Remembering Ralph Kiner one of the original NY Mets

Rich Mancuso

Ralph Kiner was an original New York Met in the broadcast booth with the late Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy. And over that span from 1962-1978 they were the longest span of baseball broadcasters in the radio and television booth. He was a New York Met as much as his Hall of Fame playing career with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

To know Kiner also is what made a day at the ballpark special. He was a story teller and knew his craft. Today the broadcast booth does not have that longevity as it was in those days of Kiner, Nelson and Murphy. The industry has changed just like the game on the field.

However, Ralph Kiner, who passed away Thursday at the age of 91, from congestive heart failure may have did it better than any of the contemporaries in the booth today. He was good at analyzing a play on the field, told a story in between and the players wanted to meet him.

More so, the players were honored to appear as a post- game guest on “Kiner’s Korner” the brief program on the Mets flagship station WOR-Channel 9 in New York.  They wanted to meet Ralph, to sit there and tell their side of the story.  You always heard, they wanted to be there with Ralph to hear his stories of days as one of the premiere home run hitters the game has seen.

There were the nights at Shea Stadium after another broadcast. Kiner would be one of the last out of the ballpark. The old press room in back of the broadcast booths and press box area, and there was Ralph Kiner holding court again. An occasional post game drink and story, with colleagues listening intently, and Kiner was entertaining us all.

This writer says all, because it was there when Ralph Kiner, an original voice of the New York Mets became a colleague. He accepted a rookie reporter as he did with the veterans on the beat.  And the acceptance was official the following night.

Same place, same time, after a Mets loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, Ralph Kiner gave this rookie reporter a clean copy of a game scorecard he used on the Mets broadcasts.

Today when a baseball broadcaster, or for that matter any sports broadcaster makes a blunder, well the critics will speak. When Ralph Kiner made a mistake, and there were many, it was an oversight.  Like the time when Kiner called Hall of Famer Gary Carter, the actor “Gary Cooper.”

Or when he said a certain player was named “Player of the Year for April.” That got laughs among us. At that time it was not a big deal. There was no social media and just the old school reporters who appreciated the playing career that Kiner gave the game.

And of course, we appreciated stories of the old days, his times and stories with Stan Musial, Ted Williams and other icons in the game of baseball. He also had a passion for other sports, boxing one of his favorites. He said to this writer, “Rocky Marciano was one of the best to throw a punch as good as they throw a fastball today.”

Yes, Kiner was not wrong. Marciano threw a nasty punch that still has him the record as the only undefeated and retired heavyweight champion in history. And he told great stories about the entertainers he met over the years, including Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra.

“He got it right with “New York-New York,” said Kiner about the Sinatra hit.  However, his passion was the Mets, and that amazing year of 1969 was always something he will be associated with as the Mets celebrated their first World Series title.

The Mets locker room at Shea Stadium was centered around, Kiner and the microphone in hand, and a Hall of Fame pitcher known as Seaver known as “Tom Terrific” Seaver.  Kiner in that amazing year, and as years passed on, would always say he was “Terrific” and one of the all-time greats on the mound.

And when you heard words like that, coming from Ralph Kiner, it meant a lot. It was special and had significance because he played with the greats of the game, and of course was associated with a fellow Pirate, the all-time great and late Roberto Clemente.

But, Ralph Kiner became a New York baseball icon along with Phil Rizzuto and other greats who played and broadcast the game across the river, in the Bronx at Yankee Stadium.

The last few years, Kiner was still in the Mets broadcast booth. He sat with Gary Cohen, Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez in the TV booth at Shea Stadium and Citi Field, a broadcast booth that is named after him.  His delivery was not the same, slower from a bout with palsy and a minor stroke.

But, Kiner still had the stories and gave his partners in the booth, and viewers a continuing love and admiration for the game of baseball. Baseball has lost an icon as so have the New York Mets and their fans.

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