Yesterday at the age of 91, MLB Hall of Famer, Pittsburgh Pirates great, and long-time Mets announcer, Ralph Kiner, passed away.
Kiner only played in MLB for 10 years before back injuries forced him to retire. However, it was a great 10 years. He retired 6th in career home runs and led the league in home runs for seven straight years (something not even Babe Ruth did). He also drew over 100 walks in six straight seasons.
Even though Kiner’s career OBP was the same as Joe DiMaggio’s, it took Kiner until his 15th year on the Hall of Fame ballot before he gained induction (he gained induction by one vote!).
It was what he did after he retired from baseball that he is most remembered for. In 1962, the New York Mets came into existence and Ralph Kiner became their announcer. He would be their announcer for the next 53 years.
I was born in Connecticut in the mid-1970s and really began watching baseball in the 1980s. I was a Yankees fan and so I watched a lot Yankees games on WPIX-11 out of New York and listened to Phil Rizzuto call their games. However, I always remember hearing about “Kiner’s Korner” whenever I happened to be watching a show on WWOR-9 out of New York as well (thanks to my friend Courtney Lewis for reminding me what the call letters for that station were!).
Kiner’s Korner was the post-game show that Kiner did after every Mets game. This is where he would discuss the game and interview a player or two and chances are you’d find yourself laughing at either something Kiner said or the response he would get to a question.
While I am too young to have seen Kiner play, as a baseball historian I appreciate his place in MLB history. He played on bad Pirates teams (which explains why he never won the MVP even though there were a couple of seasons when he should have). He never got along with Branch Rickey (and that’s why he was traded out of Pittsburgh). His power at the plate cannot be denied. When you do something power-related that not even Babe Ruth did (lead the league in HRs for seven consecutive years) you know you were something special.
The baseball world lost a true giant and legend yesterday. The statement from Mets Chairman and CEO, Fred Wilpon pretty much sums it up:
“Ralph Kiner was one of the most beloved people in Mets history — an original Met and extraordinary gentleman. After a Hall of Fame playing career, Ralph became a treasured broadcasting icon for more than half a century. His knowledge of the game, wit, and charm entertained generations of Mets fans. Like his stories, he was one of a kind. We send our deepest condolences to Ralph’s five children and 12 grandchildren. Our sport and society today lost one of the all-time greats.”
Rest in peace Ralph. You will be missed by all those lucky enough to see you play and lucky enough to hear you call a game.