I learned last Thursday 02-06-2014 of the passing of Ralph Kiner. Ralph Kiner is in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York as a slugger for the Pittsburgh Pirates (also Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians at the end of his career). Growing up in the late 60s and 70s, and as a young adult and enthusiastic Mets fan in the 80s, I remember Ralph for his 52 year tenure as broadcaster. When Mets home games were not over until the post-game interview with one or two players was concluded on WOR-TV’s Kiner’s Korner; corner intentionally spelled with a K as it was named for the leftfield wall at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh that was shortened by 30 feet during the Hank Greenberg (Greenberg Gardens)/Ralph Kiner era of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Ralph’s knowledge and stories he shared on Mets broadcasts, even in the final years when he was no longer part of the daily broadcast team was priceless and rare among modern broadcasters who have only read about it but were not there when it happened.
As a youth, I spent time with my step-grandfather who lived from 1901-1977 and saw great ballplayers from Babe Ruth to Willie Mays to the very beginning of the free-agency era. The last four years my grandfather resided in Lakewood, New Jersey and whenever I went down to spend some time, I would bring my cardboard box containing the All Time All Star edition of Strat-o-matic baseball where we would see how The Babe would fare against Tom Seaver. Each of us would manage an all-time team of cardboard cards who would perform according to the role of the dice—the better players would have the better results on the more probable roles. After my grandfather’s passing in 1977, Ralph, although I never had the pleasure of knowing him personally, replaced my grandfather with respect to the stories about the players and teams of yesteryear I would hear on Mets telecasts. Not only has sports broadcasting gone a different direction with technology such as email and tweets replied to during the games, but there just aren’t many people still living that were born early enough to have it as a first-hand experience. I hope the Mets in cooperation with SNY who carries most Met games do him a special tribute.
Ralph Kiner was indeed a celebrity, but he never let it get the best of him. He was one of the nicest people in the game of baseball and did a lot for the Mets and for Met fans. I did get his autograph in 1979 through a connection involving my late father and a state representative in Greenwich who knew him. Only an old-time usher, Pete Flynn, head groundskeeper emeritus, and Ralph Kiner have been employed with the organization long enough to work at all three homes, the Polo Grounds, Shea Stadium, and Citi Field. Ralph, I pray that the ballpark in Heaven has a short porch in leftfield for an eternity of home runs. Play ball!