By Ernie Palladino
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If you were a Mets fan growing up in the 1960s and 70s, let alone the 80s, 90s and into this century, you listened to the always informative, always amusing words of one Ralph Kiner.
Like Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy, his two broadcasting partners who departed this coil before him, Kiner left behind a rich, treasure trove of Mets memories when he died at age 91. Anyone who cared for the Mets hung on Kiner’s every analytical word, especially in those early years when all there was to root for was Casey Stengel and a good, entertaining broadcast.
Kiner was a master at that, as adept at good, uplifting interviews as he was at hitting home runs as a player. He did plenty of that with the Pirates, forging himself a Hall of Fame career with 369 homers in just 10 seasons, the bare minimum career span to qualify for placement on the ballot.
Most fans bearing in on 60 wouldn’t remember him as a player. He was done by 1955, and all the late baby boomers had were memories passed down by fathers of the right-handed free-swinger’s favorite home-run spot in Forbes Field, a short left-field porch the sportswriters named Kiner’s Korner.
The name, changed from Greenberg Gardens after the famed Tigers power hitter Hank Greenberg was traded to the Pirates in 1947 to tutor the hard-partying Kiner on hitting and work ethic, carried over to his broadcasting career. Tucked away in a small studio at Shea Stadium, we were treated to Kiner’s postgame show, “Kiner’s Korner.”
It was a simple production, primitive by today’s standards. Two seats, Kiner and the star of the game. If it lasted 10 minutes it was a long time. But it was our chance to hear what the few Mets luminaries of the time and the real celebrities of baseball had to say.
Ron Swoboda, Jerry Grote, Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Bud Harrelson. They all appeared on the show numerous times. But you’d also see Ernie Banks, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax and all the other luminaries who made a habit of beating the Mets’ brains in during the pre-championship days. Maybe even an entertainer or two.
Don’t make the mistake that 1969 and 1973 changed Kiner’s style, however. His postgame shows were just as entertaining as when the Mets were the lovable losers of New York. He and Nelson and Murphy were just as big a part of a golden age of New York baseball announcers as Phil Rizzuto, Red Barber, Mel Allen and Jerry Coleman were on the other, pinstriped side of town.
Actually, Kiner and Rizzuto could have faced off in a battle of wits. Only Kiner never really knew he was being funny. The malaprops — his regular and entertaining misuse of the language — were as much a part of Kiner as his baseball acumen.
“It’s Father’s Day today at Shea, so to all you fathers, Happy Birthday!”
“Solo home runs usually occur with nobody on base.”
“All of his saves have come in relief appearances.”
“All the Mets’ road wins against Los Angeles this year have been at Dodger Stadium.”
He’d blow names, most famously introducing a later partner, Tim McCarver, as Tim McArthur. On one occasion, he even messed up his own name. “Hello everybody, I’m Ralph Korner.”
And then there was perhaps his most famous utterance, delivered with perfect logic and accuracy.
“Two-thirds of the earth is covered by water. The other third is covered by Garry Maddox.”
The majestic home runs sailing over the short porch in Forbes Field, the amazingly productive stretch of five 40-dinger seasons between 1947 and 1951 and two seasons of 50-plus clouts? Those belonged to our fathers, memories passed down from one generation to the next.
We had “Kiner’s Korner” too. The one we stuck around for after every Mets game, win or lose.
We had no choice. We were drawn to it.
It’s what soundtracks are all about.
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