Hall of Fame slugger Ralph Kiner passed away earlier today at the age of 91. Kiner played 10 Major League seasons between the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians, hitting 369 home runs in his career including a six year run where he lead the Majors in homers every year.
There can be no doubt about Ralph Kiner’s greatness on the playing field, one look at the numbers and you can understand why he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975, but as a 28 year old Mets fan I remember him for his work in the broadcast booth. He was one of the original Mets announcers in 1962 when the team was formed and was still making appearances in the booth last year.
In recent years every appearance Kiner made in the broadcast booth beside Gary Cohen, Ron Darling and Kieth Hernandez was appointment television. Hernandez himself put it best today when he described Kiner as a “bridge to the past” because that was exactly what he was. Kiner would routinely provide anecdotes about his childhood baseball memories, which included him watching Babe Ruth play (a bridge to the past indeed). What I enjoyed most about Kiner was his uncanny ability to provide insight into the mind of a hitter and recall his playing days with downright scary detail. Every game there seemed to be a moment where Gary would ask Ralph a question about some journeyman pitcher from the 50’s and Kiner’s response would be something like ‘he was a tough lefty. I hit a home run off him once. It was a Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh in 1951 in the 4th inning and I had him in a 2-1 count. He threw me a hanging breaking ball and I hit it out’ and every time he told one of those stories I would always think to myself ‘how does he remember that so clearly?’
All Mets fans have their own memories of a man who, despite never playing a game for the franchise, was an integral part of the Mets organization from its inception. I am too young to remember his playing days, Kiner’s Corner and the bulk of his broadcasting career, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate what he has done for this franchise. I will remember Ralph Kiner as a terrific baseball story teller more than anything, he truly was a bridge to the past.