Home > BASEBALL, CHANGE:, PASSING, SPORTS > BASEBALL, PASSING: Ralph Kiner October 27, 1922-February 6, 2014

BASEBALL, PASSING: Ralph Kiner October 27, 1922-February 6, 2014

Ralph Kiner

passed away peacefully in Rancho Mirage, CA on February 6, 2014 surrounded by his family.

The National American Baseball Hall of Fame member and long-time Mets broadcaster was 91.

Ralph Kiner evokes my youth and adolescence as few people can.

In September of 1967 my parents and brother Peter moved from Merrick, on Long Island’s South Shore to Port Washington, on  Long Island’s North Shore.  While I was less than enthused over our move I was cheered by the prospect of being able to watch the Mets on WOR-9 TV.

(The reception on our trusty 12″ black and white GE consisted of “snow” and “flipping” two visual disturbances that today’s cable generation would find amusing.)

While I had long been an enthusiastic hoarder of baseball cards and had attended 2 Mets games at Shea Stadium watching the Mets on TV was a blessing only occasionally available when I visited David Rubin whose home had a directional antenna and a color TV that dominated the living room of his split level home on Lincoln Blvd. in Merrick.

Ralph Kiner then entered my mind’s life.  Mr. Kiner was part of the troika that had broadcast the Mets since Day 1 in 1962. The trio consisted of Bob Murphy of the “happy recap”, Lindsay Nelson whose fluorescent sports jackets went for naught on our black and white TV and Ralph Kiner.

Mom remarked that she knew Mr. Kiner’s name from his time with the Pittsburgh Pirates when Mom still resided in New Kensington, PA.  Given my Mom’s minimal interest in baseball I figured that Mr. Kiner must have been some sort of big deal so I looked Mr. Kiner’s stats up in the GROSSET & DUNLAP SPORTS ENCYCLOPEDIA: BASEBALL, the publication that preceded the MACMILLAN BASEBALL ENCYCLOPEDIA.

“…some sort of big deal…”, indeed.  Ralph Kiner had lead the national League in HRs his first 7 years in MLB and lead all of MLB for 6 years!

Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron and Barry Bonds have all worn the crown of the career HR leader but no one has dominated the most important seasonal statistic like Ralph Kiner.

Finally in 1975 during his final year of eligibility with the BBWAA he was elected to the Hall of Fame. baseball-reference.com

If any Hall of Fame player can be said to be “underrated” then Ralph Kiner is that player.

Properly impressed I began my 12 years in Port Washington listening and watching Ralph Kiner.  Kiner, Lindsay Nelson and Bob Murphy rotated between TV and radio with 2 men on TV and the odd man on radio handling the play-by-play alone.

Ralph Kiner brought a wealth of knowledge to the game.  Long before sabermetrics had been coined he reminded fans that being caught stealing was really 2 outs as both the base-runner and the out  were lost.

“You have to make it 2 out of 3 for it to be effective.  You don’t see runs scored in an inning where there is a caught stealing”, he instructed this eager acolyte.

Moneyball was 35 years away but Mr. Kiner always urged the Mets to “Get a good pitch to hit,” long before On Base Percentage became a secular religion.

It is worth noteworthy that Mr. Kiner totaled 100 BBs or better from 1948-1953 and lead all of MLB with a .452 OBP and a .627 Slugging Percentage in 1951. baseball-reference.com

As Bud Selig pointed out Mr. Kiner “was ahead of his time” 2/7/2014 MLB.com as a Moneyball practitioner long before Billy Beane was born.

Ralph Kiner was a living repository of baseball history.  Upon the inaugural season of the San Diego Padres in 1969 he informed fans that the “original” San Diego Padres had been a Pacific Coast League/PCL  AAA farm team of the Cleveland Indians and had been an “open” unaffiliated team from 52-56.

A few years down the line when the Toronto Blue Jays debuted in 1977 Mr. Kiner educated his audience again offering that he had played for the Toronto Maple Leafs Pirate farm team in the International Association in 1943 where he played against the Brooklyn dodgers Montreal royals AAA team.

Oh yes, the ‘International’ moniker was because “Canada was where Toronto and Montreal were located.”

Not only did Ralph Kiner know the game he made KINERS KORNER  a name, what would now be called “branding”, twice.

In 1947 the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Detroit Tiger slugger Hank Greenberg.  In order to boost Greenberg’s production the Left field corner was moved in from 365′ to 330′ to accommodate a bullpen.

(Forbes Field, built in 1919, preceded the era of relief pitching and relief hurlers warmed up on the sidelines.)

While Greenberg only hit 25 HRs in 1947 Kiner slugged 51 HRs.  Following Greenberg’s 1947 retirement the area was known as “Kiner’s Korner”.

This earned him a 10th place finish in the NL MVP voting! baseball-reference.com

However Mr. KMiner was able to console himself with dating Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner.  In his time Mr. Kiner was a celebrity who nowadays would be seen on TMZ!

Lest one think that Mr. Kiner was overly favored by Forbes Field’s dimensions it is worth noting that only 210 of Kiner’s 369 HRs were hit at home, hardly a bloated figure.

(Kiner’s Korner was restored to its 365′ distance following the 1953 season).

http://www.andrew.clem.com/Baseball/forbesField.html

Ralph Kiner’s career was shortened by chronic back maladies which lead to his retirement from the Cleveland Indians in 1955 at age 32.

After announcing for the White Sox in 1961 Kiner joined the New York Mets for their 1962 historic maiden voyage of ineptitude where the Mets “earned” a 40-120 W-L .250 record that has stood until this day.

However, Kiner’s enthusiasm knew no foul territory.

Among the classics:

“Harrelson to Milan to Kranepool, 6-4-3 for a double play and the  Mets have gotten 1 out.”

“Here at the big Shea the Mets are playing with the home field disadvantage.”

However Ralph’s bon mots were delivered with such naked honesty that this youngster couldn’t help but smile.

Mr. Kiner was serious about the game.  All too often older broadcasters, Tim McCarver comes to mind, deprecate current players in favor of those who played during their time.

“I think one of the most difficult things for anyone who’s played baseball is to accept the fact that maybe the players today are playing the game just as well as ever.”

http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/trades.php?p-kinerra01

If Mr. Kiner was bitter about waiting 15 years to be elected to the Hall of Fame he never let it show. baseball-reference.com

Nice? Yes.  Sugar coated? No.  While Mr. Kiner never scapegoated players with rejoinders such as “He must be the worst leftfielder in the National League”. Mr. Kiner would politely note when a throw was off-line.  The truth gracefully stated was Mr. Kiner’s stock in trade.

KINERS KORNER was the post-game show named after the Forbes Field home run bullpen.  It ran anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes and began with a booming rendition of “Flag of Victory Polka” by Ira Ironstrings and his Marching Polka Band.

Per BASEBALL-REFERENCE.COM Current Events: Ralph Kiner R.I.P. posted by WEB 2/6/2014

(Can you imagine polka being used for sports music nowadays? These days an EDM mix seems to be au courant.)

The 21st. Century MLB “press conference” wasn’t even static in anyone’s wavelength.

Modern fans have players and managers in front of a logo-festooned backdrop, AMERICA RUNS ON DUNKIN’, looming large over Dustin Pedrois’s munchkinesque physique.

Mr. Kiner would have the hero of the game as a guest if the Mets won and occasionally an opposing player if the Mets weren’t victorious.  Ralph spoke without notes referring occasionally to a scorecard and wafting inquiries to players.  In the era long before ESPN and the 24/7 Internet fishbowl the sweaty “It was a hanging curve and I was able to get around on it,” truisms rang true as players relaxed around Kiner’s genial manner.

Tom Seaver was a frequent guest, and winner, and he would speak about pitch sequences and release points educating the viewer.

Ralph would listen respectfully.

Ralph Kiner knew when to be quiet.  This knowledge is largely lost among current sportscasters even as technology makes non-stop commentary redundant at best.

My most vivid memory of KINER KORNER was during a visit from Mets catcher Jerry Grote.   Ralph asked him how he kept hitters behind in the count.  Grote got into a catcher’s crouch and demonstrated his technique of rising up using his quadriceps to make high pitches appear to be “framed” by his chest protector.

Grote then demonstrated his technique of turning his catcher’s  mitt counter clockwise on inside pitches to a righty.

“The key is to keep you glove inside of your elbow, moving the glove to the middle of the chest protector and ‘pull’ the ball into the strike zone.  If I can do that once an inning that’s 9 strikes per game and they are playing an 8 inning game when we are playing 9 innings and that’s how you win baseball games.”

Ralph smiled and nodded.  It is a measure of Mr. Kiner’s baseball acumen that a player shared this tip of his trade on television.

To this day I always watch how a catcher handles the inside pitch to a righty batter.

Mr. Kiner left his mark on my baseball mind.

In 1985 I had access to the Mets after 8 years away from Long island.  Much had transpired as cable TV, Pete Gammons, Bill James and many other factors had  changed the baseball sportscape.  With the Mets on basic cable here in Boston  I anticipated Ralph Kiner with a mix of anticipation and trepidation.  After all, I and so many others had progressed greatly, hadn’t we?

I was surprised and delighted to find Mr. Kiner’s jovial authoritativeness as relevant as ever.

I last heard Mr. Kiner in 2003 when Bob Murphy broadcast the last game of the 2003 season.  The game was accompanied by the on screen graphics used during the 1973 “You Gotta Believe” Mets pennant winning season.  (The Mets lost the series to the Oakland A’s.  Why didn’t Yogi Berra start George Stone in Game 6?  Ah, but that is a topic for another tirade).

Mr. Kiner had contracted Bell’s Palsy in 1996 and had worked a limited schedule of 12-15 home games per season.

Mr. Murphy was to pass in 2004 and I had a foreshadowing of the losses that were to come as Mr. Murphy and Mr. Kiner reminisced about their being with the Mets for 42 years.  (Lindsay Nelson left the Mets in 1979 and passed in 1995).

The repartee between Mr. Murphy and Mr. Kiner was bemused and genial without the contrived hugs and posing of today’s ESPNsters.

Ralph Kiner’s passing along with his New York contemporary Bill Mazer https://stevegallanter.wordpress.com BILL MAZER 1920-2013 remind me of a time when my mind was storing thoughts.  Mr. Kiner’s genial accuracy signified.

Bit by byte, childhood recedes.

stevegallanter@yahoo.com

https://stevegallanter.wordpress.com

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