Oct 24, 2016

Original Mets Brodcaster & Hall of Fame Slugger: Ralph Kiner (1962-2011)

Ralph McPherran Kiner was born October 27, 1922 in Santa Rita, New Mexico. He was raised by his mother in Alhambra, California.

The six foot two, right hand hitting left fielder / first baseman was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1941.

Kiner led the Eastern league in HRs (14) in 1942 & was promoted to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1943. But he was soon drafted into the Military where he served three years in the Navy Air Corps. during World War II.

He made his MLB debut in 1946 at age 23, and began an incredible career. In his rookie year, he went on to lead the NL in HRs with 23. The next year he became a slugging star, belting 51 HRs, the second most the NL had ever seen up to that point.

In August of 1947, he set a record of hitting seven HRs over a four game span. He broke that record in September, as he hit eight HRs over a four game span. Kiner would set a record for either leading the league or tying for the league lead, in HRs, for seven straight years.

Upon his passing in 2014, the great broadcaster Vin Scully said he remembered more than anything the height of Kiners HRs.

The short porch in right field at Forbes Field was specifically built for his team mate / friend; Hank Greenberg, but it was utilized more by Kiner. That area soon became known as the original "Kiner's Korner".

In that time he would  hit over 40 HRs for five straight years (1947-1951). Kiner would drive in over 100 runs five straight seasons, (1947-1951). In 1952 he drove in 87 runs & followed up with another 100 plus RBI season in 1953. 

During his Pirate years he would lead the league in walks three times (1949 / 1951-1952). He would lead the NL in RBIs in 1949 with the sixth place Pirates. He led the league in games played twice, runs scored & on base % once.

In that 1949 season, he had his best year; leading the league in HRs (54), just two shy of Hack Wilson's NL record. That total is still the fifth most HRs in a single season NL history.

Kiner became the first player in NL history to have back to back fifty plus HR seasons. He drove in 127 runs, drew 117 walks, scored 116 runs, hit 19 doubles and batted a career high .310, with a .658 slugging percentage.

With all the obscurity of playing in Pittsburgh, those numbers only put him fourth in the MVP voting.

He was selected to six straight All Star games from 1948-1953, where he holds the MLB record of eight HRs in four consecutive multi-homer games.

In those years he played for manager Billy Meyer & his hitting coach was the great Hall of Famer; Honus Wagner.

Kiner was the youngest player to reach the 300 HR mark & hit 277 in his first 1000 MLB games, a mark that stood for over fifty years.

Ralph was a star on a poor Pirates team who had some famous owners. Bing Crosby was part of a Hollywood group who owned the Pirates.

Kiner with Actress Janet Leigh
With those connections Ralph managed to date a young Elizabeth Taylor & Janet Leigh.  Other stories link him to romatic ties with Eva Gardner, Jane Russell & Marilyn Monroe. Outside of Hollywood, he was married to tennis star of the 1950's; Nancy Chaffe. He also became very close friends with Olympic swimmer  / turned actress; Ester Williams.

Kiner with a Young Elizabeth Taylor
The Kiners were neighbors with Lucille Ball & Desi Arnez and their children grew up together.

Ralph moved to Palm Springs in the 1950’s and it became a haven for Hollywood stars. Many became friends with Ralph. He played in all the Palm Springs golf classics with the likes of Crosby, Arnez, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Paul Hogan, Frank Sinatra and many others.

Ralph was also a pioneer in developing the Players’ Union in its early stages and setting up pension plans. Although many of these attempts fell short but laid the ground work for the strong Players Union of today.

Kiner & His Wife
Tennis Star  Nancy Chaffe
Each season Kiner had salary disputes with Pirate general manager Branch Rickey, who reportedly told him, " We finished eighth with you, we can finish eighth without you."
Then on June 4, 1953, it all came to an end in Pittsburgh, as Kiner was sent to the Chicago Cubs as part of a ten player trade. During the contract disputes over the years, Rickey had criticized Kiner negatively giving him nothing but bad press. The Pirates Manager; Billy Meyer & the team tried to stop the trade but it didn't work.

For the rest of the 1953 season in Wrigley Field, he hit 28 HRs totaling 35 for the season. From there on, he began to suffer from back issues and it affected his power swing. He hit 22 HRs in 1954 in 147 games played with the back problems.

Quotes: Hall of Fame Pitcher Warren Spahn- "He can wipe out your lead with just one swing of the bat".

He was traded to the Cleveland Indians after their 1954 Championship season and ended his career there after one season. The bad back forced him to retire at the young age of 32.
If he had been healthy and continued to play, there is a good chance Kiner may have been the all time HR champ or at least in the top few.

In his short ten year career he hit 369 HRs (74th all time), putting him at sixth all time at the time of his retirement.

Stan Musial, Yogi Berra & Ralph Kiner
He had 1019 RBIs, with 1471 hits & a .279 batting average. Ralph drew 1011 walks (111th all time) with a .398 on base %.

He put up a .548 slugging % with 216 doubles & 39 triples in 1472 games played.

Broadcasting career: After his playing days, Kiner became GM for the old San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League. He would also do interviews at the Bing Crosby golf tournaments. In 1960 he got a job doing post game interviews with his old Pirates team.

In 1961, Kiner had his first season in broadcasting, working with the Chicago White Sox and his old pal Hank Greenburg.

Kiner at Shea Stadium
The next year he landed the job as the ex-baseball player, announcing games for the expansion New York Mets on WOR-TV in New York.

His partners were the already established Lindsey Nelson & former Boston Red Sox broadcaster Bob Murphy. The three would all land in the broadcasters section of Cooperstown, bringing Mets games to a generation or two of Met fans for 15 classic seasons.

As an announcer, Kiner became legendary for his slow dry delivery, his mispronouncing of names and his colorful phrases.

In the 1980's. he  called Dwight Gooden "Greg Gossen" and Darryl Strawberry "Darryl Throneberry", referring back to Mets players of the 1960s.

One of his all time great quotes was "Two-thirds of the earth is covered by water and the other third is covered by Garry Maddox".

Others include: "If Casey Stengel was alive today, he'd be spinning in his grave."

"All of the Mets losses on the road occurred at Dodger Stadium”.

"The reason the Mets have played so well at Shea this year is they have the best home record in baseball."

"This one deep to right and it is way back, going, going, it is gone, no off of the top of the wall."

Kiner with Willie Mays in the 1973 NL pennant Season
He also once said that Nolan Ryan's fastball had been clocked at 200 miles per hour and noted that Hall of Fame ceremonies were scheduled for "July 31 and 32."

Mets current TV voice Gary Cohen once said.: “People forget how good a broadcaster, just simply a play-by-play guy, that Ralph was in his prime."

"Most people remember him from his later years as a guy who told stories and brought a slice of baseball history to the broadcast, but if you go back 25 years, Ralph was involved in all the play-by-play, and he was terrific.”

Tim McCarver & Ralph Kiner
In the 80's Kiner was teamed up with another future Hall of Fame broadcaster; Tim McCarver. The two developed a friendship & McCarver said at his Hall of Fame speech, he may not have gotten there without  having been mentored by Ralph Kiner.

Mets player legends turned broadcasters; Tom Seaver, Keith Hernandez & Ron Darling all agreed that he was a true gentleman, and a class act. Not only a great player, broadcaster but a great man.

Mets broadcaster Howie Rose said when he first began, he was told never laugh at Ralph's mistakes. He said he still has a bruise on his thigh, from pinching himself on his first broadcast with Ralph. Rose once said, he’s never seen Kiner lose his temper. “The closest I ever saw to Ralph getting angry was in San Diego about 10 years ago. He used to smoke cigars all the time, and somebody came in and said very apologetically:

Duke Snider, Willie Mays & Kiner
At a Shea Old Timers Day
‘I’m sorry Mr. Kiner, but there’s a state ordinance that says you can’t smoke this in public, I’m going to have to ask you to put the cigar out'.

And Ralph just gives the guy a look and says, ‘You know, California used to be a great state.’ That’s the closest I ever saw to him being angry.”

Quotes: His traditional home-run call is "it is going, going, gone, goodbye".

Despite a bout with Bell's palsy, which left him with slightly slurred speech, Kiner still did occasional Mets broadcasts until the final year of his life.

He has been there since the Mets day one in 1962, 47 years and counting. He is the only broadcaster to survive all of the Mets history, due to Nelson leaving the Mets for the San Francisco Giants in 1979 and Murphy's retirement in 2003.

Kinerisms: Ralph is famous for his own language like Yogi Berra; his famous sayings are known as Kinerisms.

"The Mets have gotten their leadoff hitter on only once this inning."

"All of his saves this season have come in relief appearances."
"Kevin McReynolds stops at third, and he scores."

"On Father’s Day, we again wish you all happy birthday."

"The Hall of Fame ceremonies are on the thirty-first and thirty-second of July."

"Tony Gwynn has been named player of the year for April."

"Half of Jeff King's extra base hits last year went for extra bases."

"The Mets are winless in the month of Atlanta"

WOR Channel 9
"Hello everybody, welcome to Kiner's Korner, I'm Ron Kiner."

"Hello everybody, welcome to Kiner's Korner, I'm Ralph Korner."

"Hi everybody, welcome to Shea Stadium where this afternoon, a couple of left-handers will be going to the, uh, well, actually a lefty and a right, well no, two right-handers today."

Ralph once called Hubie Brooks "Mookie" for an entire show.

"Now batting for the Mets, George Strawberry....... after being corrected he said- I mean George Foster".

Ralph also had an legendary interview with Choo Choo Coleman in the Mets early days. When he asked Coleman "What's your wife's name and what is she like?" Coleman replied "My wife's name is Mrs. Coleman and she likes me."

Kiner's Korner: Kiners Korner was a post game interview show following Mets home games hosted by Ralph. The show began during Shea Stadium’s inaugural 1964 season and ran consecutively for over 20 years.

The star of the ball game from either team, would be a Ralph’s guest and talk about the game answering a few questions. The guest would usually receive a $100 check, which in the old days was a nice bonus for a player.

Kiners Korner
Trivia: The "Kiner's Korner" theme song; was a German band march called "Flag of Victory".

Kiners Korner was a great way for kids like myself to get familiar with the baseball players in the days before an internet or Sports television channels. Ralphs guest would not only be Mets players but also visiting players as well.

Honors: Kiner was finally inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975. He is also a member of the New York Mets Hall of Fame, inducted in 1984.

The Sporting News placed him at # 90 on the list of “The 100 Greatest Baseball Players". The Pirates retired his uniform number 4 in 1987, and honored him with a statue outside of PNC Park.

The Mets honored him many times through the years, like with with "Ralph Kiner Night" at Shea Stadium on July 14, 2007. That night Tom Seaver gave a speech recalling Kiner's Mets legacy.

Other Mets legends that attended were Yogi Berra, Bud Harrelson, Ed Kranepool, Jerry Koosman, Ed Charles, Rusty Staub & Keith Hernandez. Also on hand were Ralphs personal friends; Hall of Famer Bob Feller and broadcaster Ernie Harwell.

2013 marked Kiners 51st anniversary together with the Mets. He was still doing a few innings of certain broadcasts through out the season, usually on a Sunday afternoon. 

He was once again has become popular in that role as well. He was still telling great old baseball stories & will forever be remembered as a baseball legend. 

Passing: Ralph Kiner passed away on February 6th 2014 at the age of 91. Ralph passed away from natural causes at his home in Rancho Mirage, California with his daughter by his side.

Mets owner Fred Wilpon said: "Ralph Kiner was one of the most beloved people in Mets history—An original Met and extraordinary gentleman".


Anonymous said...

A National treasure. When Ralph goes a piece of baseball history and knowledge will lost. A true Gentlemen as well.

Anonymous said...

Another favorite Kinerism I remember:

"{Player] hits a grounder back up the middle on the ground...."

A Fan said...

A true gentlemen , an icon and a treasure. Thanks Ralph for the memories.

Anonymous said...

Ralph Kiner = The Mets.

He's become to, all of us Mets fans, our grandfather, who may get confused from time to time, but you cherish every moment you get with him.

Anonymous said...

It is a really SAD day for all Mets fans who grew up loving his style and Kiner's Korner, even more than the Met games.
What I will miss most though is....everything! He gave us, the fans, so much information, and he made you feel that he was truly having fun doing what he did. He was so enthusiastic! Thank you Mr. Kiner. RIP