Ralph Kiner passed away in his home, surrounded by his family, on Thursday, February 6th, 2014. He was 91 years old. He was a Hall of Fame baseball player, showcasing power not seen since Babe Ruth. A back injury shortened his career to just ten years, where he finished with 369 home runs playing for the Pirates, Cubs and Indians.
When the Mets franchise was born in 1962, Ralph Kiner was brought into the Mets broadcast booth with legends Bob Murphy and Lindsey Nelson. He brought insight from a player’s prospective, wit, humor, and an unparalleled storytelling element to the Mets booth. He introduced Kiners Korner, a post game interview and recap show which players, both for the Mets and the opponents, was considered an honor and privilege to be called upon as a guest. One fan I spoke to once said, “It was the baseball equivalent of a stand up comic being asked to sit by Johnny Carson. You can’t expect to be on, but you dream of it.”
As time went on so his skills behind the mic became as impressive as his skills at the plate. He could do play by play, he could do radio or television, he could work with so many partners. Ralph Kiner started a tradition of former players in the Mets booth including Tom Seaver, Fran Healy, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling.
Most importantly, Ralph brought his love of the game of baseball. He brought it to every broadcast I and every Mets fan listened to. He loved baseball’s history, but was not bitter towards changes in today’s game vs his heyday. If you listen to his opinions on most broadcasts, he seemed to take relish at how much the game has grown under his watch. For that is what Ralph Kiner did, he watched baseball. Once he couldn’t play he watched the games, he watched the Mets and the opponents, the changes in rules, the new strategies, new training regiments, new nuances.
Ralph had this wonderful ability to not compare the present to the past as many ex-players do, but to outline the progression or see the similarities. All the while not taking away from the events of the game being played, and all the while keeping the audience entertained with his stories and humor.
I had the chance to speak with Kevin Burkhardt of SNY about a month ago. We must have spoke for about 10 minutes on Ralph Kiner alone, if not more. I will not speak for Kevin verbatim, but he told me stories of Ralph, his first meeting, his first time working with him, his appearances last season, and the fact that he still watched every Mets game and kept track of the team. Ralph Kiner may have played for Pittsburgh, and his number may be retired there, but he’s a Met legend. I do not care that he never wore the uniform, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone else who does.
All my life i’ve watched Mets baseball. All my life the soundtrack of Mets baseball was Ralph Kiner, even if that soundtrack wasn’t getting played as often anymore. I always felt extra excited at a Mets broadcast when he was in the booth. It is difficult accepting that his voice is silenced. There will no longer be a new story, an incite, an observation that only he could bring. We won’t get to hear his thoughts on the future players to wear a Mets uniform. He will not calling a part of the next Mets championship.
What Ralph Kiner has given this franchise is wonderful memories, and an example to follow for class and attitude. He gave the Mets and its fans 51 years of his time, energy, and emotion.
For that all I can say is:
Thank you Ralph Kiner. Rest in Peace.