Ralph Kiner’s passing brought out an emotional response from Mets fans that has understandably been missing since the team moved into Citi Field five years ago. I can vouch for the general consensus that he was a gracious and classy man. Ralph was always receptive to talking baseball and he did not check to see if you were a sportswriter from a big outlet to decide whether a conversation was worth his time. Trust me, that’s not how it is with a lot of broadcasters and sportswriters these days.
Barry Lyons, a third-string catcher on the 1986 Mets, told me one of his greatest thrills as a player was to be a guest on the Mets’ long-running postgame show, “Kiner’s Korner.” When any substitute player got a chance to be the hero of the game, and thus merit an appearance on the show, it was like being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for a day.
“Kiner’s Korner” had cheesy production values but it was the one place where fans could hear the thoughts of players right after the game ended. It was also a rare chance for fans to see Mount Rushmore-levelplayers such as Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron engage in conversation.
Ralph was guilty of many malapropisms, such as referring to the late Mets catcher Gary Carter as Gary Cooper, the legendary actor. Those errors only enhanced Kiner’s charm and made it more fun to watch Mets telecasts.
Hardly anyone brought up the fact that Kiner, along with the late Yankees pitcher Allie Reynolds, helped establish the Major League Baseball Players Association. The duo was able to get the first pension plan for ballplayers.
The media also shied away from the fact that Kiner had little use for Branch Rickey — the same Branch Rickey who signed Jackie Robinson, ensuring the integration of MLB. In 1950 Rickey left the Brooklyn Dodgers to become general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, whose only player worth watching was a young homer-hitting outfielder named Ralph Kiner.
The idea of free agency was a pipe dream for major league players during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations as baseball owners held firm to the reserve clause, which limited a ballplayer to one team even if a contract expired. Even though Kiner was the marquee attraction, Rickey took advantage of his lack of leverage by shortchanging him during every contract negotiation. On more than one Mets telecast, Kiner let the world know that Rickey was fond of telling him, “We finished last with you and we can finish last without you!” as a way of justifying the Pirates’ stinginess.
Mets pitcher Dillon Gee and Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner were honored last week at the annual Thurman Munson Dinner, which benefits AHRC, an organization that enhances the lives of the developmentally disabled. Gee said he can’t believe that he is now one of the veterans on the Mets staff. Gardner conceded that this has not been a pleasant winter, as he doesn’t know where he will fit in now that the Yankees have acquired Jacoby Ellsbury to play centerfield. “We have the same skills,” Gardner told the media before the dinner.
Diana Munson, the widow of the late Yankees catcher, said she is thrilled that her husband is one of the characters in the new Broadway show “Bronx Bombers.”
“It’s a great way for a new generation to learn about him,” Munson told me.
In society news, Mets pitcher Matt Harvey and Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Anne Vyalitsina (better known simply as Annie V) have ended their high-profile relationship. It is a tossup as to which one spent more time in front of a mirror. As a well-known tennis commentator told me last summer, “If the Harvey-Annie V relationship were a stock, I’d short it!”
Mike Tyson’s one-man show, which was directed by Spike Lee and taped for HBO on Broadway, “Undisputed Truth,” is out on DVD. Tyson talks about his hardscrabble Brooklyn childhood, his time in the slammer and taking a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear in a fight. Lee offers his thoughts as a DVD bonus.
I wonder if the Long Island Ducks have reached out to Alex Rodriguez now that he has thrown in the towel and will serve his suspension from Major League Baseball in 2014.
The Winter Olympics will draw great ratings for NBC but it won’t be because Americans are glued to their television sets to see whether Team USA will win the gold in the luge, bobsled, curling and ice dancing, but rather because competing networks such as CBS, ABC and Fox are foolishly putting up the white flag and scheduling mostly repeats of their primetime shows until the Olympics are over. One new show worth catching is Fox’s “Rake” on Thursday nights, which stars Greg Kinnear as a sleazy attorney.
The annual Athena Festival, which showcases women in film production, took place at Barnard College this past weekend. One of the films showcased was “The 99ers,” which celebrated the USA women’s soccer gold medal at the 1999 World Cup, which was fortuitously held in Pasadena, Calif. That was a major accomplishment, considering that American men had never come close to winning a medal in soccer in either a World Cup tournament or Olympics. They still haven’t and probably won’t in my lifetime.
“The 99ers,” which was financed by ESPN as part of its “30 for 30” documentary series, is a reunion of such stars as Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain, and it is fun to eavesdrop on their reminiscences about when they were national heroes.
I would like to see a followup documentary about the quick rise and rapid fall of the woman’s professional soccer league, the WUSA, that occurred in the wake of the success of Hamm and her teammates.