Thursday, February 6, 2014
Growing up in the Metropolitan area in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, two of the most legendary baseball players could be seen and/or heard on New York Yankees and New York Mets broadcasts. Both had Hall of Fame baseball careers and both could have had their picture next to the word character in the dictionary.
Sadly, Mets' announcer Ralph Kiner joined Yankees player and announcer Phil "Scooter" Rizzuto today in God's ballpark today. He was 91 years of age. Kiner was one of the top sluggers of his era, but most people will remember him for his work on New York Mets games and his post-game show, "Kiner's Korner".
The Alhambra (CA) High School graduate signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1941. After a little more than two years in the minor leagues, Kiner served as a Navy pilot during World War II. He flew reconnaissance missions in the South Pacific looking for enemy submarines and ships and left active duty in December, 1945.
One year later the 23-year old was in the Major Leagues with the Pirates and became their primary left fielder. Though he led the National League in strikeouts (109), the rookie topped the NL with 23 home runs and also drove in 81 runs. Then he went on a tremendous seven year tear that included a six year streak in which he led the National League in home runs (seven years straight overall). He topped the half-century mark twice and eclipsed 40 home runs three times.
From 1947-1949, Kiner averaged 125 RBI and 48 home runs. He finished in the top 10 in the NL MVP voting five straight seasons, and led the league in OPS ('47, '49, '51) and walks ('49, '51, '52) on three occasions. Unfortunately, the Pirates finished at or near the bottom of the NL in each of Kiner's best seasons.
About a quarter of the way into the 1953 season, he, Joe Garagiola and two others were dealt to the Chicago Cubs for six players and $150,000. Kiner adapted to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field and hit 28 home runs in 117 games the rest of the season as a Cubbie. (In addition to the seven he hit with Pittsburgh.)
Despite an OPS over .800 the next two seasons with the Cubs and Cleveland Indians, the 32-year old Kiner retired from baseball after 10 big league seasons. He never got the chance to play in the post-season, but the 7-time All-Star was selected by the Veterans Committee for induction in the baseball Hall of Fame in 1975.
After one year in the Chicago White Sox broadcast booth, Kiner joined the Mets crew and became a legend. He was a regular member of the Mets broadcast team until 2006, when at the age of 84, he reduced his schedule. While across town, Rizzuto had his "Holy Cow!", Kiner's trademark was his frequent malaprops.. He would often combine and scramble players name. One Father's Day he wished everyone a Happy Birthday.1 While fans of opponents criticized him, it made him more beloved among Mets fans
Kiner suffered from Bell's Palsy, a stroke like illness, in 1998 that left him with slurred speech. But the fan favorite carried on and continued to make cameo appearances after the 2006 season. The Mets honored him with a day at Shea Stadium in 2007.
Kiner was married four times and is survived by his five children and 12 grand children. My condolences go out to his family and friends.
1 - NY Daily News