Feb 7, 2014, 7:00 AM EDT
There are countless Mets fans who probably have no idea just how good a hitter Ralph Kiner was in his prime. In a way, there can be no greater tribute. Ralph Kiner died on Thursday. He was 91 years old. He was a broadcaster for the New York Mets for 53 years. And he rarely let on that there was a time when he was one of the great sluggers in the history of baseball.
Kiner lived two lives, which is one more than most of us get to live. He got to be the great ballplayer who drove Cadillacs because, as he is often quoted saying, “Home run hitters drive Cadillacs; singles hitters drive Fords.” And he got to be a broadcaster who was so beloved that these malapropisms were not only endured but celebrated.
“On Father’s Day,” he said, “we wish you all a happy birthday!”
Funny, I remember listening that day and I recall him saying, “It’s Father’s Day, so to you all you fathers out there, happy birthday!” The point’s the same. Ralph Kiner’s mistakes as a broadcaster made him more delightful, not less.
“That’s the great thing about baseball,” he said. “You never know what’s going on.”
He was a contentious baseball player, one of the most argued about of his time. Branch Rickey was probably the big reason. Rickey became the Pittsburgh Pirates general manager in 1950 and thoroughly despised Kiner. He would always say it was because of Kiner’s multiple flaws as a player — he couldn’t run, he had no arm, he couldn’t field and so on. Still, Rickey’s enmity toward Kiner had to be based on things more personal, because he was unrelenting.
“Kiner has so many other weaknesses,” Rickey once said, “that if you had eight Ralph Kiners on an American Association team, it would finish last.”
This is even nastier than Rickey’s more famous “We finished last with you, we can finish last without you*” barb when Kiner dared ask for a raise after leading the league in home runs again. Rickey was saying that a team of Ralph Kiners would finish last in the minor leagues. The minor leagues! This is the Ralph Kiner, understand, who from 1946 to 1952 hit 100 more home runs than any other player in baseball and drove in more runs as well, the list of trailers obviously including Ted William and Stan Musial and Joe DiMaggio and other Hall of Famers.
*During his stretch with Pittsburgh, the Pirates finished last twice. Both years, Kiner led the league in home runs and walked at least 110 times. In both seasons, the Pirates’ pitching staff had an ERA a half-run worse than any other team in the league.
Kiner’s insistence on getting paid probably has something to do with Rickey’s spitefulness — Rickey never did look too kindly on ballplayers who wanted to get paid for their services — and it’s likely that Kiner was also a scapegoat for Rickey’s inability to turn around Pittsburgh’s fortunes. Still, it was a nasty little fight, and it seeped into other places. As Bill James has written, “a lot of people didn’t like Kiner.” He led the league in home run seven straight years, something even Babe Ruth never did. He was utterly brilliant at getting on base — his lifetime .398 on-base percentage is the same as Joe DiMaggio’s. Still, it took Kiner 15 years to get elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
So that was his first life.
His second was as the New York Mets’ announcer. He began when the team began in 1962 — he would always say that the Mets hired him because they looked at his resume and saw that he had plenty of losing experience. The Mets lost 120 that first year and Kiner was part of the broadcast team that brought home the news. As an announcer, he was funny and charming and a little bit befuddled and every now and again he would say something beautiful.
“Two thirds of the earth is covered in water,” he once said after a great catch by Phillies center fielder Garry Maddox. “The other third is covered by (Garry) Maddox.”
We spend a lot of time with the baseball announcers of our favorite baseball teams. We check in with them daily to find out the score, to learn the news, to check out the weather. My best friend in high school was a huge Mets fan, and he had the first satellite dish I’d ever seen, and nightly we’d find Mets games and Ralph Kiner. We heard more Ralph Kiner than we heard any teacher. We’d always stick around for his postgame show, Kiner’s Korner, (both with Ks) because it could be priceless television. You probably have heard the famous Kiner’s Korner interview with the Mets’ catcher, Choo Choo Coleman.
“What’s your wife’s name, and what is she like?” Kiner asked.
“Mrs Coleman,” Choo Choo growled. “And she likes me, bub.”
We would watch Kiner’s Korner nightly in the hope of seeing something equally hilarious. Often we did. In my mind, I heard the Father’s Day line, and I recall Kiner saying, “If Casey Stengel was alive today he’d be spinning in his grave,” and I even seem to remember him advising us that “solo home runs usually come with no men on base.” Maybe I did hear those calls. Maybe my memory just wants me to think I did. I remember falling back on that carpet in front of my buddy’s television and laughing so hard I literally was rolling on the floor laughing.
What I don’t remember was Kiner even hinting that he once hit the longest home runs in baseball, that he was Killebrew before Killebrew, McGwire before McGwire, Thome before Thome. He would call New York Mets’ home runs like they were amazing to him, like he could not even believe that someone had the power to do such a thing.
You might know, the year Pittsburgh traded Ralph Kiner in 1953, they did indeed finish last without him. What you might not know is that Pittsburgh fans organized a boycott in protest. Ralph Kiner never did talk about how much they loved him.
May 24, 2015, 5:18 PM EDT
Gonzales pitched well in his latest outing for Memphis, striking out seven and allowing only one run over six innings, and he was almost certain to be the next man up for the St. Louis rotation.
May 24, 2015, 4:04 PM EDT
Varvaro is now on the disabled list with the Red Sox and won’t pitch again this season. The 30-year-old had an impressive 2.63 ERA, 1.079 WHIP, and 50/13 K/BB ratio in 54 2/3 innings last summer with the Braves.
May 24, 2015, 3:17 PM EDT
The game before the game.
May 24, 2015, 2:31 PM EDT
San Francisco acquired Casey McGehee from the Marlins in December to effectively replace Pablo Sandoval at third base, but the 32-year-old woke up Sunday with a brutal .200/.254/.282 batting line and he had tallied just nine RBI in 35 games.
May 24, 2015, 2:08 PM EDT
Steven Souza appeared to have a clear path to the plate — at least the outside of the plate — yet went right for Stephen Vogt with his elbow raised.
May 24, 2015, 1:25 PM EDT
Kyle Lobstein made the Tigers’ starting rotation out of spring training with Justin Verlander (triceps) ticketed for the disabled list. But that spot will now go to right-hander Buck Farmer because Lobstein needs a disabled list stint of his own.
May 24, 2015, 12:32 PM EDT
Victorino has appeared in just 50 of a possible 205 games over the last two seasons due to a variety of leg and back problems.
May 24, 2015, 11:45 AM EDT
Really cool feature here from MLB Network on Mitch Harris’ unique path from the United States Naval Academy to a bullpen job with the NL Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals …
May 24, 2015, 10:59 AM EDT
Gomes, 27, batted .278/.313/.472 with 21 home runs and 74 RBI in 135 games last season for the Tribe, earning his first Silver Slugger Award. Cleveland (17-23) could use a big offensive boost right about now.
May 24, 2015, 10:04 AM EDT
Miami defeated Baltimore to snap an eight-game losing streak late Saturday night on a Martin Prado walkoff RBI single in the bottom of the 13th inning.
May 24, 2015, 9:21 AM EDT
Rizzo also hit a three-run double in the fifth, finishing the game with a career-high-tying six RBI.
May 24, 2015, 8:37 AM EDT
Your box scores and recaps from Saturday …
May 23, 2015, 11:25 PM EDT
Joey Votto made an unorthodox throw to help turn a double play against the Indians on Saturday.
May 23, 2015, 10:47 PM EDT
Brian Matusz is the second lefty reliever to be ejected for having a foreign substance on his arm.
May 23, 2015, 10:40 PM EDT
The Marlins were considering upgrading their bullpen with Jonathan Papelbon.
May 23, 2015, 9:58 PM EDT
Josh Hamilton will be added to the Rangers’ roster on Monday.
May 23, 2015, 9:25 PM EDT
Paul Konerko was honored before Saturday’s Twins/White Sox game as his number 14 was retired.
May 23, 2015, 8:35 PM EDT
Yasmani Grandal was hit by a backswing on Friday and will spend at least a week on the bench to recuperate.
May 23, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT
A pair of previously injured and aging first basemen have performed well as baseball’s second month nears its conclusion.
May 23, 2015, 6:59 PM EDT
The Nationals are trying to get into the heads of the Phillies by playing soft music during batting practice at Nationals Park.
- Giants designate Casey McGehee for assignment 15
- Yan Gomes returns to the Indians’ lineup after missing six weeks with a sprained right knee 0
- Marlins jump in Clevelander pool after snapping losing streak 18
- Settling the Score: Saturday’s results 17
- Brian Matusz was ejected for having a foreign substance on his arm 37
- Josh Hamilton will join the Rangers on Monday 6
- UPDATE: David Wright diagnosed with spinal stenosis 23
- Settling the Score: Friday’s results 39
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights (133)
- Bryce Harper on Marvin Hudson ejection: “I don’t think 40,000 people came to watch him ump” (132)
- Bryce Harper ejected for second time in a week (122)
- GM Dan Jennings to be named the Marlins new manager. And it’s a terrible idea. (111)
- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights (101)