R.I.P. Ralph Kiner, Original Met

Kiner PiratesIt’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. Ralph with crewThey 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 RalphKiners Kornerchannels 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.

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19 comments

  1. Very nice tribute, Michael. My all-time favorite interviews on Kiner’s Korner were the ones with Tom Seaver, who had a great laugh, and with Dave Kingman, who had no laugh at all.

  2. Michael Geus says:

    Loved Seaver on Kiners Korner as well. There is so much more coverage now, but everything always comes off as prepared and scripted. On Kiners Korner you often felt like you were seeing these guys as they really were. It was great stuff.

  3. Alan K. says:

    Ralph was my favorite of the three. Great sense of humor. And as great as Nelson and Murphy were, I could never imagine them doing this..http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xq5dnNpEud4

  4. wkkortas says:

    My father was a Pirates fan growing up, and his Pirates were the Bucs of the Kiner years. When he died, my mother sent Ralph a letter saying how much he had meant to my father all those years when Kiner was really the only reason to follow the ballclub. He sent a warm, personal hand-written note in return, which she still has and cherishes. Ralph Kiner could and can do no wrong in my eyes. Frankly, I’m heartbroken.

  5. Raff says:

    Still remember Kiner telling the story of his kids painting a banner for Banner Day- Telling how the paint bled through to the floor or their upstairs room in their house. Telling how their banner was on the floor forever. Ralph Kiner was EVERY-MAN… He was so loveable and special. Like part of the family

  6. DD says:

    I loved Ralph’s candor. A few moments that come to mind: Ralph leading into a story that BEGINS with him and Lindsey Nelson sitting on a curb in San Francisco as dawn broke; I defy you to find another broadcaster, past or present, who would mention in passing a night of pub-crawling as a lead-in to a story. Then there was a time when McCarver asked Kiner who David Magadan’s opposite field swing reminded him of: “A lot of minor leaguers,” Kiner answered. Probably not what the front office wanted to hear.

    And so it went; Sid Fernandez broke off a beautiful curve that caught a good six inches of the plate, fooling both the batter and the umpire, who called it a Ball. “It missed, too slow.”

    Ralph would step on his tongue on occasion, but it was his willingness to speak his mind that set him apart. It’s what we love from Keith, too.

    Thanks for all those moments, Ralphie.

    • I remember him commenting about some young hitter, pretty sure it was Jay Payton, “He only has one swing.”

      • DD says:

        Ah! I thought of another one.

        One of those years, 1965 I believe, Willie Mays broke Kiner’s record for most home runs hit in a month. I was a crazy silly Mays fan at the time, so this stuff stuck with me.

        Someone asked Kiner his feelings at the passing of his name from the record book. “I don’t like it one damn bit,” Kiner said.

        Candor is so damn refreshing, you’d think more people would give it a try.

        • Michael Geus says:

          Yes, thanks DD, I remember that one too. As for candor, it’s been replaced by “spin” which is now used as a fancy word for lying. So acceptable to so many these days for reasons beyond me.

  7. Eraff says:

    The Seaver interviews were Great…the Cackling Laugh of Seaver, his youth juxtaposed with Kiner’s Steady disposition.

    Lot’s of Ballplayers and memories—Nolan Ryan Drawling, ” well…My Arm’s feelin’ real good Ralph”.

    Personally loved the Kingman appearances–Two Monster Sluggers—and Usually a few video reruns of MONSTROUS Kingman Shots!!! …. HR’s of that nature have not been seen outside of the HR Derby before or since.

  8. Michael Geus says:

    When the team lost, of course, Kiner would have to do the show with players from the visiting team. In all my life I never saw one of those episodes, which made my wonder how many viewers those versions got.

    I couldn’t have been the only fan who felt that way.

  9. Eraff says:

    Kiner interviewing Roberto Clemente… you missed some great stuff!

    Part of what eleveated the Broadcast, and continues, has been the Less HOMER-EEE aspect versus other broadcasts, especially other Baseball Broadcasts.

    The Met’s announcers have al;ways appeared to be big baseball people FIRST—That has changed a bit with Gary on the TV and Howie in the Radio Booth–they are Certainly “Homers”…but they are fairly tame as far as Homers go. The broadcasts have always been fairly even handed…… “THE UMPS” have never played a major role in the broadcast.

  10. IB says:

    Among a zillion wonderful, insightful comments by Kiner, 2 always stuck with me. These aren’t exact quotes.

    On catchers getting their fingers mauled: “You ever shake hands with an old catcher? It’s like shaking hands with a bag of peanuts.”
    On salary escalation: “In my day shortstops drove Chevys. Power hitters drove Cadillacs.”

    There’s never been a Met universe without Ralph.

  11. Eraff says:

    Seaver on Kiner’s Korner—1983—Lot’s of Old Video—This is a Treasure…. I paused it halfway thru just to post it here!

  12. Eraff says:

    Note—THE FANCY SCHMANCY Set!….. at some point in the late 60′s/early 70′s, the show looked like it was filmed around an old coffee table with Folding metal chairs in a Broom Closet—- I miss THAT “Set”.

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