KINER’S LAST KORNER
By the time I realized who Ralph Kiner was he was playing his final season as a Chicago Cub, against my beloved Brooklyn Dodgers, before playing his final season in Major League Baseball a year later with the Cleveland Indians. I missed his glory years with the Pittsburgh Pirates, when he established himself as one of the most prolific home run hitters of the post war era.
In his first seven seasons, all in Pittsburgh, Kiner either led the National League in home runs, or tied for the league lead. In a career that spanned just 10 seasons he hit an amazing 369 nine home runs. In 1975 he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
It was nearly a decade after his retirement that I really got to know Ralph Kiner, when I first started listening to Mets games on WHN-Storer radio in New York. From day one Kiner was part of the broadcast team for the Mets, teamed with Bob Murphy and the legendary Lindsey Nelson. Kiner was never overwhelmed or overshadowed sharing a booth with two seasoned broadcasters.
Particularly in the laid back summer game, with it’s pastoral pace, it’s not enough for a broadcast team to be informative. To be successful a broadcast crew also must be entertaining, and Kiner, with his folksy demeanor and frequently mixed metaphors, always natural, never forced, was certainly that. In a landscape of baseball jingo-ism dominated by former Yankee catcher Yogi Berra, Mets fans were never at a loss for Kiner-isms to disect over the hot stove.
“Solo homers usually come with no one on base”, Kiner once observed, and we all nodded in agreement. It made sense to us.
“All of his saves have come in relief appearances”, he once informed us, and I, for one, was at a loss to argue with the logic.
He even had a great appreciation for others known for their fractured syntax, once, when the Mets were demonstrating their, then, well known baseball ineptitude, invoking the name and wisdom of their original manager. “If Casey Stengal were alive today”, he said of the man who first made the nonsense of baseball-ese all the rage, “He’d be spinning in his grave.”
We all gave Kiner a pass. Of course Case’d be spinning in his grave, and on hearing that, he probably was.
Kiner, who’s own fame translated into a life among movie stars, even dating Elizabeth Taylor and Marylin Monroe, once famously got his dual existences mixed up when he introduced Mets catcher Gary Carter for an at bat as “Gary Cooper.”
For years the centerpiece of the WOR-TV Mets post game show was “Kiners Korner”, with Ralph effortlessly demonstrating his natural feel for his craft, interviewing guests, frequently opposing players, considering how often the Mets lost in those early days, and offering his insights into the game. For Mets fans it was “Can’t-miss T-V” long before some phony baloney advertising exec coined the phrase.
Though he never played for the Mets, in 1984 he was inducted into their team hall of fame. There’s not a Mets fan alive to whom Ralph Kiner isn’t a cherished member of the organization. In 1988 he was diagnosed with Bells Palsy, which reduced his broadcast schedule, but did not end it, as he broadcast Mets games as recently as last season. He passed away yesterday at age 91.
Ralph Kiner lived two glorious lives. I only caught the tail end of one, thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the other. Few figures in Major League Baseball lore will be missed more.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.