RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A legend has passed.
Ralph Kiner, who slugged his way to the baseball Hall of Fame and then enjoyed a half-century career as a popular broadcaster, died Thursday. He was 91.
The Hall said Kiner died at his home in Rancho Mirage with his family at his side.
Kiner hit 369 home runs during his 10-year career, mostly with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He made his debut in 1946 and his power quickly became the talk of baseball — he won or tied for the National League lead in homers in each of his first seven seasons.
“Kiner’s Korner” was already a fixture on the New York Mets’ airwawes when he was inducted into the Hall in 1975. He was elected with just one vote to spare in his 15th and final year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot.
The six-time All-Star still ranks sixth all-time with a home run every 14.1 at-bats. He averaged more than 100 RBIs per season and hit .279 with the Pirates, the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland.
When he retired early because of back problems, Kiner was sixth on the career home run list. Several years later, he joined the broadcast crew of the Mets for their expansion season in 1962 and earned a permanent place — the home TV booth at Shea Stadium was named in his honor.
He said one of his highlights as an announcer was having a front-row seat for the 1969 “Miracle Mets,” who won the franchise’s first World Series.
“Ralph Kiner was one of the greatest sluggers in National League history,” baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. “His consistent power and patience in the heart of the Pirates’ lineup made him a member of our All-Century Team and, in many respects, a player ahead of his time.
“Ralph dominated at the plate for a decade, but his contributions to our National Pastime spanned generations. For 52 years, Ralph was a one-of-a-kind voice of the Mets, linking baseball’s unparalleled history to New York’s new National League franchise since its very inception.
“I am grateful that I recently had the opportunity to visit with Ralph, whose lifetime of service to baseball will always be treasured by the fans of Pittsburgh, New York and beyond.”
“Kiner’s Korner,” his postgame show, was a delight for players and fans alike, where stars would join Kiner for postgame chats.
Kiner was known for his malaprops and took them in stride, often laughing about his own comments. He once famously said, “If Casey Stengel were alive today, he’d be spinning in his grave.”
“Ralph Kiner was one of the most beloved people in Mets history — an original Met and extraordinary gentleman,” Mets CEO Fred Wilpon said in a statement. “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.”
Kiner had a stroke about a decade ago that slowed his speech, but he remained an occasional part of the Mets’ announcing crew. He worked a handful of games last season at Citi Field, his 52th year of calling their games.
“As one of baseball’s most prolific power hitters for a decade, Ralph struck fear into the hearts of the best pitchers of baseball’s Golden Era despite his easygoing nature, disarming humility and movie-star smile,” Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson said in a statement.
“His engaging personality and profound knowledge of the game turned him into a living room companion for millions of New York Mets fans who adored his game broadcasts and later ‘Kiner’s Korner’ for more than half a century,” he said. “He was as comfortable hanging out in Palm Springs with his friend Bob Hope as he was hitting in front of Hank Greenberg at Forbes Field.”
As a teen, hanging around the Hollywood Stars in the Pacific Coast League, Kiner shook hands with Babe Ruth and talked ball with Ty Cobb. In high school, he hit a home run off Satchel Paige during a barnstorming tour.
When he got older, Kiner got to play with real Hollywood stars. His pals included Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, and he once squired Liz Taylor.
As a rookie, Kiner won the National League homer title with 23, beating Johnny Mize by one. He really broke loose the next year, hitting 51 home runs with 127 RBIs while batting .313.
Stuck on poor teams, Kiner never made it to the postseason. He made his mark in All-Star games, homering in three straight.
Kiner connected in the 1950 showcase at Comiskey Park, but made more noise with another ball he hit in the game. He hit a long drive to the base of the scoreboard in left-center field and Ted Williams broke his left elbow making the catch, causing him to miss two months.
“Williams always said I ruined his batting stroke, that he could never hit after that,” Kiner said. “Yeah, sure. He only hit .388 in ’57.”
Ralph McPherran Kiner was born on Oct. 27, 1922. He married tennis star Nancy Chaffee in 1951.
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