Skip to content

The unforgettable two lives of Ralph Kiner

Feb 7, 2014, 7:00 AM EDT

140207-ralph-kiner AP

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Mike Napoli suffers dislocated left ring finger

    Apr 16, 2014, 12:03 AM EDT

    mike napoli getty Getty Images

    From Tim Britton of the Providence Journal comes word that Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli was removed from Tuesday night’s series-opener against the White Sox with a dislocation of his left ring finger. X-rays were negative, meaning he does not have a fracture.

  2. Josh Johnson to visit Dr. James Andrews … again

    Apr 15, 2014, 11:28 PM EDT

    josh johnson getty Getty Images

    Josh Johnson’s arm injury woes continue. According to Corey Brock of MLB.com, the right-handed starter is still being bothered by discomfort in his forearm and will be examined next week by Dr. James Andrews.

  3. Clayton Kershaw throws 26-pitch bullpen session

    Apr 15, 2014, 10:44 PM EDT

    clayton kershaw getty Getty Images

    Clayton Kershaw continued his recovery from a teres major muscle strain on Tuesday, throwing a bullpen session with improved fastball velocity.

  4. Jose Reyes is on track to be activated Friday

    Apr 15, 2014, 9:59 PM EDT

    jose reyes getty Getty Images

    Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes was pulled from the club’s season-opener with tightness in his left hamstring. He is expected to return to action this Friday.

  5. White Sox don “Boston Strong, Sox Together” shirts before game Tuesday vs. Red Sox

    Apr 15, 2014, 9:05 PM EDT

    konerko boston

    On the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings and with the Red Sox in town for a three-game series, the White Sox wore these “Boston Strong” shirts during pregame warmups Tuesday …

  6. Taijuan Walker scratched from rehab start at AAA Tacoma with more shoulder discomfort

    Apr 15, 2014, 8:23 PM EDT

    taijuan walker getty Getty Images

    Mariners top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker was scheduled to make one final rehab start on Tuesday at Triple-A Tacoma before joining the major league starting rotation. But that plan can now be torched.

  7. Curtis Granderson rocking “Thank You Jackie” cleats

    Apr 15, 2014, 7:41 PM EDT

    granderson cleats

    Curtis Granderson is not in the Mets’ starting lineup against the host Diamondbacks because of minor rib cage, forearm, and knee injuries that he sustained in a collision with the outfield wall on Monday, but he will be sporting these custom cleats on the bench …

  8. Wilson Ramos gets stitches removed from left hand

    Apr 15, 2014, 6:58 PM EDT

    wilson ramos getty Getty Images

    According to beat writer James Wagner of the Washington Post, Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos got the stitches removed from his surgically-repaired left hand on Tuesday afternoon and has now been cleared to begin basic rehab activities.

  9. Dustin Pedroia given cortisone injection for sore left wrist, aiming to return Wednesday

    Apr 15, 2014, 6:10 PM EDT

    dustin pedroia getty Getty Images

    Tests taken Monday on the sore left wrist of Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia ruled out any major structural damage. He is not in the starting lineup for Tuesday night’s series-opener against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, but ESPN’s Gordon Edes says Pedroia is aiming to return on Wednesday.

  10. One study: teams named after Indians are costing themselves millions by NOT changing their mascots

    Apr 15, 2014, 5:03 PM EDT

    Chief Wahoo guy

    I can’t vouch for the study, but I do know this much: politics gets this stuff in the news, but money is what will ultimately change things.

  11. Darnell McDonald joins Cubs front office two weeks after retiring

    Apr 15, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT

    darnell mcdonald getty Getty Images

    Earlier this month journeyman outfielder Darnell McDonald announced his retirement via Instagram and he’s already landed a good post-playing gig in the Cubs’ front office as a baseball operations assistant.

  12. The Braves own the Nationals. It must be true, Wikipedia said so.

    Apr 15, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    nationals logo patch

    If it’s on the Internet, it must be true.

  13. Indians activate Michael Bourn, demote Nyjer Morgan

    Apr 15, 2014, 3:21 PM EDT

    michael bourn getty Getty Images

    Michael Bourn is back from the disabled list after being sidelined since the middle of spring training with a hamstring injury and to make room for his return the Indians optioned Nyjer Morgan back to Triple-A.

  14. HBT Daily: Jackie Robinson Day and the decline of U.S.-born blacks in baseball

    Apr 15, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT

    Jackie Robinson

    There are fewer U.S.-born blacks playing baseball today than there were 20-30 years ago. But how many fewer, and what can be done about it?

  15. Shockingly, Bill Plashcke’s take on the L.A. Magazine story about Yasiel Puig misses the point

    Apr 15, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT

    Yasiel Puig AP AP

    To some people, Yasiel Puig will always be a problem rather than a person.

  16. Yankees place Francisco Cervelli on the 60-day disabled list

    Apr 15, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT

    Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees

    Francisco Cervelli injured his hamstring Sunday night and the Yankees have placed the backup catcher on the 60-day disabled list rather than the usual 15-day disabled list.

  17. Hank Aaron is getting vile racist hate mail in retaliation for pointing out that racism still exists

    Apr 15, 2014, 1:19 PM EDT

    Hank Aaron AP AP

    Thank God he didn’t suggest people still had the capacity for violence, or else the manner in which these idiots took offense might’ve been even worse.

  18. John Farrell to get fined for being critical of instant replay

    Apr 15, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT

    John Farrell AP

    MLB sends an odd message given how open they’ve been about instant replay being a work-in-progress.

  19. Mike Moustakas and the meaninglessness of spring training

    Apr 15, 2014, 12:48 PM EDT

    Mike Moustakas AP

    Every year lots of people act like spring training numbers mean something and every year they don’t. I guess there’s really no way of avoiding it, since everyone is so excited to have any kind of baseball to watch again after a long winter that they latch onto some random 20-game sample against varying degrees of competition.

Featured video

Jackie Robinson Day is bittersweet
Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. T. Wood (6487)
  2. J. Kubel (5777)
  3. I. Nova (4937)
  4. S. Kazmir (4577)
  5. M. Moore (3759)
  1. K. Uehara (3736)
  2. Z. Britton (3499)
  3. J. Johnson (3040)
  4. T. Walker (3020)
  5. J. Chavez (2992)