It’s a gloomy day here in New York, dirty mushy snow is everwhere you look. And now a short time ago came some sad news for Mets fans, the passing of Ralph Kiner at age 91. However, although life is short, Ralph Kiner sure lived a full one.
I’m sure most of you were too young to see Ralph play, I certainly am. That leaves me with nothing but numbers to summarize his playing career, but what numbers they are! Talk about Ralph always begins with the home runs, and the numbers explain that, 369 home runs in only ten years in the major leagues (Ralphs career was cut short at age 32 due to a back injury.) But look at his OBP, a lifetime OBP of .398, with seasons of .417, .432, and .452 included. Three years out of the ten he played his OPS was over 1.000. Despite this, Ralph somehow was never able to be voted MVP. In 1951 Kiner’s statline included that .452 OBP, 42 HRs, 109 RBIs, and 137 walks. That line got him 10th place in the 1951 MVP voting as he played in an era where many MVP voters felt nobody could be too valuable on a bad team, and Ralph’s teams certainly were. The one thing that eluded Ralph in his career was winning, he spent his playing years surrounded by very little talent. The 1948 Pirates, who came in fourth place in an eight team NL, was the most successful team he played on. His teams came in last in 1947, 1950, and 1952, and seventh in 1946, 1951, 1953, and 1954. Looking back now that does not diminish what he accomplished, it makes it all the more remarkable.
Of course none of that has anything to do with the Mets, which is where Kiner’s second remarkable career comes in. After retiring as a player Ralph stayed close to the game and he became a broadcaster for the Chicago White Sox in 1961. One year later in 1962 as the Mets were born they needed an initial broadcast team and chose Kiner to work with announcers Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy. Thus began a relationship with the team that continued to this day.
Now I, like many, are great fans of the Mets current announcing crew, Gary, Keith, and Ron. They are fantastic and entertaining. The fact is they carry on a legacy started by Lindsay, Ralph, and Bob. From the first year through the Mets first two World Series appearances they were our announcing team on both radio and TV, and they set a high bar for all who have followed. Ralph was a major part of that.
Nelson was a nuts and bolts professional, and Murphy as all Mets fans know, could paint a picture with words. But games go long, and sometimes they go badly (check the pre-1969 records) and a good storyteller was often needed to get you through the game. That’s where Ralph came in, making that look easy, he had many a tale and told them effortlessly. Just like hitting a baseball that skill looks easier than it is.
Of course 1962 also was the start of “Kiners Korner’, a postgame show where Ralph would interview the stars from that nights game and also air highlights. In a world with 24 hour channels devoted to highlights and interviews this does not seem like much, but it was a different world and “Kiners Korner” was a rare glimpse of both of these things. Always at ease with himself, Ralph knew an interview was about the person he was interviewing, and he had a knack for getting players to show their true personalities. The show had a light and fun air to it, and Kiner was the perfect host.
Ralph Kiner, who never played, managed, or coached for the Mets became a Mets treasure over the years. He was the last bridge to the very beginning of the franchise, and will be missed by this lifelong fan.
May he rest in peace.