Ralph Kiner, A Pittsburgh Slugger who became a New York Hero

The month of February, with the pitchers and catchers reporting for spring training, signals the beginning of the 2014 baseball season. Sadly on February 6, 2014 baseball lost the legendary Ralph Kiner, who died at the age of 91. Ralph Kiner was loved by the people of Pittsburgh for his greatness as a baseball player. He was also beloved by the people of New York even though he never played a game in a New York uniform.

At the age of 23 in 1946, Ralph Kiner made his first appearance in the Major Leagues as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. As a hitter he can be described by the same word usedto describe “The Babe”, Jimmy Foxx and his protégé at Pittsburgh Hank Greenberg. That word is SLUGGER. Let’s look at his power statistics. In his rookie year he led the NL in home runs with 23. He holds the all-time record for most home runs hit in first five seasons with 215. He either tied for or led the NL in home runs from 1946-1952. In 1947, 1951, and 1952 he led the NL in slugging and on-base plus slugging. Even though his career lasted only 10 years he accumulated 369 home runs. When he retired in 1955 he ranked sixth on the career home run list. He was an All-Star for six years and homered in three straight games. He still ranks sixth all-time with a home run every 14.1 at-bats. He was often quoted saying “Home run hitters drive Cadillacs; singles hitters drive Fords.” He was inducted into the Hall of Fame with just one vote to spare in his 15th and final year of eligibility. The Pittsburgh Pirates retired his number 4 in 1987. He played for the Pirates from 1946 to 1953. When Branch Rickey became GM of Pittsburgh in 1950, a combative relationship with Kiner began. What upset Rickey were his demands each year for more money. In two of his years with the Pirates, although he led the league in HRs, the Pirates finished in last place. Kiner tells the story that after leading the league in home runs his contract for the following year was for less money. When he objected to the new contract, Rickey said, “We finished last with you, we can just as easily finish last without you.” Having no choice, Kiner signed the new contract. Boy, are things different for today’s baseball players. Kiner’s poor relationship with Rickey led to him being traded to the Cubs in 1953. His career was cut short because of back problems and ended at the age of 32 with Cleveland in 1955. During his playing days he was linked with such Hollywood starlets as Elizabeth Taylor and Janet Leigh. It helped that Bing Crosby was a part-owner of the Pirates.

However, it is not the slugger Kiner that I remember; I remember the Kiner that was the voice of the New York Mets for over 50 years. He along with Bob Murphy and Lindsey Nelson were the announcers for the inaugural season for the expansion New York Mets in 1962. Kiner was in the TV booth when the Mets won the 1969 WS. Later, he shared the TV booth with Tim McCarver, when the Mets won the 1986 WS. Kiner hosted a postgame show of player interviews, “Kiner’s Korner.” Like the “Yogisms” of Yogi Berra, Kiner will always be remembered for his “Kinerisms.” These are characterized by his misuse owords. Here are some of these Kinerisms. He called Mets catcher Gary Carter “Gary Cooper.” On Father’s Day, he said, “We wish you all a happy birthday.” I recall him saying, “If Casey Stengel was alive today he’d be spinning in his grave.” In praising centerfielder Garry Maddox, he said, “Two-thirds of the earth is covered by water; the other third is covered by Garry Maddox.In the last ten years of his life, even though stricken with Bell”s palsy, he still made guest appearances in the TV booth. Ralph Kiner had two great lives; one as a baseball player for the Pirates and the other as a TV announcer for the Mets. The people of Pittsburgh and New York will miss Ralph Kiner.

Original Comments:

Dennis said…

Another memory of this class act: Every ballplayer appearing on his show was required to wear their full uniform.

February 24, 2014 04:59:36

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