Ralph Kiner, who broadcast Mets games from their inception in 1962, after a 10-year career as a Hall of Fame slugger, died Thursday. He was 91.
“Ralph Kiner was one of the most beloved people in Mets history — an original Met and extraordinary gentleman,” said Mets owner Fred Wilpon in a statement released by the team.
“After a Hall of Fame playing career, Ralph became a treasured broadcasting icon for more than half a century,” Wilpon said. “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 was one of the original Mets broadcasters, along with Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy, both of whom eventually would be voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame for their work behind the microphone.
Kiner, however, was elected in 1975 for his abbreviated 10-year major league career, spent mostly with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He holds the all-time record for leading or tying for the National League in home runs his first seven seasons in the majors.
He was tutored as a young player by the aging future Hall-of-Famer Hank Greenberg.
Fans who sat in the left field seats at Pittsburgh’s old Forbes Field nicknamed the area near the foul pole as “Greenberg’s Gardens” in honor of the former Detroit Tigers icon. When Kiner took his mentor’s place and became just as popular with Bucs fans, they renamed it “Kiner’s Korner.”
The title would follow him decades later to Casey Stengel’s hapless expansion Mets, where it became the name of a long-running post-game interview show on Channel 9 popular with both fans and players.
Even members of the opposing team would drop by in uniform to discuss the game following a Mets loss.
Kiner’s numbers as a player are more remarkable considering the years he might have had but were lost at both ends of his career.
Signed by the Pirates as a teenager, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
“Though I was never shot at,” Kiner said in August 2011 at a Citi Field function honoring veterans of the war in Afghanistan.
His service did delay his major league debut until 1946.
A back injury hampered his swing in his last three years, spent with the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians.
He was forced into retirement at age 32 following a career that saw him hit 369 home runs and make six All-Star teams.
Kiner, Nelson and Murphy formed the Mets’ television and radio team for 17 years.
Kiner delivered spot-on color commentary, flavored with stories about his career and the stars he played with and against, often peppered with malaprops and self-deprecating humor. He blended effortlessly with Murphy’s crisp play-by-play, and Nelson’s easy-going Tennessee drawl and trademark outlandish sports jackets.