in the United States Army in 1957 before joining the majors. My father Richard Cavalieri served with him and they played ball on the Military team.
Kirkland's 1958 Topps baseball card (see above) lists him as "3rd B. - O.F.", but in his nine years in the majors, Kirkland played only outfield, usually in right but with over 90 games each in center and left. Third baseman Jim Davenport also made his debut in 1958, which may explain why Kirkland never played any third.
In 1959 and 1960 he hit over 20 home runs each year, holding on to his regular job in the outfield even as youngsters Orlando Cepeda, Leon Wagner, and Matty Alou looked for playing time in the outfield.
After the 1960 season he and Johnny Antonelli were traded to the Cleveland Indians for Harvey Kuenn. Willie continued to hit over 20 homers per year in 1961 and 1962 with Cleveland, but his average dropped to .200 in 1962.
As the second dead-ball era kicked in and averages around the leagues plummeted, Kirkland's averages plummeted too. From 1962 to the end of his major league career, he never hit higher than .231, but then the American League, where he played, was usually hitting under .250 also. Still, he continued to show some power.
In 1967 Kirkland played for Hawaii, becoming a big star there and hitting 34 home runs. He then moved to Hanshin in Japan for six seasons, continuing to display power with a modest batting average.
One of the players on the list of the ten most similar, Vince DiMaggio, seems an apt comparison given the good power, the focus on defense (although DiMaggio had stronger range factors) and the modest batting averages.
 Related Sites
There is a section on Willie Kirkland in The Original San Francisco Giants.