Baseball Immortal Ralph Kiner Honored on Mets Opening Day
Flushing, NY---“The legendary and beloved” (in the words of on-the-field emcee Howie Rose) Ralph Kiner was saluted at Citi Field prior to the start of the Opening Day contest between the New York Mets and the Washington Nationals on Monday afternoon.
Kiner began his professional baseball career after being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1942. He was an iconic figure in baseball history for 70 years, until his death on February 6, 2014, except for his service as a U. S. Navy aviator during World War II.
He began his years in the majors in April 1946 with the Pirates. Although the Pirates were usually at the bottom of the standings during his years on the team, the fans of the team focused on the outstanding slugger. Pirates fans, accustomed to witnessing the futility of their favorite team, departed the ballpark in droves after Kiner’s final trip to the plate in each home game.
The native of New Mexico appeared to be a reincarnation of Babe Ruth to the fans of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. Kiner was only the third player, after Ruth and Jimmy Foxx, to have blasted 50 or more home runs in more than one major league season. He led or tied for the National League lead in homers in every season from 1946 through 1952. His 54 home runs in 1949 were not topped by any major league player from 1939 through 1960 and not by any National League player from 1931 through 1997. He smacked 369 homers in his injury shortened ten years career in the majors.
Those whose personal memories do not extend back to the 1950’s may not recognize Kiner as a player with the abilities and accomplishments worthy of earning election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975. The Pirates also recognized his career by retiring his uniform #4 in 1987.
After several years as a baseball executive, the personable and knowledgeable former player made his next mark as a broadcaster. After working briefly with the Chicago White Sox, Kiner was signed by the Mets to be part of their first broadcast team with Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy.
The threesome worked together from the team’s inception in 1962 through 1978 when Nelson left. Murphy left 25 years later. Kiner remained with the team until his passing during the cold and unforgiving winter of 2014.
On a personal note, I can truthfully relate that listening to Kiner discuss baseball was like encountering living history. Hearing him tell personal recollections of such legendary figures as Honus Wagner and Branch Rickey, whose lives began in the 19th century, was fascinating. He always exhibited personal courtesy, warmth and good humor regardless of who he was talking with. Those who listened to him only on radio or TV were treated to those same positive personal characteristics.
Films of Kiner as a Mets broadcaster were shown on the screen in the outfield. Video tributes from Tim McCarver, Rusty Staub, Tom Seaver and Keith Hernandez were also shown. A moment of silence was held in honor of Kiner.
A Kiner logo with his name on top, a microphone underneath and his years of life, 1922-2014 on the bottom was placed on the field near home plate.The same logo is on each left uniform sleeve of the jerseys worn by the Mets this season.
Kiner should be remembered with fondness and respect.